How times have changed

I recently saw a photo essay for World Refugee Day which highlights the plight of the 10.5 million refugees. The whole collection is striking and worth looking at but it was this photo that stood out to me.

It’s an Afghan refugee village outside Islamabad in Pakistan during a sandstorm. But it could almost have been taken at any point in the last few centuries, has nothing changed? What do you see? Or perhaps more importantly what don’t you see?

I see open drains and sewers. By contrast my first world problem is to fix a leak in our otherwise lovely bathroom. I will regularly drink of the tap water in our house without thought or concern. It tastes great.

I don’t see any streetlights. In fact it took me three goes before I saw any electricity cables at all. No doubt illegally wired off the grid, unmonitored and unsafe. By contrast the area I live in is well lit, it is clean and relatively safe to walk at any time of day, there are no trip hazards and few threatening shadows. It is safe.

I see a lot of mud built, squat ramshackle houses. By contrast I live in a spacious, well heated, clean and light house many times larger than any of those homes with probably a lot fewer people in it and I do not consider our house to be grand. It is just an ordinary house here in Stockholm in an otherwise ordinary neighbourhood. OK it’s a picture of a village in a sandstorm so it’s not looking its best but even so it’s a vastly different reality.

The big question then is so what? Why is that relevant for Breathe or to you? It’s been said that we should live simply so that others can simply live and there’s definitely some truth in that. Simplicity provides room for generosity to good works that fight against injustice or alleviate poverty.

Yet I’ve found the power of these pictures do a deeper work in me – it reminds me that the discontent I can so often feel with the things I own is likely as a result of a desire for the things I do not yet own, and not because there is actually any problem with what I have. Discontent can strip you of joy, strip you of an awareness of your blessings and slowly strip away at your soul. Contentment does the opposite, build joy, builds an awareness of the abundant provisions we enjoy and feeds the soul as it leads us to generosity.

If you haven’t done so for a while, why not take a quick look at the Breathe About page. Breathe is about helping us appreciate life and sometimes that comes as a result of contrast as it did for me looking at this picture. It also helps me refuse the lies of the consumer dream, because although I realise that quality of life is affected by the quality of housing, the safety of the neighbourhoods we live and the availability of basic utilities it will not be greatly improved by adding some updated gadgets and summer’s latest fashions. It helps me choose a more generous lifestyle.

What pictures, photos or images have helped you to connect to a simpler more generous life?

This post was first posted at Breathe

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