Saturday, April 2, 2016

The high cost to children of growing up wealthy

While typical in the developed world, this is not normal.
A mom was fixing supper, so I offered to pick up some things at the grocery store.  Her kids went with me, and I was surprised to discover that the youngest, a 3rd grader, had never been in a grocery store before.  She ran around the store wide-eyed and excited while we got some chicken out of the refrigerator section and some peppers off the shelf.  At the checkout, she came hesitantly and asked me so sweetly if she could have this bar of soap she'd found in the beauty section. It smelled pretty and she'd never in her life had anything so nice.  Of course you may.  It was some time ago, but I still remember the wonderment and smiles.

This is normal, the really nice version.
This is the capital city's new marketplace.  It used to be out in the sunshine and on the ground.
Here you can buy produce (bottom floor), and second hand clothes (upper balconies),
and some other household things; mostly local stuff.  Tomatoes, cassava, okra,
seven kinds of bananas, mangoes, jaque fruit, breadfruit,
coconut everything, and fish caught this morning.  I
took this picture just a few months after the
grand opening.
The store where I took the kids was small, perhaps the size of a 7-11, and it was one of just three such stores in the small west-African country.  Shopping for most folks was at roadside kiosks and in the open market on the edge of town.  Only rich people went to stores.

So my wife and I were at the grocery store today (like the one in the top picture), and as we walked the aisles filled with incredible variety and quantity, I was reminded of my little friend and her bar of soap.  And we think we're normal.

Half of the world lives on perhaps $5 per day or less.  That's one tenth of the developed world average.  Poverty is persistent and troublesome, and economic inequality is increasing rather rapidly around the world. Grocery stores perhaps are not the norm.  As the national and international marketplace is reshaped by big businesses and international trade policies, the rich are doing quite well but at the expense of everyone else. This distribution of wealth and resources has nothing to do with intellect, level of effort, or diligence, of course.

Roadside clothing merchant, some new, some second-hand, all
reasonably priced.  This is normal.
Most folks in the developed countries have no idea that they are the ones who are extraordinarily wealthy.  House and car, heating and air conditioning, schools and stores and doctors, they think that all those things are normal.  They could be, they should be, but they're not.
Djibouti, eastern Africa -- there are grocery stores in
the capital city, but they're pricey.  Street markets 
like this are the norm for most.

Apparently, wealth corrupts.
Our young African friends are socially and intellectually healthier than their counterparts in the developed world.  They have only limited exposure to our media.  Their African community does well watching over children as they run rather freely wherever they please. Children are safe, cross-generationally connected, communicative, and meaningfully related.  Unlike children in the developed world, they are not socially constrained to their grade level, and children of all ages walk to and from school together and play together.  They are perhaps emotionally healthier than children in the cities of the developed world, and they are not enslaved to fashion or obsessed with having things.

They knew I was coming to visit, so they bought fish to serve.  
This is a normal kitchen for 2.5 billion folks.
(Their difficulties are getting a balanced diet, a complete education, and healthcare when they need it.  Many of them are under height for age and underweight for height -- stunted, so they'll have health problems.  Their government is perhaps less corrupt than ours.)

Wealth in the west has spawned an economic war where the goal of business is to get more and to do so by competing and winning.  The resulting economic inequality is stunning, and we have evolved a culture where materialistic goals have replaced character and virtue and courageous service.  Fortunately, there is a better path available for our children.

The high cost?  Of growing up wealthy? ... it's perhaps a broken understanding of what's worthwhile and perhaps what's normal as well.
With wealth, one can focus on having and getting more as though that were somehow beneficial or important.  Wealth drives wedges between people; it can crowd in and replace the good parts of life, the meaningful interaction between family members and with friends. Technology and media do that, do they not?  Instead of hours spent together, there are hours spent in solo focus on entertainment things, commercialized and blinged to entice and engage our minds in a materialistic context.  No benefit except to businesses.  
A child raised in western culture and allowed to follow their educational and cultural norms is likely to grow up to be materialistic, intellectually narrow, and unaware of the real world.  True?

Unfortunately, yes.  
Is there a cure?  Yes.  For Adults?  Yes, but it's difficult.
Despite the extraordinary blessings of living in a developed economy, there is a downside that must be overcome if we want to hold on to what is worthwhile.

You might appreciate Psychology Today - The Problem With Rich Kids