For most of my life, I have felt undeserving of all the privileges I have. Recently, I realized it’s true: I deserve nothing.
When I was young, I read books where the main characters struggled to eat their next meal, or find a place to sleep. One such book is called The Breadwinner, about a young girl in the Middle East who must dress as a boy to fetch her mother and sister food, every day. She grows up to run her father’s old business, disguised as a boy, and she is surrounded by people who are fighting for their lives, like she is — disguising as a boy so that she can leave her house for food is fighting for life, as I see it.
There are so many places in the world where women have few rights, if any, where children starve and are malnourished. Places where running water doesn’t exist, or is scarce. Places where period cramps aren’t just an inconvenience, but a hindrance to the everyday parts of life like work or school. Places where worrying about what we look like so that others like us is just not a thing — instead, they worry about whether the family is going to bed hungry.
My parents always raised my sister and I to be grateful. We were never to waste food, always to save water. When we were young, we had a house fire and many precious belongings were lost or destroyed. I learned the meaning of materialism then. Nothing was more important to me than the fact that my grandfather and my step-grandmother (is there another word?) weren’t caught in the fire somehow as a result of living in our basement. I was ten years old.
Of course, living in the Western world, I can’t claim to be not at all materialistic. I like nice things. I just feel guilty about it. I can’t stand that my cell phone is made of materials that people mined while under outrageously cruel working conditions. I don’t know how I can avoid this though — every phone has these minerals in them.
I can’t stand that I have so much running water that I could take a half hour shower if I wanted to. I can’t stand how much fashion relies on unfair trade and child labour. I can’t stand that I can order food in if I feel like not cooking the food that I can access by walking three blocks away.
What gives me these abilities?
The fact that I was born in Canada.
I think about the unfairness of this fact pretty much every single day. Every time I sit down and eat a delicious home-cooked meal made by yours truly, I stare it and wonder why I deserve this meal.
Every time I drink a glass water, or shower, or drive a vehicle, or enjoy the luxury of a video game or TV show, I feel like I don’t deserve my life. What the hell did I do to get here?
I try to take fast showers. I buy from thrift stores. I try to use as little water as possible when washing dishes. I try to reuse glasses as much as I can.
I do everything I can think of to try and be deserving, or at least acknowledge that I’ve done nothing to deserve it. When I grow out of clothes or wear out a style (because I have the luxury of having my own style) I donate them. I don’t own many things I don’t need. Except for the fact that I’m typing this on a Macbook Pro my parents bought me for my twenty-first birthday from the evil corporation known as Apple. They didn’t buy it to spoil me — the laptops I had before I had bought myself or inherited, and they always taught us that hard work is important — they bought it because I couldn’t afford a new laptop and my old one was about to die in the middle of university (which, funnily enough, I also had the luxury of going to). So sure, I didn’t spend my money on it.
But people have died making things for Apple.
And we know this. We just get on with our merry lives.
You know what upsets me most? What makes me feel like a truly horrible human?
I’m not going to throw out my iPhone or my Macbook. I’m not. I didn’t turn the gift way.
Instead, I do dumb shit like try not to shop at the mall.
I want to do something about this. The only thing that could force Apple to shove their goddamned money the other direction is their customers. If their customers demand that Apple treat their employees better, or to do business only with organizations that do so, then they’ll have no choice. But nobody freaking cares. There are lots of online petitions for this stuff, but beyond that? Nothing.
How can we be so concerned with our own little lives? How do we spend so much money on stupid things like computers and phones, when there are people around the world concerned about whether they’ll live to see tomorrow?
And this is why I feel completely undeserving of everything I have. This is why I truly believe that I deserve nothing, not one thing, of what I have. Even if I didn’t own anything from Apple, the appliances in my apartment are probably made by people in awful working and/or living conditions. People living in unnecessary poverty.
This isn’t just about technology. This is about everything. Every little, tiny thing. The fact that as a woman of colour, I can speak my mind and not die. The fact that I have never experienced genital mutilation, or breast ironing. The fact that if I’m thirsty, there is water to drink. The fact that I can have a pet kitten. The fact that I have an education. The fact that I never go hungry unless it’s because I’m too lazy. The fact that I have a flat-screen TV, pointless decorations in the house, and an air purifier so I can live with a kitten.
I refuse to over consume. I try so hard. I think of the Capitol of The Hunger Games, a clear description of the Western world and how ridiculous it is when we think of the suffering in so many other places. I look in the mirror and I don’t see a bunch of absurd makeup and hair, since I don’t spend a minute of the day on that, ever, but I do see self-absorption. I am absorbed in my own life, focused on the little things that I need. I know it’s true: you and I deserve nothing. I stop and think of how unfair it is, I write something like this, and I want to do something about it.
So what do I do? I teach. I decided that I needed to make a difference in the world, because living like this, living in a way where I knew I deserve none of it, is too much for me.
Maybe one day I will travel with G and we’ll make a difference somewhere. But I don’t know how much I can make. If kids aren’t getting enough food, water, and sleep, how can we provide an education? Besides, our education system isn’t necessarily what they need…
The truth is, I don’t know what to do. Will I ever move my entire life so I can stop being a hypocrite? I don’t know. The only thing I know is that I will keep remembering, every single day, how precious my meals are, how precious my job is, and how stupid money is. I will keep trying to buy ethically, and live ethically, even if it costs more. I will remember that I deserve nothing. And that’s no heroic act. It’s what everybody should be doing, unless you are struggling to survive yourself.
Because you deserve nothing too.
Do you ever feel like you deserve nothing?