Suffering does not make you special

two white SUVs in the desert

Some people – disaster response personnel and Peace Corps volunteers in particular – come home to the US and can’t re-adjust. Fat, sedentary Americans and their trivial concerns strike them as ridiculous. Those people bug me. They bug me a lot. They stand around airports looking superior and worldly and they can’t buy a damn sandwich without talking about the decadence of choosing between so many kinds of meat.

I understand how you can get that way. The contrast in lifestyle between the US and the developing world is heartbreaking and stunning. No thinking person can live through that contrast and emerge unscathed. It leaves a mark on you, and it should.

The thing is, though – pudgy happy Americans, drunken Brits, and overfed Germans are living the life that everyone on this planet wants. Those Darfurian refugees who shattered your heart would give both arms for the chance at a place to live, a gas-hogging car, and as much McDonalds as they can eat. The actual purpose of development work is to help the whole world reach a point where they can live in blissful ignorance of poverty.

There is nothing noble about suffering. People don’t do it on purpose, and a difficult life does not automatically make you stronger, wiser, or morally superior. Mostly, it makes you hungry and miserable. And having met and cared about people who do suffer does not require you to despise those who don’t.

This is a reprint from Blood and Milk, which I ran into while trying to find my post on quitting the peace corps early.