“If you aren’t grateful for what you already have, what makes you think you would be happy with more.”
The presence of gratitude in a person’s life is a curious thing. In the United States where “luxury” items are enjoyed by a huge percentage of the population, anxiety and depression plague countless lives. At almost every level of society, people enjoy an abundance of stuff – shoes, clothes, computers, phones, and apps for nearly everything the imagination can conjure. Thus the obvious question: why do people who have so much seem so anxious and dissatisfied?
The answer is surely complex. But one thing is sure. We have been conditioned to believe that the acquisition of stuff and material abundance are essential to happiness. If this were actually true, most Americans would be brimming with joy. They would see their relative good fortune, and wake up each day to count their blessings. Yet this kind of perspective is fleeting at best.
A trip to Kibera (Kenya) with Crossing Thresholds is one possible corrective. The experience promises to disrupt the average person’s assumptions. How can people without decent shoes, nothing but second hand clothing, no big screen TV or laptop … be as positive as they are? How do they wake up and wear a smile on their face? How are they able to express any gratitude given their circumstances? The reasons are many. However at the core, these good folks seem to understand that lifestyle does not generate joy or gratitude. Those gifts come from a deeper source.
I like to think there are many good reasons to travel with Crossing Thresholds. Near the top of my list is the invitation to shift one’s perspective. To bear witness to the gratitude of those who don’t have easy access to clean water, decent shelter or the most basic opportunities IS the chance to recalibrate one’s personal gratitude meter. It is also the chance to glimpse a deeper source.
Reflections on Purpose
I am always intrigued when a person comes on a Crossing Thresholds trip saying “I want to make a difference”. I get it. In a culture that doesn’t reflect very deeply on the issue of life’s purpose, individuals are searching. They want their day to day existence to amount to more than a random and endless string of experiences. Making a difference suggests a shift away from the self-referential to a larger world. It also implicitly begs for an answer to the question “who needs to be helped”.
So I would like to make a case for a particular mindset to guide the impulse to make a difference. It goes like this: everyone in every situation, materially wealthy and materially poor, is lacking. While opportunity is not equally distributed and some stand in dire need of getting their basic needs met, many of those in such situations are imbued with extraordinary character and spiritual wealth. At the same time, many who have had every need covered have lost the golden thread of meaning and spiritual well-being. As David Brooks has written, “We move through our excessively stimulated lives – frantic but resigned, blessed but cynical.”
Why do I go to Africa? Why should you? I like to think of it as a two-sided coin. The moral argument is straightforward – go and work for equal opportunity. By accident of birth, precious children are deprived and now await a helping hand. The world is infinitely safer and better when opportunity spreads. The spiritual argument is a bit more veiled, but no less real. We stand in acute need of inspiration and spiritual enrichment. We need to draft on the emotional honesty, the courageous resilience, the dogged faith, and the surprising hope of those who live in the world’s shadows. They will give you what you cannot find anywhere else.
Come and make a difference. The difference is of course for someone else. It is equally for you.
Crossing Thresholds, Executive Director