23 March 2009

In Pursuit of Gratitude - (3) A Tale of Two Cities

The last school I taught in was built in the early 1900's. It was a classic. When I first arrived at that school in 1995 our electricity consumption was basically lights, heating in winter, overhead fans in summer, a computer in a few lucky classrooms and one in the front office, one photocopier (which was used a lot!) and a microwave and dishwasher in the staffroom. No-one seemed to use the overhead projectors all that much.

About five years later we set up a computer lab with 25 networked computers, every classroom was issued with two computers and thanks to the generous parent body, the entire school was air conditioned. And we got a second photocopier. After that, every time we used the microwave it tripped the entire system (which included shutting down all those computers in unceremonious fashion) and each time the school blacked out. Later that year the school was rewired at great expense because the system couldn't cope.

Three summers ago we had rolling black outs in our city on some of the hottest days as a measure to conserve some energy. The demand for electricity that summer was just too great and the system couldn't cope.

And it is not all that surprising. Our levels of power consumption have escalated enormously over the last decade. The primary school I worked in is one example. What happens in our house is another. We now have two computers that are often both in use. The telephone we now have is plugged into mains electricity to run the answering machine. To turn on the TV we now also turn on the DVD player and the set top box. And we now have air conditioning. That is just a sample and that is just one house on one street in one suburb.

I remember the outrage at these blackouts which lasted for about 40 minutes a time from memory. Many people were utterly indignant. The outrage hit the newspapers. It was truly outrageous. The attitude, that is. Not the fact of the blackouts or the mild inconvenience they caused. *

At that time I remember receiving an email from a friend who was working in the city of a west African country. At the time of our rolling blackouts she was praising God. In her neck of the woods she only got one hour of electricity per day. And that hour could be at any time of day or night. She was praising God because that precious hour seemed to be settling into a predictable part of the day, making it possible to utilise it to maximum benefit due to being prepared and awake for it.

In my first post on gratitude I suggested that one manifestation of ingratitude is a constant demanding of one's perceived rights. This comes in many forms – demanding continuous, 100% reliable electricity. Perfect roads. Instant access to excellent health care with a 100% guarantee of a good outcome. Not having to queue up at the bank or any where else.

I am going out on a limb here. But I want to make a point. Compared with my friend in Africa we have it good. (I speak from the vantage point of living in a capital city of Australia.) We have it really good. And if only our culture promoted regarding all the good things we have as blessings rather than rights I think there would be a greater level of contentment and much less outrage. So I say, in the pursuit of gratitude, let's save the outrage for the things that are truly outrageous (because yes, there is a time and a place for outrage) and work hard at being thankful for the riches we enjoy.

* May I say that don't wish to be insensitive here. I am certain that these power cuts did create some situations of great tragedy and I don't want to be dismissive of that fact. I am generalising because for the most part, it was just a mild inconvenience and a bit hotter when the electric fans and air conditioners were out of action.


Helen said...

Well no air conditioner in our neck of surburbia but that sewing machine is on 24/7!! A very wise post Meredith, I was nodding along with each paragraph. See you tomorrow. xx

Meredith said...

Thanks Helen.