You didn’t know people who write newspaper columns could be so smart, did you?
I don’t begrudge Steve for leaving journalism, or for making millions. In fact, I’m kind of proud of him. I’m especially proud of how he chooses to use his wealth. When he’s not making money, Steve travels to Third World countries and works with the truly impoverished there, teaching business skills, mentoring aspiring business owners and helping to set up micro-enterprises – small businesses, usually with one owner/operator, that don’t require a lot of seed money up front.
Steve has become pretty passionate about his work in these Third World countries – as long as your definition of “passionate” includes words like “obsessive,” “compulsive” and “lovingly maniacal.” So I wasn’t too surprised with the tone or message of an e-mail I received from him the other day.
“If I was still writing a weekly column,” he wrote, “I would talk about the complaining cruise ship passengers who were ‘forced’ to eat shrimp and canned Spam for a week in ‘crowded’ cruise ship cabins without air conditioning. Heaven forbid!
“I might compare that deprived life with the life in most Third World countries, from the Philippines to the Congo, where two or three families live in less space than that, where they don’t even have a fan, and they eat less than one meal a day.
“But I am not writing a weekly column any more,” Steve added. “You are.”
He has a point. I DO write a weekly column (although there are probably a few editors who would contend that we’re using the word “write” in its broadest possible sense here). And I have given some thought to those cruise ship passengers during the past week. But I have to confess, my thoughts on the matter have been different from Steve’s. I’ve been thinking about it from the perspective of someone whose greatest fear during the time he was out on his one and only cruise was exactly what happened to those folks – well, that and the diseased rats, Sushi Night and fat old men in Speedos.
In other words, I’ve been thinking about it selfishly.
Not an unusual occurrence, I’m afraid.
We all tend to view the world through the prism of our own attitudes and experiences. For Steve, the cruise ship story was just another reminder of how few of us in non-developing nations truly appreciate how good we have it compared to the rest of the world. For me, it re-kindled all of the fears I felt floating around on the startlingly blue Caribbean and praying that I would never hear anyone shout the word “Fire!”
Or, for that matter, “Spam!”
I don’t think this is a matter of right and wrong, nor do I think it has anything to do with money or status or anything like that. But it probably is a reflection of our personal priorities and values. Steve’s first thought is always to consider those who are less fortunate than himself. My first thought is . . . well . . . whatever it is, I’m afraid that more often than not it’s all about me. How does this affect me? How does this make me feel? How does this play on my fears and sensibilities? And by the way, I really like shrimp, so eating a lot of shrimp for a couple of days wouldn’t be all that bad – as long as there was plenty of cocktail sauce.
See what I mean?
I hope the day comes when I’m a little more like Steve. It’s because of people like him, who think first and foremost of others, that there is hope for us – individually and collectively. And it’s because of people like me that you get to hear about people like Steve when I write about them in my newspaper column.
When I’m not writing about . . . you know . . . me.