One of the joys of moving between the “First World” and the, so-called “Third World” is the ability to see contrasts. In some ways, a trip to the Third World, even with all its problems, is a welcome trip back in time.
This morning there was a cool breeze blowing on the Mekong River and, while I enjoyed my coffee, I could see children and hear them laughing in that totally pure and joyful way that happy kids do. They had found some discarded plastic grocery bags and fashioned a makeshift kite from them. These kids have almost no material possessions, but they didn’t need anything to create this moment other than ingenuity, discards and a few reeds of grass. They had even used strips of cut grocery bag to create the string. They were running along the river with huge smiles on their faces, chasing each other without a care in the world and having fun in the ways I remember from when I was a kid.
What happened to the days when we used to discover and make our toys out of things we found? Wonder what happened to long days playing outside with our friends, building forts in the woods and playing chase or hide-and-seek? They still exist here.
I remember being young, maybe eight years old or younger, leaving home in the morning and my mother telling me, “You better be home before dark!” She could do this because she had the confidence that our neighbors, my friends, and common sense would help keep us safe. These days’ parents get arrested for such laissez-faire child-rearing. A few generations ago it was the norm.
Sure there are dangers today, but the studies I have seen show that the world is a less dangerous place than it was a few generations ago. What has changed is that we now have pervasive 24-hour access to sensationalized information designed, not to enhance our lives, but to keep us scared, appalled and on edge enough to stay tuned through the commercials. We have also rapidly moved from a world where we were once forced (allowed) to entertain ourselves, toward one where we feel entitled to be entertained.
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Information and technology bring us many great things, but there is a cost. Here in our little corner of Laos, we are familiar with our neighbors, look after each other and make it a point to leave the comforts of home and just wander around a bit. In the First World, I notice that many people fill their days with busyness and rarely escape their hermetically sealed, climate controlled, work and home cocoons to interact with each other.
There are advantages to living in the First World, but there are lessons to be drawn from everywhere, if only we dare to look and keep our minds open. Yes, we have gained a lot over the years, but is it necessary to lose the things that used to be so precious to us at the same time?