We live in a lop-sided world. In one part of the world we have an over-supply of food, clothing, consumer goods, leisure activities and professional services. While the other part of the world faces an under-supply, a desperate lack, of basic goods and services.
People in rich countries suffer and die from obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and numerous other illnesses due to over-eating unhealthy foods. While million in poor countries suffer and die from malnutrition, starvation and poverty-related illnesses. Extreme excess versus extreme deprivation is such a bizarre imbalance!
We in the UK, Europe, US, Australia are spoilt for choice. We are “lucky” to be able to buy a vast assortment of cheap household and personal goods. We can have anything we want; big screen TVs, hi tech vacuum cleaners, double-door fridges, therapeutic mattresses, comfy furniture, luxury cars, the latest fashion, fancy footwear, beautiful cosmetics, …you name it, we can have it all…by next day delivery.
We can have all these sparkly consumer goods because they’re manufactured in poor countries using low-paid, exploited labour. By “labour” I mean real flesh and blood, living, breathing, feeling human beings, just like us, who work gruelling hours hunched over machines.
We revel in an embarrassment of riches when it comes to entertainment, exotic holidays and leisure pursuits to fill up our time while people in poor countries struggle just to survive each day without the basic needs of life.
Compare these First World problems with Third World problems.
You can’t fit into your jeans after over-indulging in chocolates, cake and wine or burgers and beer! You and your children eat one daily meal of bland maize porridge.
You miss your train by one minute! Damn! Your little daughter walks 10 miles twice a day to a stagnant creek to fetch dirty water for the family to drink.
Having missed your train you get home too late to watch your favourite TV show! Your children don’t have shoes so their feet become infected with diseases and parasites.
You are overcharged on your mobile phone usage! Every day you face the indignity of defecating behind a bush because your community doesn’t have toilets.
Whenever we face such annoying inconveniences, we can get our problems into perspective by contemplating the horrendous problems of people living in poverty. And some well-off people are motivated to do something about the global unfairness. We need to correct the imbalance so the two extremes find some middle ground.
Older People Can Use Their Skills to Solve Problems
In our rich, developed world, especially here in London, we also have an over-supply of talented, educated, skilful professionals to compete for the top jobs or the fierce ambition to start their own businesses in an incredibly competitive marketplace.
We have a surplus of women and men aged over 50 with a lifetime of skills, knowledge and wisdom accumulated from successful careers, managing complex lives and raising families. And yet older people are not wanted in the fast-paced, tech-obsessed, youth-focused workplace. Sadly we are mostly redundant, obsolete, superfluous and consigned to the scrapheap! We are not supposed to say that out loud because fair-minded employers, non-ageist youngsters and feisty oldies will deny this predicament and cite exceptions.
But this lop-sided world is full of irony and unlikely opportunities if you can think outside the box.
Yes, us oldies are in hot demand in poor countries where our skills, knowledge and wisdom plus our heartfelt qualities of nurturing, empathy and compassion are welcomed.
What do we want after we have raised kids to adulthood and given the best of our lives to our chosen vocation? Not just holidays and hobbies, people over 50 have a deep craving to be needed, wanted and loved, respected, appreciated and valued. We have loads of affection to give. We long to share the treasures in our hearts and minds.
We have an immense desire to contribute to the world, to make it a better, kinder, fairer place for future generations. We want to reduce suffering and increase joy. Making a positive difference replaces a feeling of helplessness with a sense of empowerment. And who doesn’t want to feel strong and empowered rather than weak and useless?
Becoming Wild At Heart
Ordinary people can become extraordinary when transported to places of great need. I was struck by this possibility watching the box set of Wild At Heart, an inspiring TV series, starring Stephen Tompkinson, where an ordinary vet from Bristol, plodding along treating domestic pets, is transformed into an extraordinary conservationist when he moves to the wilderness of South Africa, and faces daily challenges to save and protect endangered species.
I believe mature-aged people from rich countries should volunteer in poor communities around the world. Such a shift of skills, knowledge and resources will start to rebalance our lop-sided world. Us oldies will experience a new lease on life, savouring the joys of other cultures, and the fulfilment of being wanted and needed.
We will become empowered by empowering others. The rewards will flow both ways as we love and support desperate children, men and women struggling to survive in poverty. By sharing our knowledge, skills and resources we will balance our lop-sided world with human rights and social justice.
This is exactly what I plan to do when I leave next week for Kenya to volunteer in a community centre caring for orphans, supporting women with income-generating projects and helping in the community vegetable garden.
Join me on my journey into another culture and stay tuned for my weekly stories of venturing out of my comfort zone to discover how to be wanted and needed beyond 50.