Barack Obama:
My stepfather Lolo said, “Guilt is a luxury only foreigners can afford. Like saying whatever pops into your head.” Mother didn’t know what it was like to lose everything, to wake up and feel her belly eating itself. She didn’t know how crowded and treacherous the path to security could be. He was right, of course. She was a foreigner, middle-class and white and protected by her heredity whether she wanted protection or not. She could always leave if things got too messy. That possibility negated anything she might say to Lolo; it was the unreachable barrier between them. –Dreams from my Father

In the Purple Valley, we are almost all foreigners. Most of us can leave if need be, and we are taken care of in the pursuit of our studies. Our status – Williams student – gives us huge power on this campus. The reality, though, is that the real world is not so accommodating. Injustice happens, war breaks families, and over 15,000 children die every day from hunger (1), (2).

In this context, trayless dining tends to diminish a bit, along with many of the concerns that this blog spends so much time discussing. Yet these issues do matter, and in fact matter immensely to us. I took PSYC 101 this semester, and we went over how much material goods and conditions change a person’s happiness. In the short run, people are more happy – I can personally attest to what a three year euphoria feels like. But in the long run, everyone returns to the mean.

This means, I think, that because our conditions are so good, small problems become inflated in our eyes. A long line at Snack Bar here might be equal in some fashion to a much worse problem in a place of true strife. Because let’s face it: a debate over how best to allocate housing doesn’t really compare to problems in a country with hyper-inflation under a dictator.

However, objectively knowing that something isn’t a big problem in worldwide context doesn’t change how much it does matter to some people. We do have the luxury of guilt, and can devote time and resources to all sorts of minor problems. I didn’t actually need to spend any money to throw an election event in Goodrich last November, but I was able and encouraged to do so.

Is the fact that people care about these problems enough of a reason to think about them? How should we decide where and how to devote our attention?

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