Thoughts on Thoughts

Over the past couple weeks in our English class, we’ve taken time during the Bible lesson to get to know our students a little more deeply.  We’ve asked the questions and had dialogues about ‘What do you think the purpose of life is?’, ‘What are some things in life that make you happy?’, ‘What do you hope for in the future?’, ‘What is love?’, ‘What things make you feel loved?’, just to name a few.  There are two genres of responses that keep occurring: ‘family is everything’ and ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’ve never thought about it.’ 
In a third-world country, daily life is extremely different.  Getting a good job to make money to provide for your family is everything.  Even the word ‘provide’ is a bit hyperbolic.  ‘Get by’ would be more accurate.  All the students we’ve talked with have said that their dreams in life are to get a good job and provide for their family.  What makes them happy is when their family is provided for.  But when it comes to introspective, philosophical questions they literally have never thought about the question before, or don’t know.  This response occurred so many times that I pulled Sien aside and asked him about it.  I told him my observations and asked him if people here are so focused on providing for their family that they don’t think about much else.  In short, he said yes absolutely.  The way Sien and I explained what we observed was that their vision is on the here and now, the practical day-to-day necessities of life.  It’s a tunnel vision of sorts.  He said that most people just don’t widen their thought life and consider many individualistic or introspective questions.  So I asked him, ‘Well, what about the people who do make enough money to provide for their families.  Since their burden is a bit easier, do those people tend to expand their vision to the introspective “life questions”?’.  Sien said that for the most part the answer is no.  These people become too caught up with the power they hold and dive deeper into the tunnel vision and immediacy of the material world. 
I understand this, and assume I would be the same way if I were born in a 3rd world country.  However, this breaks my heart.  So much of who I am is the product of my freedom to be introspective and learn the intricacies of who I am, what human beings are like, what the world is like, and what truth and purpose are.  Because of the wealth and provision we experience in America, we implicitly gain intellectual freedom.  Without this freedom, I would be an empty shell of a person going through the motions.  I truly wonder how one continues living without having some larger sense of purpose.  How do you live if you don’t really have thoughts on what love is, if you don’t know even what small things make you happy, or have hope in a future?
It is unjust that people here struggle to have food and shelter, don’t really have adequate medical or dental care, sufficient education (what I’ve heard about Cambodian teachers is a different post in itself, oh boy…), and face limitations on what their futures hold based on the economic and cultural expectations of this city.  However, I’m starting to believe that the greatest injustice of all of this is that these things are holding them back from living out a key component of the human experience: thought.  They are being held back from introspection, from exploration and discovery, and asking the big questions of ‘who am I’, ‘why am I alive’, ‘what is love’?  This breaks me because humans are not designed to be like ants: day after day gathering supplies to feed the family, and repeat.  Humans are supposed to be sustained on food and kept safe in shelter in order to live out life: being in relationships with each other, with God, and exploring the life-long journey of what it means to be a human being.

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