Westerners travelling through developing nations have a tendency to think that the people in the Global South are happier because they lack western style development and material wealth. We are quick to judge, beat and bash our own cultures and indeed our own lives. In today’s globalized world we are constantly learning about one another and lands that were once distant, but seem destined only to become closer.
I have personally spent a large majority of my own life living and travelling through the global south. Drawn to the hospitality and beauty of many of these lands. This has often exposed me to criticisms from fellow travellers and people back home that suggest these countries are being ruined and tainted because of development and increased levels of material wealth. In a less informed and younger past I may have agreed with this. However, 8 years on my perspective has shifted.
Common rhetoric including sayings such as, “there are too many buildings, cars, internet and TV,” are just some examples of the many issues some modern day afferent tourists have a tendency to complain about. It is not so much the complaint that is concerning in itself, rather the underlying foundational reasoning held by these travellers who are in the position to come and go as they please.
We are constantly searching for that far away place, away from what we know and were brought up with, but when confronted with things that are close to home we are quick to judge, criticize and accuse of being distasteful in a completely unapologetic manner.
It perplexes me to an extent that this is a logic that many follow. Why some desire that people stay in perpetual poverty for our own selfish desires and what gives travellers to right to judge a region that is developing and raising living standards? One seldom remembers is that village life is hard and unforgiving. It is usually full of risk, oppression and generally lacks comforts that we have in the modern age such as electricity and running water. If these anecdotes are anything to go by, we are on a harmful and unethical path that obsesses and romanticizes the suffering of others.
Why is there a mass exodus towards cities and towns and/or development? The answer is complex with multiple influencing factors, but essentially it is because people are in search of a better life that is free from the shackles of often dull repetitive village routine. This is not a negative. The migration of people and the development of areas should be a sign of reserved optimism. I say reserved because development that is pursed in responsible ways should be desired and aimed for. However, as people raise their standards of living slowly and their material wealth increases – life becomes easier. Cars, mobile phones, computers, internet and education all contribute to the movement out of poverty. While many cities and towns are subject to harsh transition periods, one fact remains – there is a hell of a lot more opportunity than there is within a village to live a better life.
Statements that are made by such travellers that an “increase in material wealth does not lead to greater happiness and opportunity” should be taken with a grain of salt, especially in the context within a developing nation. I would suggest those that purport that message practice what they preach and find out that life becomes a rough ride.
This begs to ask the question of: what would those that preach that message support? That people go back to their villages, give up all their earned items just so a foreigner can say they visited an area and “roughed it” or that material wealth isn’t everything? A revealing revelation is that in a majority of cases development and material wealth are everything to billions across the planet.
I was privileged to grow up with the riches and material goods that so many strive for everyday. It is in peoples every right to achieve the same standards of living in whatever way feasible. I will not be one that contests that noble and daring aspiration. Support rather than subvert.