We take pride in making choices. They don’t have to be good choices or have positive outcomes, we just like the fact that we can decide for ourselves. It’s one of our favourite pastimes. The amount of times that I’ve thought “don’t tell me what to do, I will make my own decision thank you very much!” is embarrassing. We like to be in charge of our own destiny and we feel better when we are in control.
About the only decision we have zero control over is one incredibly significant aspect of life. We cannot control when or where we are born. I was born in Australia whether I liked it or not. There was nothing that I did that made this possible. The same can be said for my parents and their parents. Being born in Australia doesn’t make me great nor does it make me terrible. Tim Costello, the CEO of World Vision calls it the “Lottery of Latitude”. Many of us have dreams of one day winning the lottery and just kicking back and enjoying the rest of our life in easy street, but in the lottery of life, by being born in Australia, or ending up in Australia, we have already won – without even knowing we bought a ticket.
Living in Australia doesn’t give me exclusive rights to a comfortable life.
I’m digging deeper into the idea that ‘we should look after our own first before we help others’ when it comes to giving. To do a quick recap, I think that there can be an underlying desire within people to advocate for ‘our own’ in Australia, to ensure that we all have everything we need before we look to assist those overseas. I believe this response comes out of fear and ignorance. Fear that if we give to overseas programs we will turn our focus so much to overseas aid that our economy and society will fall over, ruining our way of life. And ignorance of how much money from Australia actually goes to overseas projects. We want to be in control of where and how our money gets spent. This is ‘our country’ and we’ll fix it before we look outside to others even though our economy is still moving forward and our giving is moving backwards.
(There are a number of arguments for and against assisting those in developing countries, you can find some here, and also in a recent article calling ‘Australia to invest in Foreign Aid as well as rockets’.)
It’s true, Australia has areas of urban poverty, homelessness and other social issues many worthy charities are addressing, but if you zoom out and take a global perspective, you will find poverty looks very different in Australia than overseas. Poverty in Australia largely occurs to pockets of individuals for personal reasons. It rarely has anything to do with their location. We are a developed nation with an abundance of food, drinkable tap water, affordable and functional public education and government healthcare, pensions and unemployment benefits for all citizens.
People who are born overseas in developing countries aren’t so lucky. For a variety of reasons (corruption, conflict, natural disasters, limited resources), they struggle to access nutritious food, clean drinking water, medicine or education. When hardships affect an individual they fall into the poverty cycle without any means of getting back on track, simply because of where they live. And as more people struggle to make ends meet, communities become run down, slums are created and lives are lost way too easily.
Living in Australia doesn’t give me exclusive rights to a comfortable life. It doesn’t mean that I am more deserving of having enough food to eat, or life-saving medicine, or clean drinking water, or access to education. It doesn’t mean that I have an entitlement to be wealthy, or to have spare time, or open spaces – these things happen to us without us realising. These are the things that set Australia apart from the majority of the rest of the world.
The average full time income of an Australian is just under $1,500 a week, or $78,000 a year – that figure places the average Australian in the top 0.30% of the planet according to globalrichlist.com, or in other words 99.70% of people in the world are poorer than the average Australian. We are a wealthy nation. I encourage you to check out where you sit.
‘Recreation’ is not a word that gets used a great deal in developing countries. Or extra-curricular or even curricular for that matter. The most frustrating thing that I hear my kids say is, “I’m bored”. It grates against me so much, because there are ample activities that they could possibly be doing. At some level though, I am glad that they have the ability to be bored (or think that they are bored). It means that they have down time, they can rest, relax, play sport, learn an instrument or watch T.V. They have the freedom to do that… We have the freedom to do that.
We can enjoy our beautiful landscape with little pollution and big open spaces. We can go camping or fishing or hiking. We can find places where we can feel like we are the only person on the planet (both an amazing and incredibly frightening feeling). The population of Australia just cracked 24 million people recently, which is miniscule on a global scale of 7.3 billion and we still have so much space available to us (not all of it inhabitable admittedly). Life is good here. Not perfect, but good.
It’s not just me saying this, the United Nations agrees and ranks Australia at number 2 in the Human Development Index just behind Norway and in front of, well, everyone else in the world. This measurement is a summary of the average achievements in life expectancy, education and standards of living. You can’t fudge the numbers on this one, Australia is doing very well on a global scale and has been for a long time. But being born here doesn’t make that our birth rite.
Where you are born shouldn’t dictate how or if you live.
It shouldn’t be like that… but it is. That is the reality of the world that we live in and it’s not right.
Now, I don’t want you to feel guilty about that. Guilt has been used as a motivational tool for the longest of times, and whilst it is a valid human emotion, it is not helpful when looking to create change. If you have done something wrong, feel guilty, say sorry and make restitution. But people living in poverty don’t need your guilt, they need you to give them an opportunity to break the poverty cycle. Don’t feel guilty about having plenty of food, clean drinking water, medicine and education – they are human rights. We should celebrate that we have those things because they are good. We all should have those things and because we have them so easily available to us in Australia, I believe that they come with a responsibility to help out those who don’t have them at all, purely because of where they were born.
For people living in developing countries, it’s not that they are not working hard enough, or have done something wrong, or are just horrible people. Something that is completely out of their control has placed them where they are. They don’t deserve the life that they have, just like we’ve done nothing to deserve the life on offer for us in Australia. But together we can help them have an opportunity to reach their full potential. And that’s all that people want. Choice.
So whether you were born in Australia or you have had the opportunity to move here, or any other developed nation for that matter, don’t respond with guilt. But take the gift that you have been given with a sense of responsibility that spurs you on to benefit others.
What are you going to do with your lotto winnings?