Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Life in High Contrast

This last week and a half in Europe has been hard. Hard for a number of reasons, not the least of which including food poisoning, not staying anywhere for more than a few days, and not knowing my way around. But more profoundly, these last several days have made me realize that I live life in high contrast and just how much my perspective has changed from my short time in Africa.

I got to Dublin last Sunday for the Google EMEA sales conference after an 11-hour red-eye. Those of you who know me well know my finickiness about sleeping and thus my deep-seated distaste for red-eyes, but I was actually in pretty good spirits when I got to Ireland. Dublin's a charming city, and manageable enough that I got to explore the city fairly quickly. Things quickly took a turn for the worse, however, when I ate a smoked salmon crepe for dinner, resulting in the worst case of food poisoning I could imagine. I won't go into the details, but let's just say it was bad. I was supposed to be getting to know my team, and instead I ended up incapacitated the entire time. On Wednesday, I departed for London, Friday for Oxford, and then Sunday for Zurich, where I am now. I'm grateful to be feeling much better this week, and grateful that this entire trip won't have been in vain.

But onto the crux of this post. I'm reminded of a quote by the famous theologian, Cornel West, in reference to a statement from Socrates. The classical philosopher is credited with saying, "The unexamined life is not worth living," to which West famously replied, "and the examined life is hard." It is in this way that these last several days have been hard. When I got to Dublin, the first thing I did was take a long, hot, fully pressurized shower. For the first time in weeks. And it was glorious. And yet. And yet, as I was standing under the full stream of hot water, I couldn't help feeling like I was doing something wrong, that I was being sinful, overly self-indulgent. Walking around the city I got the same impression. The manicured parks, the fancy restaurants, the large, beautiful homes. Had I really been living amongst all of this my entire life without ever appreciating it? I supposed I had.

It wasn't until this realization that I understood how much my time in Africa had changed my outlook. Over the last week, I've talked about the things that I can't take for granted back in Ghana: electricity, running water, etc., and I can tell that most people just don't understand what that's like, what some huge portion of the human population live with every day. It's staggering to think, really. You can see the pictures on the web or TV, but you can't really understand until you experience it yourself. And that's something I have to think is extremely important for humanity as a whole. I feel like I'm a fuller person for understanding some tiny portion of these things, and I'm left wondering how we can get people at-large to understand these hard realities. I have to believe that we'd be a stronger civilization if more people did.


Randy said...

Thanks for another great post, Ben! Very well said, especially the last paragraph! (and except for the food poisoning - ugh!)

I remember some of Cornel West a few years back, but I had seen his philosophy on the "examined life" - excellent!


Randy said...

Oh, one more thing - Dublin, Oxford, Zurich - NOT what you would call a "hardship tour"!

Marjorie said...

I have been to India seven times now. Before I went there, I would never have acknowledged that I was materialistic in any way.

Now I know that I was like a fish in water who doesn't know what water is as it is always in the water and has never experienced being out of water.

Thanks Ben.