The First World’s Real Problem


Emma Barber

First World Problems. If you live in a western country, for one reason or another, you’re probably guilty of having first world problems. We all are. Sure, inconveniences can really make a day unpleasant, but when put into perspective, that iPhone charger that won’t reach your bed doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.

Myanmar is a country in southeast Asia where poverty is no stranger. I had the opportunity to spend time there in January at a children’s orphanage and a Bible college. While I was working on a building project and loving over a hundred kids, I had the opportunity to experience a culture so different than my own, and witness what being in a “third world” country really means.

One afternoon I was riding in the back of an open bed truck with about 15 other people. First, let me say I have never seen such hardworking people.They do everything by hand – grow their own food, wash their clothes by hand – and don’t have the same daily luxuries as developed countries do. After dodging chickens, people, motorcycles, and cars, the truck pulled over to the side of the road to make a pitstop. A little boy walked over to the side of the truck and started talking to the students I was with. Now, the majority of the trip, I had no idea what anyone was saying and even when I did try to speak their language, I butchered it. I bet they were making fun of me some of the time, but I just smiled and went with it. As the conversation kept going I asked one of the guys what the boy was saying. He told me that the little boy lives on the streets and that his parents left him. He had no home and no one to take care of him.

At this point I had tears in my eyes and was holding the boy’s hand through the truck’s bars. To look this boy in the eyes and think of how hard his life is, having to survive on his own with nobody to love him or be there for him, and to think of how scary it must be to live like that is unfathomable. It’s heartbreaking. It makes you feel hopeless because he is one the millions of children who live like this. I jumped out of the truck and gave him whatever I had in my pocket. I gave the boy’s hand a squeeze and smiled, knowing that even without saying any words, he heard what I was saying.

No matter where you are in the world, everyone has problems. You can’t fault someone for perceiving something as a problem because to them it is. You can’t compare your problems to someone who lives dramatically different from you. That’s like saying one size fits all, which we all know is not true. However, it is important to take time to put your life into perspective, be globally aware,and practice gratitude for the life you are living.

The first world’s real problem is this: we live in a country that is sheltered, and many people have no idea how the majority of the world lives. It is something you can’t fully understand until you experience it yourself. There’s something life-changing about being loved by people who don’t have much, yet they give everything they have to you, whether that be hugs, smiles, kindness, hard work, or generosity.

Coming home was brutal. I didn’t want to leave. I was happy and life was simple over there. The goodbyes were the hardest part and the days following were rough as well. When people get angry and act rude over stupid, unnecessary things, part of me wants to scream and shake them, and ask how dare they complain about something so insignificant. When the children I work with whined about how they’re hungry but don’t want one of the three options they’ve been given, I get frustrated. In my mind I kept comparing the way people here are to the kids who have nothing, yet those kids are the sweetest, hardworking, respectful children who just want to be loved on. But to tell you the truth I can’t compare them because there is no comparison. The children are so different because their lives are so different. It leans towards the theory that people who live in materialistic, results oriented, consumer based society that is focused on wealth, are the people who lack fundamental values of what life really is about.

Someone with lots of experience with this sort of thing told me that I can’t be so hard on people that haven’t experienced the world the way I have. He was right. I hadn’t thought of it that way and I had no right to be so angry. The lesson here is simple and you’ve probably heard it before. You can’t let all the inconveniences, struggles, and difficulties you face make you cold and bitter. Reminding yourself to trade in expectations for appreciation in those moments will make your life so much easier and you’ll be happier. Everyone has problems and for some they can be big and for some they are smaller but nonetheless when you change the way you think, you change the way you view the world and all of a sudden you start seeing things in a different way. I guarantee this kind of mindset will help you open your mind, eyes, and heart to all the beauty around you.