More than a SMILE

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If you read my last blog you know that I recently visited South Africa on a church mission trip and talked about the difference between the poor in Soweto and the American poor.

I was taken back by the amazing smiles on the people in the poorest of areas.  Beautiful wide-mouthed, teeth showing smiles.

I am in no way naïve to believe they were happy with their situation.  The surroundings are deplorable.

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Happiness doesn’t depend on any external conditions, it is governed by our mental attitude.
- Dale Carnegie
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But the smiles, not just the children, were infectious.  Their was an endearing quality about the people that made me want to engage and get involved.

The type of engagement I am talking about was not the kind of “do gooder” involvement where you try to lift someone from the depths of their plight because you feel sorry for them.  NO!

I was saddened because of their living arrangements but their countenance did not demand sympathy.  Their smiles just made the desire for engagement easy.

It was as if they were a neighbor who could use a helping hand in assistance.

It has only been eighteen years since the fall of apartheid and full democracy in place.  One would think that a couple of busloads of white people winding their way through the narrow streets would be viewed with distain or considerable resistance or suspicion.

We felt no distain and little or no resistance or suspicion.  They smiled as we passed and freely waved as we responded in kind.

Somehow the American poor seem different.

I am sorry if this sounds judgmental, I don’t mean to be, but I don’t see the smiles or welcoming wave from the inner-city poor in the United States like I did in South Africa (SA).

So here’s my puzzlement.  Why?  Why such a difference?

The SA poor live in much worse conditions, have significantly less governmental support, with fewer opportunities.  To top it off health issues like HIV are rampant.

The majority of our mission trip was to clean up and repair an elementary school in a very poor area of Soweto.  The principle said that about 40% of the children were HIV positive.

Take a look at this video I took of the kindergarteners walking to their toilet break.

school children 3

Although the school appeared pretty nice is wasn’t… especially by U.S. standards.

I think there is something to be said for uniforms and order.  The teachers maintained a fairly high level of order while still allowing kids to be kids.

Once again, don’t misinterpret what I am saying.  Just because the people smile and engage more doesn’t mean that people are satisfied with their lot in life.

Crime in SA is rampant.  People are scrambling for survival.  The poor there do not have nearly the amount of basic governmental or NGO (non-government organization) support for food and shelter that we have here.

But for some reason they seem to stand taller, look you in the eye more, smile and engage more readily.

I do believe there is a difference between being happy vs. satisfied.

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Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.
- Abraham Lincoln

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I would really like to know your theory or reason for the difference between the poor in US and SA.  It was fascinating to experience.

See you Monday.

Ciao.

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