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The Average American is Selfish

Selfishness isn’t isolated to Americans, of course, and nobody likes to hear that they are selfish, especially when they make an effort not to be. Very often, people in first-world countries take things for granted that many people in third-world countries don’t even dream about and taking those things for granted is the root of the selfishness. I’m just as guilty of it as anyone, too. Let me explain, partly by example.

Our county is the poorest in Montana, with many people making below the poverty level. They are barely making ends meet and so many are one step ahead of being homeless.

Our church believes the many lessons in the bible regarding giving to the poor and helping those who are needy. Because of this, the money brought in through tithes and offerings goes right back out into the community. This Assembly of God church (AOG), called Church on the Move, runs the local food bank, clothing bank, weekly soup kitchen, and wood ministry. The wood ministry gives firewood to needy families to heat their homes; rather important in an area that gets to -20 F or -30 F (-29 C to -35 C) every year. Many people who are barely paying their bills simply don’t have the money for firewood, especially when the price is usually about $150 per cord, so the church cuts, splits, and hauls the firewood to these people. Yearly, we give away about 100 cords of firewood.

All the work for all of these outreach ministries is volunteer and they function on the money taken in by the church. It doesn’t stop there, either. The church also helps people with such things as emergency money to pay for electricity or water or propane or sometimes even rent. This is not meant to be bragging because it is what the bible and specifically Jesus has told us to do. There is also a point to all of this, which I’m getting to.

We fund a number of missionaries to other countries, too. On top of this, we sometimes become aware of a need somewhere in the world and once or twice a year, a group of people from our church will travel to other countries to help with those needs. For example, a few years ago, we learned of a need in the very poor country of Fiji. There are plenty of trees in Fiji, but that wasn’t helpful because there was nothing the people could do with the trees. People there lived in huts because the cost of lumber is tremendous there.

The US is blessed with great forests and we have forest practices to make sure that it stays that way. There are now more trees in the US than there were 200 years ago, because of those practices. As a consequence of the healthy forests, the cost of a 2 x 4 is about $3.50 and a sheet of plywood is about $25. In Fiji, a 2 x 4 costs about $15 and a sheet of plywood is around $250. You see, they have trees and understand replanting techniques, but they have nothing that would remotely pass as a lumber mill.

A group of people here decided to do something about it. They built a semi-portable mill that can be operated by just two or three people. This was taken to Fiji and set up. While there, the group constructed a simple building to function as a school and meeting hall. That building wasn’t much and by the standards in the US, it would have passed as a large shed. It only took three days to construct it. That isn’t a big deal, except that the people didn’t have any solid buildings and no money to make any. To them, it was almost a monument. Kids could learn without sitting outside to do it.

In the week that the group was there, they discovered that there were many things we take for granted that just don’t exist there. For instance; ice water, cold soda, or indeed anything cold just wasn’t available, because they had no ice and no means of making any. This might not seem like a big thing, but the temperature in Fiji doesn’t vary much and is normally between 77 F and 90 F (25 C – 32 C). In America, when the temperatures exceed 80 F, the common response is to have a cold drink. Again, there are no cold drinks there.

We are also used to relatively clean water in America. In Fiji, the water isn’t filtered and has a brownish color because of the sediment and other things in the drinking water. Showers are unheard of and a bath means trekking to the nearest river for a swim.

Food was also in short supply. Most people ate two to three meals per day consisting of about a half-cup of cooked rice without seasoning. Once in a while, they were able to add a small piece of meat to the rice and this would feed several people, so the meat was basically just enough for flavoring.

Much of this adventure was repeated more recently, this time in El Salvador, in Central America. There were some important differences, though. The people had few houses and our team built six buildings, 8 feet by 10 feet in size. Again, this isn’t much more than a shed by our standards. To the people there, these were mansions and six or eight people would live in each one-room building while considering themselves comfortable and fortunate.

The water was again filthy and it had to be literally hauled from a bit more than a mile. This is a dangerous country, complicating matters. The team again built another building that was for a school and orphanage. (Later, the church, in partnership with other churches, funded the digging of a well.) Food is again in short supply and possessions are almost non-existent. They treated bottled water like liquid gold.

What shocked many team members, though, was the attitude, particularly of the kids. The children didn’t have any toys what-so-ever. Yet, the kids were happy and joyous. Imagine kids in America being happy without cell phones, video games, or even their Nike’s. Incidentally, in regard to that latter, most of the kids had no shoes at all.

In comparison to both Fiji and El Salvador, even homeless people in the US are wealthy. We tend to complain if we don’t have enough money after paying bills to buy things we want. We watch TV, play games, yet complain when our cars break down. For that matter, we complain about the cost of fuel. We complain if we have the same food for dinner two nights in a row. We worry whether or not our shoes match our outfit. We complain if we can only take one vacation a year. We fret about the high price of clothing as we purchase a new pair of pants to go with the other five or six pairs in the drawer. We grumble when we go to the restaurant and the order isn’t done to perfection. We are selfish and unthankful. Even our poorest people are richer than an average person in a third-world country.

I’m asking that we all consider this carefully the next time we have the urge to complain about something we can’t afford or because we aren’t able to do everything we want, due to our finances. I’m including myself in this. The bottom line is that we spend far too much time complaining and far too little time simply being grateful and thankful for what we do have.

I’m not asking anyone to donate money to these poor people. I’m simply asking you to be more thankful for what you have. If you want a real learning experience, though, try going to a smaller village in Fiji or El Salvador. I guarantee that you will come back changed forever.

What do you think?

19 points

Written by Rex Trulove

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  1. Fantastic post Rex. I can’t say anything that everyone has already touched on, great comments btw. I agree with all you have written. Great way to bring awareness to what the third world countries go through vs the good old USA. I am always amazed at how out of touch most of us are in reality to what is going on around the world.

    • It is very sad that this is the reality, too. It can be a huge thing in changing attitudes, though. Many of the people in the third-world are happy and don’t miss the things that most Americans wouldn’t dream of living without. Would they like to have more, such as more food, better living conditions, clean water, and so on? Sure. They just rarely complain because they don’t have those things.

  2. I totally agree that what a person does have especially the basics like food, shelter, heat and so on they should count their blessings every day. If anyone can they certainly should find a way to help those who have so much less and are in poverty. Here is Latvia people have become selfish as well. Here most everyone struggles and due to that they fiercely protect what they and their families have as to look down on anyone who looks for a handout because they need it or who looks to them for help. It is a sad situation because everyone here could live like brothers and sisters and make it a better place for everyone.

    • That is so very true. Everyone can help the less fortunate, too. It doesn’t mean just giving them money. There are lots of ways that we can help those who are in need. It isn’t difficult to do, but it does require a change in our mindset. It also isn’t something that is new. There is a very old saying that is, “One man’s trash, another man’s treasure.” People persist in throwing things in the garbage that could be used by someone who has nothing. People also don’t realize how much of a difference it makes, just donating an hour or two of time helping out at a local food bank or soup kitchen. I don’t know if they have them in Latvia, but most large towns in the US have food banks and soup kitchens.

      For that matter, if there aren’t any in Latvia (or in any other country), one great way to help would be to go to the effort of setting something up like that.

  3. Such a timely and thoughtful article, Rex. One experience that has stayed with me is when I visited an orphanage in Mexico with a group from our church. One of the young women who had served our church on a summer missions team (we were a mission church in the inner city) had gone to work in the orphanage after graduating from college. Naturally we were all eager to see her again and see the work the orphanage was doing. Most of the children there did have parents, but the parents couldn’t support them and so they stayed at the orphanage.

    What impressed me so much was the same thing you observed. As I watched the children play, they had nothing, but they didn’t even realize it. They had no toys or games, but made them up from what they found around them. And they looked just as happy as our American children, if not more so. I thought long and hard about how much we take for granted here and how little gratitude so many have for the material things we have in abundance. Even our poor are rich in comparison.

    • You are so very right and I thank you for the powerful testimony. So many people in these countries have so little that it is hard to even imagine surviving on what they have. There is an old saying that the average American throws away more than these people ever own and it is quite true. El Salvador isn’t the poorest country by far, yet their average yearly income is a little more than $1,000, per household. That counts the most fortunate, who live in cities and have good paying jobs, as well as the few people who are relatively wealthy. In comparison, the average household income in the US in 2017 was about 59,000.

      Yet, many of the people, especially the youth, have never had the many extras that we enjoy, so they aren’t aware that they don’t have anything. They don’t dream of having more because the concept is something that is totally outside of their experiences.

  4. You have one excellent point that we Americans should be thankful for our basic needs that people in other parts of the world do not have. I can relate to that since I lived in Panama for a long time and I did see the difference of country life versus city life which was different as night and day.

  5. Rex, I hope that lots of people read this post, because it says some very important things.

    One thing that concerns me about the first part of it – dealing with domestic poverty – is the evidence that charity is having to do things that the State should be doing. Alleviating poverty and providing a safety net to ensure basic care for the worst-off in society should be the responsibility of the government and be paid for from general taxation.

    I am always grateful to live in a country (the United Kingdom) that is also a Welfare State that does its best to look after the needs of the poorest people in society. I am the beneficiary of several such benefits by virtue of my advancing age – e.g. completely free health care including for prescription drugs, free travel on buses, and an annual payment to help with winter fuel. There are many such benefits that are aimed at people with needs relating to poverty or disability – who are far more deserving of such aid than I am. I mention this as evidence of how the welfare state works – supporting the needy from cradle to grave.

    This is paid for by the taxes levied on those who can most afford to pay – and that is absolutely right and proper and the sign of a truly civilized society.

    It is also distressing to read of the needs of poor people overseas that are having to be met by charities. There is certainly a role for charitable giving here – in the UK millions of pounds are raised every year by events such as Comic Relief and Sport Relief that fund projects in developing countries.

    However, there is also a role for governments in their overseas aid budgets. I know that the US Government does do a lot in this regard, but is it enough? I fear that the thinking behind “America First” will lead to constraints on overseas aid – especially given your President’s recent pronouncements on what is happening in third-world countries.

    • I agree with much of what you said, John. Indeed, there are funding sources in the US for poverty level people. Many in this country get food stamps, government subsidies (cheese, powdered milk, powdered eggs…the surplus of what goes to the military for MRE’s and the like).

      Heating agencies like power companies, natural gas companies, and so forth, also step forward and give heating assistance as well as free home weatherization. That is a lot more than putting in caulking and weather strips. We had weatherization done several years ago and they repaired our furnace, replaced 7 windows with insulated double pane windows, did a heating audit, replaced a shower head and a faucet, checked our heating ducts…about $5,000 worth of work that didn’t cost us a thing, nor did it cost our landlord anything. The power company paid for it.

      My wife and I are covered for health by Medicare and Medicaid, which is good since she has osteoporosis and I have a degenerative bone disease and thrombosis.

      The problems with the funding are that (1) there is almost always a wait time associated with the funds. Sometimes that can be over two or three months. (2) Most of the homes around here are heated with firewood and except for an emergency one time per year fund, there is no relief for heating with firewood. It is one of the few places the government isn’t meddling in our lives. The US Forest Service does make timber available for people to cut their own firewood for free, but some of the neediest haven’t the means or knowledge to cut the wood or a way to haul it. Some of these people are also in their 70’s and 80’s. (3) There is always that segment of the population that falls through the cracks, even when the government has good intentions.

      As a single example, There is a couple in town who are retired. They own their own home and three years ago, they had money in savings, plus a little more than enough to live on, coming in every month. Then ObamaCare was pushed through. Their health insurance premiums went from $480 per month to $1,400 a month and their deductible tripled. The woman had to be hospitalized for several weeks and that wiped out their savings. With the increased premiums, they no longer make enough to live on, unless they don’t pay for insurance.

      They’ve also fallen through the cracks because on paper, their income is quite a bit above poverty level and they don’t qualify for food stamps, Medicare, or Medicaid. They also own their own home, which is considered a liquid asset (though it isn’t, of course). They don’t qualify for any assistance at all, though they can get help from our church.

      Then there are people who come to town with nothing. They qualify for assistance but must wait for it to take effect. Two months is a long time to wait when you have nothing.Again, area churches (and congregational members) can and do step up to help out until they start getting the assistance.

      There are many other situations that can come up, too. The community is capable and willing to help, which is as it should be since the government isn’t responsible for supporting the people. It absolutely should help when there is a need, and it does, but that is a stop-gap measure.

      What the government *can* do, though, is have policies that encourage economic growth. In the 8 years prior to this last one, our economy was backsliding and there were also fewer jobs. In the past year, the change has been phenomenal. There are a lot more jobs and the economy is beginning to take off.

      Also, the US government has never been responsible for supporting the third-world countries. That said, billions of dollars are given to third-world countries every year, including in El Salvador. The problem is that most of that money ends up in the hands of their governments with none of it reaching their own needy people. The government can’t, in any official capacity, do anything about it. People and organizations, like our church, can actually do the good works, though.

      I didn’t mention some of the other work that has been done in third-world countries by our church, in partnership with other churches and church organizations. However, the reason I didn’t mention it, nor did I go into the governmental and political ramifications, is that this wasn’t the purpose of this article. My goal was and is to get people to think about it and to be a little more thankful and grateful for what they have, rather than constantly upset about what they don’t have.

      • Point taken, Rex. Your article was not meant to be political, but politics comes into it if personal giving and action is necessary to fill in the gaps that arise when government action falls short.

        Of course, one fundamental difference between the US and UK systems is that we have a National Health Service that provides health care free to everyone – funded from general taxation. This is the pattern you will find throughout most of Europe. We don’t therefore have needs created by people being unable to afford private health insurance, because for most people this is not necessary.

        I don’t want to belittle the work done by volunteers, whatever their motive. I am a volunteer myself, although I am not involved in the sort of welfare work you have mentioned. All power to the elbows of everyone who gives their time and effort to help people in greater need than themselves!

  6. A powerful message Rex. After losing my child, my whole attitude changed about life. I take nothing or nobody for granted any more. Everyone who still has their children are blessed. And yet it is human nature to want to complain. I tell those I hear complaining, think about me when you complain, at least you have your children. One example of many in this world where most things and people are taken for granted and sadly a lot of the world thinks only of themselves.

    • Sadly, that is true. Just think about how much the world would change for the better if people started thinking of others before they think of themselves, as the bible teaches. There would still be problems, but the majority of major problems would stop, with just that one change. Of course, we all control only ourselves, but I’m making an effort to think of others first, before me.

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