I get this question a lot when I meet people and tell them I’m from the States. “Is it better there?” they ask me.
How does one answer that?
I usually spit out something like, “Oh, I don’t know…it’s hard to say…it depends on the person…there are many different aspects…life is hard everywhere.” And it’s not because I’m trying to evade answering their question, it’s because I honestly don’t know. Define “better.”
If, by “better,” you mean percentage of households with electricity and plumbing, well then yes, maybe it is better. But we also make up 5 % of the world’s population and use almost 25% of the world’s energy, so what’s really “better” about that?
If, by “better,” you mean we eat food grown locally, produce from our own backyards, and grass-fed beef, we then no, it isn’t better. We are, in some ways, polluting our bodies with high fructose corn syrup and lack of natural food. (If you’ve never seen Food, Inc., watch it.) Meanwhile, Moldovans are eating from their own farms and growing their own livestock.
If, by “better,” you mean many of us have cars and we drive everywhere, the verdict is up for debate. Cars can also mean less walking and more pollution.
If by “better,” you mean our country is less politically polarized than Moldova, a population very much divided between communism and the liberal parties, I would tell you just to wait…the U.S. will probably be there soon considering our current polarization between Republicans and Democrats.
What exactly makes life “better”? Comfort? Convenience?
And then there is also a certain reality about Moldova, about meeting basic needs of people, especially in the more rural regions. Villages without running water, schools without heat, lower salaries (also a lower cost of living, but it still is not enough), few local employment opportunities (though the U.S. and the rest of the world could also say something about this in today’s economic environment). We cannot deny the fact that Moldova is less developed than the U.S., but we must also recognize that with progress comes growing pain (take, for example, industrialization in the late 1800’s – that resulted in a whole host of problems). In the U.S. may have road and running water and electricity, but our country still faces some major issues, some of those issues created by the very things that some would say make us “better.”
I don’t know. I think as a Peace Corps volunteer, I’m realizing how easy it is to give up mere conveniences. (That said, I still do miss having a washing machine and reliable hot water, so I get it, maybe there are some things that are nice to have around.) But I guess I’m really starting to question, what truly makes life better? And I hope, as I continue my journey, that my initial response is not things, not materials or conveniences. I hope I find “better” in the intangible things in life, in relationships, in investing time to do nice things for others, in reading, in appreciating each and every person for who God made them to be and in just taking in the world around me.
If you’ve never read Walden by Henry David Thoreau, I highly encourage you to do so. It’s one of my favorite books of all time. And, in light of this post, I just have to include quotes from Thoreau. His thoughts in Walden talk a lot about living a simple life. Please excuse my literary gushing. But, if you do decide to continue reading, I hope you enjoy Thoreau’s thoughts as much as I do!
“Let us first be as simple and well as Nature ourselves, dispel the clouds which hang over our brows, and take up a little life into our pores. Do not stay to be an overseer of the poor, but endeavor to become one of the worthies of the world.”
“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”
“I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.”
“The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the alms-house as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring.”
Maybe eventually I’ll find a better answer to this question. But, for now, I’m still searching.