CAM and I were leaving the sprawling MBK mall in central Bangkok.
“That’s another reason why I hate this trip” he said.
He was behind me, so I couldn’t see the look on his face, but I could tell from the tone of his voice that he wasn’t being serious. He is a master curmudgeon.
“Why’s that, bud?” I asked, curious to know what had brought on this latest complaint – especially since I’d just bought him a new pair of headphones.
“$23 isn’t a lot of money”, he replied.
“Well”, I said, “it is for some people”.
“That’s the point. It is for some people”
“Like the villagers we met in Cambodia”, I suggested, referring to our visit to the opening ceremony for the Passports School.
“But it shouldn’t be for me and that’s why I hate this trip, it’s made me realize that $23 is a lot of money for a lot of people” he continued, giving no sign as to whether or not he’d heard what I’d said.
The headphones I’d just bought had cost $23.
Before we started our trip, Murph and I had hoped that the trip might give our children a better understanding of how lucky they are simply to have been born in the U.S. into a comfortable family environment. At the start of the trip I pointed out to them examples of the poverty we saw around us in the streets of Quito and the slums around most South American cities. It quickly became apparent that this sledgehammer approach was only causing my children to roll their eyes and ignore me.
This was one of the few times that either one of the boys had brought up the topic of poverty since then.
CAM continued: “I’m from Seattle. My parents are pretty well-off. I shouldn’t feel like $23 is a lot of money to spend.”
“How much money do you make in a year?” I asked – knowing full well the answer was zero.
“Well, if you make nothing, then $23 is a lot even for you. Don’t you think?”
He was having none of that.
“I get pocket-money. That’s about $500 a year.”
“OK, so you make $500. If $500 is your total income, $23 is still a lot.”
I let the implied lesson about living within your means hang. He’s a smart kid, he knows exactly what I mean.
Here’s where I have changed. Previously, I would have taken the opportunity presented by this conversation to provide a mini-lecture on poverty in many of the countries that we’ve visited and opine on how I believe rich nations (and people) have a responsibility to help poor nations. I didn’t. I’ve learned that less is more and that by saying nothing I was giving him a chance to consider what we’d been discussing.
Typical teenage, non-verbal communication, but I could see his wheels were turning.
Imperceptibly, this trip is changing our children. Much as they continue to protest being dragged away from school, friends and normal life, short conversations like this one make all those complaints worthwhile.