“One of the most powerful indictments of economic inequality I’ve ever read.” That's how Barbara Ehrenreich describes Katherine Boo's smart, heart-melting book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers. It's a perfect read for anyone who loves to travel or is curious about the world. Anyone who enjoys books that prompt profound sadness will certainly think it's a winner as well – it excels in that department.
Anyhow, Ehrenreich's description is right on the money. I can't imagine that any person, privileged enough to move through life with relative ease, wouldn't be forever changed by Boo's revealing, detail-rich book about life in one of India's slums. As big anti-poverty and equality advocates, we know the landscape fairly well. It's our visits to places much like the one Boo describes in her book that originally compelled us to advocate on behalf of the ghosts of society – those people that the well-connected world passes by.
Even so, the book (and, actually, this article too) recently took our understanding of – and disdain for – inequality to an entirely new level. We both read it last month and were reminded just how lucky we are to have been born into a society where we have it so good. To repeat what was said in a previous post… we won the birth lottery.
Coincidentally, during January, we were also making a concerted effort to "check ourselves" when it comes to complaining. We try to do something like this at least once a year. We have nothing – nothing of substance, at least – to complain about, so we try to keep the bitching and moaning at bay. We even decided to contribute money to a "for a good cause" envelope every time one of us mindlessly complained.
Oh, the nuggets of self-discovery that come to the surface when you listen to the things that effortlessly flow out of your own mouth. Whenever we take on this challenge, we're reminded of the importance of words. We remember visiting shantytowns in Zambia, and the after-the-fact embarrassment we felt every time we'd said "I'm starving" as a way of communicating mild hunger. Or the times we've complained – to the point of getting upset – about "too much" rain or snow or sunshine.
So there we were last month, trying to be mindful of mindless complaining, reading a book about people who really have something to complain about and filling up an envelope with money.
And then our washing machine broke.
That little ripple in our world turned out to be quite telling. Our initial response was one you would expect were there no other imaginable way to clean clothes. A sink, friends' homes and a nearby laundromat didn't even enter into our initial assessment of and (over) reaction to the situation. First world problems, right?
As hard on ourselves as we can be – because we have a lot of work to do in the "being more aware" department – we are able to look back and see some decent progress. Just yesterday, we were laughing because we remembered that it's one of Ehrenreich's books that inspired us to do what we call the "pre-clean." We won't leave messes for housekeepers, servers (etc.) to clean up. Routinely seeing the shit-storm that is a typical occupied hotel room (peeking in while walking down the hall), we're happy to maintain a hotel room that will require very little attention.
We're going to work on keeping perspective and always remembering just how good we've got in. In a world with so much suffering, there's no room for unrestrained complaining, blown-out-of-proportion assessments of situations and frustration borne of greed.
We need to do – and say – better, step by step.
Now, we're gonna donate this envelope of money and (happily) head to the laundromat. Without griping.
What about you? What's your relationship with complaining like? Also, have you read Behind the Beautiful Forevers? If not, get on it!