I fondly remember growing up in our middle-class home in the Davis gated college community. Our family was large, and with six siblings in one household, it was inevitable that the needs and interests of another family member would sometimes take precedence over our own. “It is not fair!” was a frequent cry on such occasions, and it was not uncommon for our father, with a touch of wry humor born of his rural upbringing during the Great Depression, to reply curtly, “Nothing is fair.”
While the phrase “Nothing is fair” did little to assuage our selfish sense of injustice during those early sibling feuds, the phrase stuck with me, and I I have since realized that, like many of my parents’ lyrics, it reflects certain basic notions. human truths.
For example, when I grew a bit older, my father’s work with college required our family to live for a year in Latin America, where for the first time I experienced some of the harsh realities that I had been sheltered in my own quiet growing community. I witnessed poverty on an unprecedented scale in my country, and I still remember the image through the bus window on my first day of school, of ragged children playing in shacks squalid, grouped along a polluted stream. As we wandered the streets of the city, we were met by beggars, many of whom had serious physical defects, who seemed to occupy almost every public space in the city center. Although there was also great wealth in this country, the poor were everywhere, and their condition contrasted dramatically with the seemingly ordinary comforts of our own home.
This experience led me to understand that there was a deeper meaning to my father’s words. To the extent that “nothing was fair,” I realized that in almost all material respects, most inequalities in the world seemed to tilt in my favor. Such injustice of circumstances was not my fault, but it rocked my world and left me with a clouded conscience in the years that followed.
My next experience with poverty in Latin America came when, as a young man, I was called as a missionary to Central America. There, in a country where average citizens had very limited resources by our standards, I was assigned to work with an indigenous community that was considered the poorest of all because their language and culture kept them isolated from the mainstream. dominant in society. Most of the people in this area lived in tiny dwellings with dirt floors and thatched roofs. As I faced conditions which, from a material point of view, seemed abjectly poor, it was tempting to assume, as many do, that such poverty must be accompanied by great unhappiness and relegate the people to a largely meaningless existence at the very edge of survival.
However, as I began to live among them and learn their language, I discovered that far from being meaningless, their lives were in fact rich and dynamic, with traditions and complex patterns of hospitality that rivaled or exceeded those with whom I had been brought up. There was an unexpected sense of community beyond anything I had ever seen, and within that community the full gamut of human experience found expression (even the familiar cry of “this n isn’t fair!” of a child who felt his interest had been violated) . The truth is that where I expected to find an illiterate and backward society full of misery and despair, I instead found an industrious and intelligent people who, although despised as an outcast by many in their own country, had, through a unique combination of independence and interdependence, succeeded not only in surviving, but in thriving.
As my relationship with people grew and I was welcomed into their trust, I was struck by the degree of warmth and joy that permeated our relationships. Despite their seemingly modest means, these people were full of love, faith, and a remarkable degree of genuine happiness, drawn from the full spectrum of human experience. Although their relative poverty denied them some of the pleasures in life that I took for granted, it also gave them a greater sense of personal independence and a deeper appreciation for the things in life that really mattered to me – for food (much of which they grew themselves), for shelter (which they usually built with their own hands), for clothing (which was simple, traditional clothing), and for health (for which they used an amazing range of herbs and remedies). And while they didn’t set much store by outward affection, their family relationships were imbued with kindness, tenderness and love, which they also passed on to me as I took pains to enter their society and to learn their language. In doing so, I encountered a depth of gratitude and brotherhood beyond anything I had experienced in my own country. In time, they received me as an equal, and I had never felt so richly honoured. The friendships we have forged have endured long separations of time and distance, and I value them above almost everything else.
Of the many lessons I have learned from these encounters with the “unfairness” of life, two seem perhaps of particular importance for our times and circumstances. The first of these is embodied in the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10, verse 15: “Beware and beware of covetousness, for the life of a man does not consist in abundance of things he has. We tend to express our gratitude for our material blessings and measure the success of our lives by them, but I’ve learned that in the final analysis, these don’t have much of an impact on our happiness or self-esteem. self. In the words of Russell M. Nelson, “The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives, and everything to do with the direction of our lives.”
The second important lesson was taught by Jesus in the same chapter of Luke, verse 48: “To whom much is given, much will be demanded; and to whom men have entrusted much, they will ask for more. Life is not fair and never has been. Some of us, indeed, probably the vast majority in this country, have been blessed disproportionately compared to other places on earth and other times in history. Even the poor among us live longer on average, enjoy better health, have more free time and have access to communication, transportation and information tools that previous generations did not even dream of. I believe that these blessings, rather than being a sign of favor from God, are a kind of stewardship entrusted to us, in the hope that we will use them for the blessing and benefit of our fellow man. And I believe that at the end of the day, we do it best, not by giving material things, but by giving of ourselves, by reaching out to other children of God with kindness and consideration, and by allowing our best ideals to permeate every human interaction. Such behavior is contagious and can make us agents of good in a world gone wrong.
The fact is that all of us, rich or poor, have the means, the opportunity, and the divine charge to bless and uplift others when and where we can. This is the best way to show our appreciation to God for the blessings he has given us. It is also in many ways the purpose of our earthly existence and the scale by which our lives will be measured. As we undertake this challenge, I believe we will feel more happiness and a greater sense of self-worth. We will feel closer to God and more grateful for the things in life that really matter.