I was so detached from feeling reality, I felt jealous when I saw scavengers in Nigeria finding 'treasure' in the junk yard that they can fix and sell in the market. And when I was in a not so affluent area at one time, and guys in rags gathered around a trolley were chatting away happily. And when a shopkeeper of a small booth looked so relaxed, watching the world go by with his shiny eyes and small smile.
These people I felt was really experiencing life. They're on the knife edge, yet they seem ... I don't know, they had something which I didn't have at that time.
I'm sure alright now. But till today I can't feel sorry for disadvantaged people: they are not pathetic masses, they're people who happen to be born in unfair circumstances and something's gotta be done - and pity is not one of them.
In that context, if I compare a rich person sitting on their yacht, sipping a martini to a scavenger who excitedly sets to work fixing a broken clock in order to eat next week -- which person would I want to be like? I mean, yachts and martinis are great, but they don't tell me what kind of person I am -- only that I am rich. Happily tinkering away while struggling against all odds? I want to be that kind of person. So does everyone -- that's why the motif pops up in virtually every piece of fiction, from the Bourne Identity to Harry Potter.
It's a bit of fiction, but I still think it's important. In truth, having a meaningful, noble challenge is mostly orthogonal to having money. We do see people struggling to gain money so that they can escape challenge -- only to be miserable with the result. However, money can also provide the means to choose your challenge rather than to be forced to always deal with survival.
In the end, though, whether you have money or not, how you choose to respond to challenge is what determines what kind of person you are. I also envy and respect those who excitedly greet their challenges every day.
This. I agree with the comment overall, but just in case someone is reading my comments from last night, there's another thing that I wasn't clear about.
Living to survive is something that no one can't possibly relate to unless they are already in that situation.
Although I never felt it, I have a mixed background and witnessed some realities of poverty. Let's take one scenario, which may be simple to you and me but can throw an entire poor family off-balance:
Say that you're sick. You may not afford to get medicine, and even if you can, it becomes a choice whether to sacrifice something else, like lunch money for your kids. Say that after a prolonged period of time, you decide that you do need that medicine after all. So your children goes hungry, and if they go to school, it will affect their studies. Their school isn't exactly well-off either. And now they have a parent who's sick, and who they have to take care of because there's no one else to - so they may have to miss school too. The parent has always been the breadwinner so the children are stuck in a deeper dilemma - who's going to bring the money in now?
Cue in multiple scenarios like this, where hard choices have to be made all the time amongst an environment where drugs, prostitution, crimes etc are more easily accessible ... what chances do these children have when they're all grown up?
Clearly when I was depressed, I romanticised those who were poorer than me (though it was true that they had something which I didn't have.) And like the commenter above this post, I agree that rich people can sometimes miss the plot of living itself. But poverty is a terrible master of destiny. It's a cycle that not a lot of people, let alone the generations that come after them, can just escape.
If you are reading this, please remember that you're actually wealthy, whether in money, health, youth, have access to the Internet etc. You can most definitely afford to 'tinker' - and go for it! But never forget the majority who are still trapped and have to make hard choices all the time.
In the popular context this always maps onto basic survival since it's very relatable and immediate: but for a person in a slightly more privileged state the problem is one of picking the thing to struggle with, because it's possible to walk away from so much of it, find a distraction and squander one more day. If walking away from everything were really the answer, suicide would be success, and we are disinclined to want to believe that. Neither does it work to try to engage with every problem you see as there are too many of those and you aren't going to be effective at all of them.
This motivates many of the conclusions of Stoic thought: the moderation, the development of awareness about one's sphere of control.
I've always admired stoicism but found that the principles aren't exclusive to this. Buddhism, weirdly Islam too, and no doubt other sub-groups of religions such as Quaker-ism.