How often do we reflect on what is really important to us? What do we value? Spending time abroad has changed what I think is important in life. Some of my values before expanding my view of the world were success, having a good job/ making money, being comfortable ect. I’m pretty sure I felt bad for people less fortunate than me, but didn’t give it too much thought. (I’ve never liked the poor children in Africa commercials to be truthful, and like them even less now). Maybe we just focus on what is directly in front of us, and for a long time for me that was solely my career and my title.
My focus shifted throughout my experiences abroad. One of the first major lessons I learned when I volunteered in Morocco for the first time is that nobody- I repeat- absolutely no one wants my pity. I certainly don’t want someone to feel sorry for me, so why would anyone else? We all have the same basic desires for compassion and understanding. Sometimes the best thing I can do is listen to someone and just be kind., sans judgement.
I’ve seen quite a bit of poverty in my travels and had a moment when I was volunteering in Villa El Salvador in Lima, Peru. First, I’d love to tell you about this special community that was actually nominated for a noble peace prize in 1986 (Night by Elie Wizel won instead). This community is a shantytown that was built off desert land and is quite segregated from the remainder of Peru. It was also targeted by a Maoist movement in Peru during the 1980’s and early 90’s, along with the government in Peru as they are primarily Quechua speaking people. Quechua is the language of the indigenous people from the Andes that were initially targeted by the Shining Path. Many were forced into the urban poor within Lima- Villa El Salvador.
I spent my time at an elderly center that was full of life and energy. Some days I made home visits in the community and what I found was a stark difference between the home life and the atmosphere at the center. One of the most important things people thrive on, and that binds them together is a sense of community. This sense of community literally made these lovely abuelos and abeulas come alive. Whether Villa El Salvador, a favela in Brazil, or the bustling Big Apple, a sense of community is vital to happiness and purpose in life. It provides companionship, a sense of belonging, and people to share life’s struggles with.
It has also been proven in social physological research how valuable social ties are to happiness and a sense of belonging. Look at Emile Durkheim’s famous suicide study from 1987 that directly correlates the level of social solidarity with the rate of suicide in a society. Regardless what hand of cards you are deal in life, having others to go through the experience with will help immensely.
What’s important to me now is community, or my relationships with others, kindness, and compassion. I don’t feel sorry for anyone, but seek to understand and help in whatever way I can. My measure of success has also changed drastically. I work for a non profit, so I certainly don’t make a lot of money, but hopefully, the work I do is meaningful and helps others to discover what’s truly important to them.