Thursday, January 12, 2012

That Suit Isn't Going to Be Here When You Die

People are constantly asking me why I do what I do. The simple answer is "because I should," but the more complex answer lies in a comment I made to a friend today after she posted an article about the Gates Foundation's contribution to a polo-free year in India:

I'd love to see more wealthy people doing their part. Too many of them love running around the globe and spending $10,000 on a suit. Why not save children's lives and better the world? That suit isn't going to be here when you die, but the next generation will.

That, right there, is why I do what I do and why I believe more people should be doing the same. I remember growing up thinking "I want to be the CEO of some huge international corporation and make lots of money and travel the world and have a big old house and lots of stuff!" While that's all well and good and I do believe those who work hard should enjoy the benefits of said hard work, why not give back as well? You make all this money, why not do something truly, truly, worthwhile with it? 

I'm a girl who grew up comfortable. I'm from suburbia New Jersey and live in one of the richest counties in the country. My parents provided for me above and beyond what they needed to and still do sometimes. The money I've seen in my life thus far is insane. I'm surrounded by huge houses, BMWs, private schools, Amex cards with no limits, and designer clothes. I would be lying if I didn't tell you that I sometimes look at all of those things and go "Oohh pretty! Wouldn't it be nice?" but then I draw a line in my head and think "How many kids could I help with what that cost?" I think of the smiling faces of the hundreds of kids in Gaza who were able to receive school because of $17,000 worth of donations, and to me, those smiles are worth more than any of the shiny things I could covet at any moment. Those smiles, and knowing I helped to improve their life, even a one thousandth of a percent, is worth everything. 

I've always wanted to help people, and that definitely comes from how I was raised. My family was always doing what they could for others, and many times, doing it quietly. It wasn't about recognition, but simply about doing good. The tipping point for me was in time spent overseas. Seeing the rest of the world and getting outside of my bubble made me realize that how I was living wasn't even remotely close to normal. Having seen more of the US as well now, I know its not even normal right here at home either. I made my first trip abroad when I was 14 and then 9/11 happened and my world was turned upside down. September 11th made me acutely aware of what poverty can drive people to take part in. Although I took a hard-line stance after that, I also still felt an extreme empathy toward those who were much less fortunate than me and  simply trapped by circumstance. I'm the girl who cries at UNICEF commercials. My friend Maura can attest to the time I called her up crying because I had just seen a commercial for the 2004 tsunami victims. (She thought someone had died until, between gasping breaths I muttered, "the...the...kids....the the tsunami....its so sad!!!") I wanted to help, but I had no idea how. Then living in Cairo for five months in 2007 and seeing REAL poverty, sent my head spinning. Never in a million years, could I imagine seeing this in the US or imagine living on less than $2 per day. Then to go on to see what I saw in Palestine and and the Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan during that same trip left me feeling absolutely compelled to do something. 

It's this same tipping point that I think is missing in the US. Those in this country who are struggling, have an excuse. They have their own lives to focus on....their own problems....their own poverty even. But those living a comfortable life have no excuse except ignorance and their inability to look outside their bubble. How can you sit back and spend exorbitant amounts of money on things that make your life more and more cushy, yet not give back? And when I say give back, I don't necessarily imply giving abroad. You need to find your passion and what is important to you, but you need to be doing something more. Period. The clothes, the house, the cars, the gossip, the bullshit, isn't going to be here 100 years from now, but your legacy can be. The children you help could grow up and cure cancer or be the next Gandhi or Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Mother Theresa or whomever else you could think of that could make great contributions to our world. Your great-great-great-great grandchildren won't be able to play with your BMW, but they will be able to live in a polio free world or a world where there is actually peace. 

This is why I do what I do. I believe in a better world and I believe that we can't stand around and wait for other people to make it better. We have to take matters into our own hands and do something. If you can go volunteer, awesome! If you can only give $5, amazing! If you have deep pockets and can give thousands of dollars, you may have just saved hundreds of lives. Enjoy your own life. Enjoy the material things and the luxuries you are able to afford, but make sure there is a balance there. I got a Michael Kors bag for Christmas and I absolutely love it. It's pretty, it's functional, and it's kinda nice to have a really good bag for once, but I've also sat here numerous times since getting it, wondering what I could have done with the $250 it cost, and then turned around and kept moving forward with all the volunteer work I do. This is what I mean by balance. You shouldn't be penalized for gifts or for working hard and earning wealth, but you should, without question, always think of others and give what you can. That suit or car or purse or wild night out in New York City isn't going to be here when you die, but the impact you have on people's lives, your legacy, could be. The one child you help tomorrow could be the one child who grows up into the one person who is able to bring peace to the world. Think about that the next time you make a big purchase, and ask yourself what you're going to do to balance it out. 

9 comments:

  1. Great work Julia. Only word which describes you & your work is 'GOOD SAMARITAN' (Someone who helps another in need for compassionate motives and with no thought of reward).

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  2. "It wasn't about recognition, but simply about doing good."

    Maybe you should think about that lesson a little more.

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  3. Mohammed, thank you very much. I never know how to take compliments because I honestly feel like this work is my obligation as a human being and particularly as an American. I have to be doing something to help.

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  4. Anonymous, I don't typically post totally anonymous comments because I feel as though people should own what they say. If you think I'm doing this for recognition, you've missed the entire point of the blog post. I would gladly do everything I do with a mask on and a different name, but that defeats the opportunity of one aspect of my work....educating the public about what's going on. It's much easier for people to identify with a real person who has spent real time on the ground and is standing in front of them telling these stories vs. just reading a book or the news or having facts and figures thrown at them. This is by no means about recognition or money (I've spent thousands of dollars of my own money to do what I do), but about being part of the change I wish to see in the world. I've seen what my tax dollars have done in Palestine and I've been welcomed with open arms regardless. I now have family in Gaza...people who adopted me like their own....and I have an obligation to them, to help make things better. This is about people helping people using the strengths they have, not about recognition. I'm certainly no one special.

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    1. Never mind any of the comments like that of Anonymous, carry on with your noble work Julia. Our prime purpose in this life is to help others.
      To anonymous" if you can't help them, at least don't hurt them".

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  5. Great personal post -- exactly related to the post I wrote this week-- so I added in a link back to this post of yours.
    http://theskyofstars.blogspot.com/2012/04/right-to-equality-capitalism.html
    @DrSherieGache

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  6. its great u feel this way and would rather spend ur money on worthier causes rather than frivolous pleasures BUT let the wealthy of the world do what they want to do with their money.....freedom of doing whatever u want is perhaps the greatest advantage of being monied. Why do so many people think the wealthy should do this and that....let them be let them do what they will....you concentrate on ut own efforts

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    1. I never said anyone had to do anything, but being someone who came from a very comfortable life and having more than I could ever possibly actually need to get by, I believe strongly that it is important to give back in time or in money. My entire family lives with that in mind and those who are extra comfortable give a lot. It is about freedom of choice, but as human beings, why should we not support each other and leave the world a better place? Would you rather your legacy be in BMWs and fancy watches or in helping children or eradicating disease or furthering education?

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  7. What a wonderful, thought provoking article. I am glad I stumbled onto your blog.

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