Thursday, September 11, 2014

Have you ever been desperate?

Let me start by posing a questions:
What was your most desperate moment?

The Swedish general election is only days away. While the election prompted this blog post, the issue I'm addressing is far more important than swaying votes and it stretches far beyond the borders of Sweden. I'm talking about relocation, when a person leaves one place for another, in hope for a better future. Some move to another city hoping for a better job. Some move to another country hoping for better opportunities. And some move wherever they can, hoping to find safety and security. The first we call a brave go-getter, the second we know as an immigrant and the third is a refugee.

If I were to answer my own question, my most desperate moment is frankly not very desperate at all. Looking at Maslow's hierarchy of needs ('s_hierarchy_of_needs) I've never had to worry about the bottom two tiers, not really. I can't even begin to phantom what it would be like to live through some of the horrendous situations some people deal with every day. For this I'm indescribably grateful.

I have been very fortunate, very lucky. Cause that's what it seems to boil down to, luck. Personally, I didn't do anything in particular to deserve the good fortune in which I have lived. I was simply born. Born by parents who had the privilege of being able to choose, and to carve out a life with the aspiration of personal fulfillment rather than survival. Not to say I've never been challenged or had to fight, but in the big scheme of things, have I ever really been scared for my life, have I ever had to fight for my survival, have I ever really suffered?

In a perfect world, good fortune would breed gratitude and humility. While it does for some, it also seems to be taken for grated by us who are so lucky. But even worse, it seems to frequently breed a sense of entitlement, as if it's our given right to live with certain privileges while denying others the same rights.

Let me follow my initial question with the following two:
What would you do for the health and safety of yourself and your loved ones?
Why do we assume our own intentions and actions would be more noble than others'?

When listening to the current debate in Sweden (and Europe), much of the discussion is centered around immigrants and refugees. The picture that is painted is one of nondescript immigrants, from poor countries, flooding our pristine streets, soliciting our people at every corner, without any desire beyond asking us for handouts, whether it be through social benefits or a paper cup on the sidewalk. But why are immigrants and refugees perceived as such a threat? There are two popular opinions in particular I would like to address:

"They should be grateful they get to come to our country."
First of all, why do we assume they're not? Just because they haven't learnt our language yet? And who should really be grateful? They who were able to remove themselves from their suffering, or us who get to live the lives we choose, with our loved ones, at the place we call home?

"We need to take care of our own before we can take care of others."
In this sentence, the only thing that separates "us" from "them" is on which side of the geographical border one is born. However, it is a personal choice when defining that border. City border, regional border, national border, continental border etc. The narrower the definition, the more "others" there will be and the less amount of "our own" there is to look out for, and vice versa. So, who do you choose to be, exclusive or inclusive?

It is important to remember that our ability to choose is a privilege, and a responsibility. It's also a direct reflection of our good fortune. There are many choices to be made, whether it be choosing a career, a life partner, a political representative or a conviction. But the choice is ours, and we should take great care when making a decision.

My grandmother was forced out of China, and became an immigrant in Taiwan. My mother left Taiwan, and became an immigrant in Sweden. I left Sweden and am currently an immigrant in the United States. My family history has played a huge part in how I view the world and my understanding of how intimately connected we all are. I've been fortunate. There are many things in the world that can, justifiably, turn us into reserved, skeptical pessimists, sometimes even hateful. But I firmly believe every person choose their attitude and their outlook on life. Some things I understand, some I don't. When I don't, I choose to trust people and their intentions, trust that we're not all that different, that they simply want what I want, which is to be happy, healthy, respected and loved.