Economic inequality and me

On Saturday, two things happened in my life that do not seem unusual at all. And yet, they highlight the enormous economic divide that exists in South Africa. What happened? I had lunch and my flat was cleaned.

Let’s start with the cleaning. I employ a domestic worker on an ad hoc basis – roughly every three weeks at the moment. She (I won’t name her for the sake of her privacy) spends about 6 hours making my home clean, neat and tidy, and in return I pay her R250.  This happened on Saturday.

While my flat was being cleaned, I went to lunch with my Dad. We had a very pleasant curry lunch with a few drinks at his current favourite curry place. I paid for the meal, which ended up costing R360.

Those two transactions – each of which seems so very normal to me – are in such massive contrast to each other that I’ve been thinking about them ever since. I literally paid more for lunch than another human being earns in a day.

Let’s put that into a bit more perspective. Assuming she works 6 days a week for R250, that’s a weekly income of R1500, or roughly R6000 per month. On a R6000 salary, the idea of going out for a lunch that costs R360 is ludicrous.

In my life, a R360 lunch for two is not particularly expensive. It could easily have been a fair amount more and it wouldn’t have bothered me particularly. Yet, for my employee, the lunch I had on Saturday would have been ridiculously extravagant. It would be as unlikely for her as driving a Porsche is for me.

The economic inequality that is visible here is startling. I know a person who is economically incapable of experiencing my lifestyle. I can’t even imagine trying to make ends meet on a R6000 salary, and I’m a single man with few responsibilities. The woman who works for me is a wife and a mother to two children.

How does such massive inequality exist? Why do I allow it? Do I have a choice? Is there anything I can do to change the situation?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I really would like to find out. Any comments or suggestions are welcome.

Screw depression

Screw depression. Really. It sucks. If anything in the world is unfair, it’s depression. My own brain literally just doesn’t do what it’s supposed to, and the result is a compromised, stunted experience of life.

I suffer from depression. It’s been a part of my life for a long time, though it took years to work out that I might have a problem. Once I sought medical help, I discovered that antidepressants are truly magnificent.

Unfortunately, dealing with my own depression is not just a matter of taking medication. Over time, I am learning that depression has shaped the way I see the world. It has affected many of the habits I’ve developed during my life. It is without doubt the most limiting characteristic I have.

Depression makes me extremely effort-averse – productivity is a chore, rather than a path to achievement. Even though I now understand that my aversion to effort is a result of depression, it seems well nigh impossible for me to change my own behaviour.

I’ve been accused of being lazy at various stages of my life, and I’ve even believed it much of the time. But I’m not lazy. I’m depressed. When I’m not depressed, I’m capable of sustained hard work, which I enjoy greatly. When I am depressed, it’s almost impossible to get started.

I’m full of interesting ideas for what I’d like to do with my life. Almost none of those ideas ever see an attempt at implementation. That’s the result of depression convincing me that hard work is unpleasant, when the exact opposite is true: Hard work is invigorating and satisfying. I know that intellectually, but that’s apparently not enough to overcome the negative emotions I’ve learned to associate with effort.

Depression is the one part of my life I wish I could remove. I detest it. It makes me ordinary, when in my imagination I am extraordinary. It holds me back from pushing my own boundaries and expanding my life experience. It tells me I will probably fail and that failure will be a bad thing, when in fact failure is my most useful tool for learning and growing.

Screw depression. Seriously. Screw it.

The irony of it all, of course, is that depression is a part of who I am.

I’m fighting with myself.

Perspective

In a life that is full of daily challenges, as mine is (most likely yours too), it’s easy to forget to marvel at the magnificence of the universe and the fact that I’m here to experience life as a part of it. This morning I’ve had a little dose of perspective, and it is wonderful.

I came across a website that presents our solar system to scale with the Moon the size of a single pixel. The link is: http://joshworth.com/dev/pixelspace/pixelspace_solarsystem.html.

I tend to imagine, as I imagine most people do, that the planets in our solar system are far apart, but not outrageously far apart. After all, some of them are visible to the naked eye from Earth. The fact that human beings have walked on the Moon and have sent landers to Mars and probes to Pluto reinforces the mistaken idea that the distances between objects in the solar system can’t be too ridiculously large.

Apparently my general imaginings are wrong. The scale of the solar system is mind-boggling. Even just the distance from the Sun to Mercury is unimaginably massive. And the size of Jupiter relative to Earth is almost shocking.

If our solar system is so extremely large as to defy my understanding, how much larger is our galaxy? Or the universe? I really can’t even begin to imagine. It is quite beyond my ability to comprehend. I can only wonder at the magnificence of it.

And that reminds me to look up from time to time. Not to get stuck in my little daily problems and forget to marvel at existence. Will you join me in a little enraptured stargazing?

Identifying negative routine

For a very long time, I’ve thought that I am not a creature of habit. I claim to dislike routine and repetitive tasks and prefer to keep my life in a manageable state of chaos. I’ve now realised, however, that I don’t not have routine. I have negative routine.

I don’t normally make my bed in the morning. I almost always get out of bed late enough that I have to rush to have a chance of getting to work on time. I usually don’t wash my dirty dishes immediately. I avoid doing laundry until I am literally going to run out of clean clothes. I exercise only very occasionally.

I’ve believed for most of my life that the above paragraph describes a resistance to routine. I don’t like routine. I don’t want it. But I realised this morning that I do all of those things with great consistency. They are my routine.

My morning routine looks a bit like this:

  1. Snooze alarm (a few times)
  2. Notice the time, panic because I’ll be late for work and spring into action
  3. Shower (a little longer than I can afford to given that I’ve woken up late)
  4. Decide I don’t have enough time to shave
  5. Search through messy cupboard for clothes to wear
  6. Get dressed
  7. Brush teeth
  8. Use lack of time as an excuse to not make my bed or tidy up in any way
  9. Pack up the things I need to take to work
  10. Get in the car and head to work, knowing with certainty that I will be late
  11. Stress

Looking at that list, it’s no wonder that I find every workday stressful from the start. It takes me a good few hours to really settle into a day of work, so while I do get things done in the morning, I’m usually just trying desperately to keep up rather than actually being on top of my work. Only in the afternoon, when I’ve finally settled down at my desk, do I really make significant progress in my day.

And then I go home, tired from the day that started off in a state of self-induced stress. When I get home, it’s to the mess I created by avoiding cleaning and tidying up.

This is my routine. It’s not a resistance to routine as I’ve thought for so long, but a well-practised, finely-tuned exercise in compromising every day of my own life. I realise now that I choose it, and that only I can change it.