All things being unequal

Just watched a programme about mining for sapphires: Mention ‘mining’ and i guess that most of us picture big industrial operations, diggers, mineshafts, heavy equipment and giant lorries lumbering about. What we tend not to think of, quite so instinctively, is huge muddy pits, dug out by hand by hundreds of Malagasy workers, in 40 degree heat – we don’t picture in our minds these people undertaking this backbreaking work, with no safety gear, for 8 hours a day in mines where at least one person is killed every week; and all to extract tiny gemstones from tons of earth that, once cut and polished, will fetch three and four-figure sums on the world market… and what do these workers get for their struggles? To use a figure that we’ll all be familiar with, perhaps the rl equivalent of a couple of hundred lindens a day.

I’m not going to jump on my soapbox and preach about world poverty and the inequality that exists in different parts of the world, but the stark contrast between the lives of those people and those who will be reading these words is all too evident to ignore. It was with rather a profound feeling of coming back down to earth with a bump that i sat down to write a blog post aimed at – to make a reasonable assumption – the middle to top echelon of the lucky few who have unrestricted access to the internet, out of the two billion members of the human race fortunate enough to be any online access at all. The vast majority of people in the world – the remaining five billion – don’t and probably won’t, no matter how hard-working and intelligent they may be.

Just take a moment to scroll down the page; there on the right hand side, and again at the foot of the page you’ll find a couple of maps  – the most striking thing to me about them isn’t the wide range of places that i get visitors from but rather the enormous and vast tracts of the planet that remain almost completely devoid of ‘life’, as we on the internet might define it. All of which not only makes me profoundly grateful  for this amazing resource that is at my fingertips but also makes me acutely aware of the utterly bizarre and unreal world that is the virtual niche we occupy.

If i try to reconcile, for example, the fact that spending L$600 (£2/$3.20/€2.55) on a new outfit in sl is equivalent to two week’s wages for a migrant factory worker in an African slum, of which over three-quarters will go towards keeping a roof over their heads, leaving practically nothing for food, i find i face an impossible moral dilemma. There simply is no way to reconcile the two.

There’s some object lessons to be learned here – and i’m not entirely sure that even the most enlightened of us can feel entirely comfortable with them – of course there are things that we can do and there are choices we can make that can have a very real and practical impact upon some of the frightening inequalities that exist in our world. Even so, things are not that simple: there are other causes, closer to home and much closer to our hearts, that we feel may be of equal, or greater, merit and about which we may be able to exert greater influence to secure positive change. None of us has a bottomless purse, the political power or sufficient resources to put everything to rights in this world – we must make our choices and not feel guilty that there is a limit to what we can do.

Neither should we, in all honestly, feel any guilt about the vacuous, expensive and frivolous activities that we fill our own lives with… quitting sl and wearing sackcloth to appease any guilt we may feel about our consumerist and wasteful lifestyles will achieve little, if anything. There are certainly things we can – and perhaps should – do to live in a way that pays due regard to our ethical and moral responsibilities to those whose lives are less fortunate than our own…

Whoah! Just a minute… what am i saying? ‘Lives less fortunate than our own’ – what a trite and typically smug assumption to make – simply because circumstance may dictate that one person’s life or environment falls far short of our own expectations does not necessarily mean they are less fortunate. We – living in our strange, elitist, interconnected, shortsighted, exclusive, consumerist society have a very warped perception of what misfortune is – we operate on a sliding scale that is proportional to our situation: When all is well, we feel indignant if we catch a slight cold, miss the train or can’t afford the next luxury. When times are hard, perhaps through illness, loss or accident, our entire perception of misfortune changes and an interesting and crucially important shift of attitude takes place – when life scuttles our happiness, pulls the rug out from under us or destroys our peace, we start to appreciate the good times. Even through pain and suffering, whether our own, or that of those close to us, we learn to value the brief respites, the moments of peace, real friendships, the encouraging word and so many other things that give value to life – things of enormous value that cannot be bought – that we otherwise take for granted. So often, through suffering, hardship and tragedy, comes a real sense of what makes life worthwhile.

Perhaps, it is us, the ‘fortunate’ few who glibly accept all the good things we have, without a second thought, that are the losers; for unless we truly appreciate what is that we do have and how our lives might be without those things, then we are surely not living fulfilled and meaningful lives. We will never be content, never have anything to hope for and rarely enjoy the fruits of success.

i’m not belittling those whose lives are a struggle or saying that they don’t suffer – there is a huge amount of unfairness and inequality in the world and, if we have any conscience at all, we should do what we are able to address those issues. i’m certainly not saying we should be looking after ‘number 1’, with no conscience for others but, what i am saying is that we alone, in our privileged position, are responsible for how we approach our lives, and for what we get out of them. Only this week, i’ve read a post on another blog, (i’d point you there, but it seems to have gone missing), about the ubiquitous ‘bucket list‘ – all too often, i hear people talk about life in these terms because something has occurred that underlines the all too fragile and transient nature of life. Sometimes it’s an illness, the death of someone close, or a life-changing event… yet, to me, it seems crazy that it should take such a draconian jolt to the system to remind us of the importance of living life to the full. Life – every moment of every day – is fragile and transient; you will never get back the minutes you’ve spent reading this post, any one of us could stop breathing, receive bad news, or be in the wrong place at the wrong time today! So, why wait to decide to make the most of every day… we should be doing that regardless!

Every day that we wake up to face whatever the world has to throw at us is a fresh opportunity for us to consider just how much we really do have and whether we really do make the most of it – whatever our own personal situation or circumstance. Therefore: No, i will not feel guilty about frittering away my time in a virtual world, or writing about it here, but i should feel guilty if i don’t do everything in my power to make it something special, rewarding and worthwhile… and the same goes for the real world too.

A life half lived – even if it is a second life – is no life at all.

s. x

Help, I have done it again 
I have been here many times before 
Hurt myself again today
And, the worst part is there’s no-one else to blame 
Sia – Breathe Me 

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