Wednesday, March 21, 2012

First world problems teach valuable lessons

My latest craze is listening to podcasts -- in particular, This American Life broadcasts from the Chicago Public Media. Since I drive a lot, this gives my dorky self something to do to distract me from the aching in my butt. Much to Dan's agony, I eat this stuff up -- and share every detail and interesting fact I learn with him. But aside from all that, what this program really does is give me perspective on "this American life" we all have come to know. I would say we all love it, but mostly we just complain about it.

A few weeks ago, the podcast was about kidnappings -- particularly in Colombia. Wrapped tight inside my Penn State bubble, I had no idea that this South American country had their own problems they are trying to work out -- problems that people in the United States can't even fathom because the thought is so foreign to them. The broadcast explained how as many as 8 kidnappings were happening a day at one point in Colombia. Mostly, the rebels were interested in taking the father-figure of the family so they could request ransom. Many families even have kidnapping insurance in Colombia to help pay ransom if necessary. So to the kidnappers, this is a business.

What's interesting to note is that they don't want the victims dead at all -- if that happened, they would not get their money. Since many of the detainees are suicidal (some are kept captive for over 10 years!), they allow them to listen to the radio. Which is why Colombia has its own radio show for those captives. This radio show lasts all night long, and features messages from families who have lost a loved one to kidnappers. They call into the show hoping that their lost family member will be listening to it and hear the message. Some families wait in line 6 hours for a 30-second spot!

From 2000-2010, Colombian kidnappings were on the decline. However, in 2011, kidnapping rates jumped 22% and are predicted to keep increasing. Can you imagine? I know the United States does not have an immunity to kidnapping cases -- it happens more than I probably think -- but it definitely does not happen that often. It definitely doesn't happen enough for there to be a radio station dedicated to the cause.
Which is where I come in. After hearing about this, hearing about harsh working conditions in China, and watching the video for the Kony 2012 campaign (even if fabricated -- there are still a mess load of problems in Africa, and it got me thinking) I started thinking about the U.S. I started to think about how lucky I was that I grew up in a country where I did not have to worry so much about these things. If nothing else, the Kony campaign made me remember that I was born here by chance, and I could have been born anywhere else in the world with much different circumstances.

It made me realize why the rest of the world thinks the United States is ridiculous -- we are ridiculous. I know things aren't perfect here; people are being laid off every day and it could get worse (thanks Greece!) But at the end of the day, most of our family members do not need to worry about getting kidnapped on their way home from work. We do not need to worry about our children being taken from us and made into soldiers.

Don't get me wrong, I understand everyone is fighting their own battles and life isn't just easy. Forgive me, but maybe we should all just complain a little less ("we" because I am the queen of complaining). I had to spend this entire week in the library and I was mad because I didn't get to lay around and watch Netflix all day. Still, I could call my mom and complain -- my mom who is not, and probably won't be a victim of a kidnapping.

Everyone laughs at the "First World Problems" jokes, myself included, because they are funny. As the saying goes, though, there's always a little truth behind every joke.

**To listen to the broadcast that inspired this entry click here.