the NonchalantDad: Comparisons

Kaya's Bedroom (Age 4) - Tokyo, Japan

Like you perhaps, I used to hear a phrase that went something like this: 'Eat what's on your plate, there are starving children in Africa that would love to have it.' It was what I remember as my first lesson in comparisons between what was supposed to be the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. There was that phrase. And because my parents were immigrants to the 'new world', I'd often be reminded of another comparison between what they considered my relatively comfortable upbringing as compared to theirs. It was pretty effective in helping me respect what I had. But, in hindsight, it might have been more effective had my parents had a ready access to images to support their statements. Today, with my own children, I find myself sometimes admonishing them with the same statements - a variation on those I heard when I was a child. The comparisons still remain. I'd like them to understand that not everyone may live in the same world they live in. The lesson is twofold. For one thing, they might see what they have that others do not. But, behind that is an even more important message. They might actually see what others have that they do not. I don't think my parents actually considered that second message, as they assumed that what we might have - everyone else wanted too.

When I find myself in that position again with my children, now I'll at least have a photo reference at my fingertips to share with them. And, as we all know, there's not much that is stronger than a good image. Photographer James Mollison has taken a series of photos (and by doing so, collected stories) from a variety of children around the world he has encountered in his journeys and created a wonderful book showing us these comparisons titled 'Where Children Sleep'. East, West, North, and South, you might just be surprised to find that there isn't a simple line between what we have and what we don't.

Dong's Bedroom (Age 9) - Yunnan, China
Alex's 'Bedroom' (Age 9) - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Seeing this book also reminded me of a similar project that takes into account not just a child's perspective, but extends the story to a family perspective. In an interesting book titled 'Material World: A Global Family', by Peter Menzel, we get to see a collection of images that take into account the meaning of possessions. We are offered the same insights from around the world, free to make our own comparisons.

These are interesting books to share with our children, as we have in our household. The lesson of comparison and gratitude all the more easier to convey because of them. We live in worlds that seemingly get smaller and smaller at times and our understanding of the world more narrow because of it perhaps. Books, and images, like these help us remember how expansive things really might be. And, at root, the things we might share as humans.

the Costa Family with all their possessions - Havana, Cuba