Friday, January 23, 2015

"Everyone in Canada is Rich"

Oxfam has released a report showing that the richest one percent own 48 percent of the world's wealth. I am not one of the one percent, but I am a member of the five percent who live in North America who own 34 percent of global wealth. And I a member of the middle class in Canada, one of the richest mid-level earnings cohorts in the world. So I, too, am rich, as inmates at Auschwitz noted a long time ago, and Somali terrorists a few years ago.

"Everyone in Canada is Rich"

That's what Amanda Lindhout's Somali captors told her in 2008 when she said her family didn't have $1 million to secure her release.
Lindout tried to tell them that her family didn't have that much money, but they wouldn't believe her. 

“They didn't really understand,” said Lindhout, who was released after 15 months in captivity. “They thought: She's Canadian, everyone in Canada is rich. She must have $1 million.”

Her Somali captors were wrong, of course; most people in Canada are not millionaires. But in another respect, they were absolutely right; those of us who are fortunate enough to live in Canada are rich in many ways, especially compared to most people in the developing world.

For starters, we are rich in opportunity. One characteristic of poverty is a lack of choice. Being poor isn’t just about lack of money; it’s also about lack of options. 

Most poor people in the developing have few choices when it comes to where they will live, or what career they will pursue.

Canadians and Americans may not have limitless possibilities, but we have many more than most on the planet.

We are rich in food. According to the World Food Program, over 800 million people are undernourished. 

We are rich in information. Almost all of us own a computer and can access the Internet. In Africa, only 16 percent do. 

We are rich in education. Every Canadian child can go to school for free. Many developing countries also offer “free” education—all parents have to do is pay for is books, uniforms and desks—and maybe the teacher’s salary, too.

We are rich in security. The last war on Canadian soil occurred almost 200 years ago, when American invaders were defeated and repelled. 

For these reasons, and for many more, Canada consistently ranks among the top places to live in the world according to OECD's Better Life Index. 

Despite this, many Canadians find it easy to complain about things that are, in the big scheme of things, only minor irritations. What we need is a little perspective. 

In American Mania: When More Is Not Enough, author Peter C. Whybrow's makes a statement that applies on both sides of the border: “As America’s commercial hegemony has increased . . . we have lost any meaningful reference as to how rich we really are, especially in comparison to other nations.”

Anyone who has traveled in the developing world knows the truth of that statement. I call it a “terrible knowledge." It’s the realization that grips you and changes you forever once you see what real poverty looks like. 

It makes me wonder how I got to be so lucky to have been born in Canada, while so many others in the world struggle every day just to survive.

Lindhout’s Somalia captors weren't the first to see Canada as rich. It also happened during World War II, during the Holocaust. 

When Jews arrived in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, they were stripped of all their belongings before being murdered. All of their worldly goods were taken to large warehouses in a section of the death camp.

The area where the warehouses were located was filled with such incredible riches that the inmates came up with a nickname to describe it. 

They called it Canada

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