What is the Norm?

Since returning to school, many people are asking about Tanzania. The question-askers are good intentioned and kind-hearted. I reply with a standardized answer that is just easiest for me: “It was good. You know, some good parts, some bad parts”. That does sum it up on a basic level, and most people leave contentedly while I maintain the memory of the experience for what it was. I answered similarly about Rwanda last year.

On a couple of occasions, people have inferred something along the lines of: “I could never do that. I just wouldn’t be able to see people living like that. I’d need to come home”.

Each time I return back to our beautiful country, on a sub-conscious level, I cannot help but feel we’re living in a fake world. A heavily constructed society, fraught with over-consumption and living beyond our means. When I come home to my one-bedroom condo and drive my personal car, I think to myself, this is just not realistic. Not everyone can have their own home and own car. When I take trash out of my family home in Hamilton, I think, it’s just ridiculous to be able to produce so much trash. Not everyone can live like this.

And this is my point. How can we be afraid to see how the majority of the world lives? When we say, “I wouldn’t be able to see people living like ‘that’,” — ‘that’ implying poverty, illness, conflict, or just living simply, perhaps? — we are implying almost that the way ‘we’ live is the norm. But what if the way we live is the unsustainable exception?

I don’t know what to say about fear of understanding the lives of our global majority. Is this fear, or separateness, what prevents our process towards an unreachable equality?

I published an article recently for the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshires, Massachusetts. The article speaks to the idea of non-duality and can be found here:



~ by kcanderson on September 7, 2007.

3 Responses to “What is the Norm?”

  1. I get the same feeling when I come back to Canada from Pakistan – that life here is altogether too comfortable, that life doesn’t really matter in the same way as it does for people who aren’t sure if they’ll see their next birthday in one piece. There is a sterile quality to it, everything is easy and so nothing is really valuable, unless it has a large price tag on it. Being in an academic setting doesn’t help, since you don’t meet people who struggle with anything that can be called hardship, and most of the people you know think nothing of hopping on a plane for a titillating vacation in some expensive location.

    Not everyone can live like this.

    The problem is that we (not you and me, but policy-makers) have accepted the idea that economic growth solves all problems – that if the tide rises, all boats are lifted.

    We don’t want to admit that if you want social justice and a healthy natural environment, some of us are going to have to get poorer.

  2. Exactly. For equality to ever even begin to inch towards ‘better’, some things in some of our lives are going to have to get ‘worse’. And that is why we will never really commit to the idea of equality (I think).

  3. It may be a fake world that we live in, but do the ‘poorer’ countries yearn to one day build their world like ours? Is that our vision or is it theirs?

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