Helpful but difficult – Comparisons of Countries and Cultures – 15 Jul 13


In the past week I wrote a lot about parenting and asked people to cut down their ambitions and reconsider how much they really need, so maybe they can spend a bit less time working and a bit more time with their children. When I wrote this, a mother told me about her own situation and said ‘I know that we have a lot compared to a poor family in India…’ This sentence made me think about such comparisons and I would like to share those thoughts with you today.

The main question is: can you compare a developing country like India with western countries at all? Or can you compare the situations of people in these countries with each other?

Of course until a certain point you can and it is often good to do so. It is unavoidable when you live in both countries and I have thus done so many times. How do people live in both countries, what do they think, how much do they earn and own, what is important to them, which worries and which habits do they have?

Seeing poor countries from a western point of view mostly means to get a reality check. You realize that you get mostly worried about issues that are not really very important. You believe you don’t have enough clothes in your cupboard but then you see that others only have one or two sets of clothes. It is not your life that is at stake when business is running a bit low while others don’t have anything to eat if they are too ill to work for a few days. People in other countries fight hunger, they are persecuted due to their religion, race, gender or opinion, they are oppressed and they have to fear for their lives.

Such a comparison thus makes you see your own life in a better light and from a different point of view. You appreciate what you have and maybe reconsider your behavior with the people around you.

While these comparisons are valid and can have a very positive effect, it is very difficult to make direct comparisons when you go deeper because the differences are just so huge! There are so many factors that play a role in your perception of the two sides that you could write an essay of several pages about many of them.

Let me give you an example. You say that poor Indian people have much less than you, living in a developed country. That may be fully right if you speak in financial terms but you cannot conclude that these people have much more worries than you! Their life may be harder when it comes to money but they may be mentally much less stressed than you! You have hundreds of responsibilities and tasks, you want to be perfect, you do everything yourself and you have very little support of relatives.

You may not even be able to imagine the mental peace that many poor people have simply because they know that they don’t have that much to lose. Similarly even people who have a bit more may be much more relaxed than you – because they are less attached to material belongings and have a huge family that gives them emotional support in whatever they do.

You know, I don’t want to tell you how you should see the world. You can decide upon that yourself. I just want to express that for me there is no way to call one or the other country better, that comparisons are sometimes difficult to make and most of all that you need to be with a country’s people for a longer time to be able to even start such a comparison.

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