So, after a bit of a delay, I’m finally back with another blog. I’ll be honest, I don’t have any excuse like “Ive been travelling” or “I have no internet” or anything like that. I’ve just been a bit lazy, but I promise to make it up to you in the next few days by putting up a backlog of unposted messages!
Before you read this, please prepare yourself for some splitting of hairs as I search for the right words to express some thoughts that just came to me a few days ago, as well, get ready for some thorough introspection:
A few days ago, I came home early from work to do some packing and preparations for a trip to Delhi. A few minutes after I got home, our “mum” from across the hallway in our apartment walked into our living room with two kids in tow. Now mum, she has lived across the hall while dozens and dozens of interns have lived here. To her, each intern is her “son” or “daughter” (although she does tend to show just a little bit of favouritism towards the boys). She is like our self-nominated caretaker, she comes and goes every few days, walks into our apartment without warning, and sometimes busies herself with some cleaning in our (sometimes disgusting) apartment. She speaks quite broken English and is always excited to see you when she walks into the room and gives you a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She also frequently talks about her different “children” (old interns) who are spread throughout the world. She does have one real son who lives with her who we see from time to time. She is a sweet lady and spoils us.
However, the children that she had in tow that day were not her own. Rather, I think they are kids from a poor family hired to clean her apartment, and occassionally she brings them with her to our apartment to do some sweeping and cleaning at our place. It was while sitting in our living room and trying to mind my own business (which is a nicer way of saying that I was trying to ignore what was happening infront of me and put my head in the sand) while these kids cleaned our mess under mum’s direction. These kids couldn’t have been any older than 6 or 7, and this wasn’t the first time that this had happened, but I finally felt that I needed to get something down out of me…
So I’ll begin with a question-When becoming an adult, is it normal for our own problems to always seem more important than everyone else’s? Is it normal at some point to forget that other people might even have problems bigger than our own?
Sure, we can all consciously compare ourselves to someone in a worse situation and admit that yes, our problems are small and maybe we have it easy. However, how often do we really think about this and let our behaviour be guided by this understanding?
Maybe its not that often for a lot of us.
When I think about this, its almost like the older you get and the more baggage you have, the more you’re able to think about yourself, your world, and what matters to you. Its like your own concerns or responsibilities are supposed to let you off the hook for thinking about other people unless you really need to or “should”. So how does this happen?
Right now, I’m tempted to throw out the word “ego” as an answer, but I don’t if ego is the right word, at least not in the sense that most of us are used to using the word.
In this case, when I think of the word ego, I think of it in the sense that it was taught to me in my first year of university, in my Religions of Asia class, of all places (which is slightly ironic, since it was this class that first sparked my interest in going to India). In that class, “ego” was the word that was used to describe someone’s attachment to their own sense of self and identity. It didn’t mean that a person had an ego in the sense that they thought they were “hot shit,” rather it meant that a person who has an ego was a person attached to themselves and their own world, their wants, their needs, their connections, their companions, and even attached to their own suffering, because it is these things that make a person who they are. Thess attachments are what makes me different from you, and you different from him or her.
If I’ve lost you, give me another chance to explain further…
It feels like, the older I get, the more of an “ego” I develop, it feels like blinders go up on either side of my eyes and slowly close in together, until I’m no longer able to look at things from outside myself and I become unable to put things into perspective unless I REALLY give it a conscious effort. In a way, my “ego” has grown enough to obstruct my vision of things going on right infront of me, such as the poor or unfair treatment of another person, or an unjust situation. When I was younger, I considered myself to be quite “in tune” with these sort of things, when I saw someone struggling or facing difficulties, it wasn’t something I could look past very easily. Now though, I find it much easier to ignore the things that are uncomfortable to think about and just go about my business.
So, how does this relate to the kids who clean?
First off, I don’t mean for this to be a criticism of mum or how things are here, I’m making an effort to be culturally sensitive and open-minded. However, the fact that there are young children who come to our apartment, where quite privileged and able-bodied people are living, to come to clean up after us, it bothers me.
I’m sure there are reasons for it, maybe these children need to do it to contribute to their family, maybe in India having children do this type of work is normal. Maybe mum is even looking out for these kids in her own way and trying to help them. Regardless though, I know that if I saw this three years ago, even if I rationalized it and tried to understand, the situation would still bother me. Moments after seeing this the first time I would have spent a good chunk of time thinking about it. I would have thought about whether we should stop this practice within our own house, then I would have thought if this action would actually make the situation for these kids worse (maybe it would take away a source of needed income). I would have thought about it to see if there was anything that I could do to make things better for them, or if I could at least stop contributing to a situation I didn’t think was right-even if my efforts were fruitless.
Now though, it took almost a month of being aware of this before it finally started to really bother me and before I really thought about it. It was always in the back of my head, but you know, I’ve been busy with work and friends, I was jet-lagged, I’ve been unhappy with my job, I only have four months to see India and don’t have enough time to do everything I would like to do.
By making my own problems seem like they mattered, I could put those thoughts at the forefront of my mind and put other things around me to the back of my head, the kids who clean our house being just one of a few things.
Oh well, maybe looking past these things is a coping mechanism, maybe thats what helps me live day to day without getting overly upset by things around me. Or on the other hand, maybe I’m just a bit slower with these things with age.
In either case, at least it happened eventually and I’m not a lost cause. Better later rather than not at all.