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December 1, 2014

I watched part of a movie last night that left me disturbed. Elysium is a sci-fi thriller about the struggle for citizens of earth (which, by 2154, is a forsaken planet) to acquire access to a Biosphere-like space habitat where the wealthy live. Normally science fiction isn’t my thing, but I was intrigued by the developing plot, which I immediately recognized as a critique of immigration policy and other salient political issues. It was the brutality of the movie that disturbed me—but not because of the violence I was viewing in front of me, rather because of the violence I know happens every day in this very real world.

I recently read an article about liberals’ denial of the realities of climate change. It focused on the false assumption that we can “fix” the problem simply by switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy without changing our lifestyles. I imagine the average middle-class American, whether liberal or conservative, harbors a similar sense of denial about the violence that likewise results from our extravagant lifestyles.

Extravagant, yes. In the same way that the lifestyles of the rich and famous seem extravagant to ordinary middle-class Americans, our lifestyles seem extravagant to an overwhelming majority of the earth’s people, who live in relative poverty. And many of these people are subjected to violence in their efforts to attain even a smidgen of the luxuries we take for granted.

Violence, yes. Like the kind of violence inflicted on earth’s citizens in Elysium. The poor abused by police. Undocumented immigrants shot in the confusion of smuggling busts. Children unable to access adequate medical care and parents who must watch them suffer needlessly. Workers exposed to toxic levels of chemicals as they assemble the products we buy, use, and wear. None of this is science fiction.

The only fiction is the one we maintain in our minds: that we are not part of the problem. That we are not responsible for doing something about the abject condition of our fellow human beings.

Oh but we are. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t feel guilty about my lot in life, but there is something to be said for so-called white guilt. I’m glad I feel guilty because it motivates me to try to do something to make a difference. Very few days go by during which I don’t experience at least a moment of shame for the level of wealth I enjoy, and now that I have kids of my own, the shame burns with pain as well when I look into my daughters’ eyes and imagine how heartbreaking it must be for the billions of mothers and fathers around the world to look into their children’s eyes knowing they can’t promise them health, security, or a minimum of dignity.

Recently I’ve been brushing my guilt under a rug, using the same excuse that many well-off Americans surely use: where’s the time and money to help when I have young children of my own to raise? But there is time and there is money. I might have to cut a few corners, give up a few luxuries to do it, but I can most certainly afford to share more of the wealth that I have been blessed with. The pastor at our church recently gave a sermon on tithing in which he discussed the importance of setting aside 10 percent for God’s work first, then fitting in the rest of the expenses with what’s left. My husband and I both agreed that we should be doing this, and we’re going to start with several holiday donations. In the New Year, I hope we will stick to our guns and work up to donating more and more of our monthly income until we reach the 10 percent mark.

I challenge anyone reading this to do the same, and/or to donate some of your time on a regular basis to help someone in need. I believe with all of my being that it is truly in giving that we receive. At my chiropractic appointment today, when my chiropractor was testing for the impact of emotions on my physiology (new technique—ask me if you’re curious!), happiness surfaced as the prime operator on me; he said it’s the first time happiness has been the strongest operator on a patient of his, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I had just been shopping for an Angel Tree gift prior to the appointment.

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