Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What part of my heart bleeds?

I don't know if the periods of melancholy that I undergo are necessarily driven by world poverty. But I do know that I go through these painful periods of sadness when my head gets cloudy and my heart hurts and my mind races, unable to think of anything practical or useful other than world poverty.

In those periods, all I want to do is leave everything behind and alleviate world poverty. I'm serious.

All I can think is how unjust the world is. How unfair it is that millions of people live without enough money to get home from work, even after earning minimum wage (according to this article). Or how difficult it is for people across the world to find jobs, even if they are willing to work hard, because their jobs are being outsourced or replaced by robots. (Don't ask me how I find these articles - all I know is that they are attracted to me like bees to honey.)

I believe I have always been an exceptionally sensitive, "bleeding heart" since I was a child. But I only recently realised my "bleeding heart" may be a symptom of a very visceral belief, after a series of confounding feelings at a first date that left me certain of only one thing - I need help!

Long story short - a date was trying to impress by getting a special reservation at one of the most exclusive (4 Michelin star) restaurants in the city. Unfortunately for him, not only did I look unpleasantly taken aback by the opulence of the venue when I arrived, but I also sat through the entire 4-course meal looking like the spitting image of a glum, disappointed and deeply dehydrated fish out of water.

At the time, I didn't understand my behaviour and thought it was because I couldn't stand the guy. After some reflection, I realise I liked the guy's personality but didn't understand the need to splurge on a $400 meal when there was so much world poverty. World poverty. There it was again.

My mind has been obsessed with world poverty since I was a child. I carry the burden around like Jesus or Atlas, but without doing any of the hard labour they did. All I can do is mope, weep, get extremely depressed, accomplish nothing and feel deeply guilty again, in a repetitive cycle. I don't know why my heart bleeds the way it does. I don't know why it bleeds more than others (after all, I'm not the only one eating out at a fancy place.) All I know is that it bleeds and it is painful.

I know people say you shouldn't be guilty and you should unashamedly chase money and prestige and your career and some day that will give you the ability to write a check and donate to a foundation (or better still, create your own tax-exempt charity). I guess my heart doubts if that amount of success can ever really occur and questions why I can't just donate to my time and my life right now. Perhaps I feel guilty because I feel that the selfish, corporate way isn't the only way forward. Perhaps I feel guilty because I realise that the people for whom my heart bleeds are those the system has failed, and those that have been left behind in our competitive, unjust world. Perhaps my heart bleeds because I realise that my hard work, my time, my life, my colleagues and my income are all going into that system that perpetuates the inequity. Perhaps it bleeds because I realise that in a Rawlsian world, I could easily have been one of those left behind.

Perhaps it bleeds because it is trying to tell me that I will never be happy with more wealth and expensive meals - instead I will be happy by doing good and making a difference to the strata of society that I care about. Just writing that last line was so relieving :)

The only problem, oh heart, is who will pay the bills?


  1. Touched by your words. I get emotionally wrecked most of the times thinking how our world has gone down in the drains, literally!

    1. Appreciate the feedback Shilpi! I do too :( One thing I've noticed about people living in the US is how little they are sensitive to abject poverty because they don't see it in the same horrifying way and at close quarters that people in developing countries do. Very few travel outside the country or know about world problems. Perhaps living like ostriches is the only way to be happy!

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