Photo: RossHelen/Shutterstock

How To Handle The Guilt Of Your Over-Consumptive Culture

by Adena Harford Oct 25, 2007

Everything takes getting used to.

Whether it’s sleeping on the street with your family, saying ‘no’ to beggars, fasting for days, functioning with dysentery, or even something so simple as casting off one’s attachment to toilet paper.

The most important lesson I learned in India is that (for better or worse) human beings can adapt to anything.

Many travelers visit places where they need weeks to completely adapt to their new surroundings (and many eventually become partial to them).

Inevitably, the time comes to change again and re-adapt to the society you left.

The new challenge is to incorporate the knowledge you gained on the other side of the world; all without being pompous or preachy about your travels.

Lessons on adaptation

After leaving a country like India, guilt is often associated with coming back and rejoining the monster of a western consumer-driven society.

Though I find similarities between India and Brooklyn (my new home) all the time (the bombardment with advertisements is similar, surprisingly), the things I ‘need’ to fit into my daily life have done a complete 360.

Guilt is often associated with coming back and rejoining the monster of a western consumer-driven society.

For example, it took me only 30 minutes to move my belongings into my new space, and that first night, I sat and stared at my white walls and found myself desiring…things.

A new apartment or living space is a hard thing to accept at first. It’s a very different feeling to be sleeping in the same bed every night when you’re used no knowing where your head may hit its next pillow.

This can feel like a physical tie down that chokes off that feeling of freedom. A new apartment is also very expensive. (I don’t even want to think about how many nights I could have paid for in India with a month’s rent in Brooklyn).

While traveling, many a conversation is had about clean sheets and queen-size mattresses. A lease can bring up commitment issues you never knew you had.

An uphill battle

Challenges like these are constant for travelers.

Perhaps that is why we become addicted to relentless movement and change. We are in continual need to test ourselves.

Often, returning home is usually not the deep sigh of relief hoped for after months on the road. One of the most difficult reasons is that our western lifestyles project opposing values to those found in India and other countries where capitalist society is less developed.

Feeling guilty for over-consumption is often one of the first steps in this adaptation process. While traveling through impoverished countries, the guilt of your ‘wealthy’ western-world status can weigh heavy upon you.

The only way to pass this milestone is to simply accept it, and enjoy what opportunities are given to you to the fullest, most humble way possible.

When returning home, this guilt takes on a different light; a traveler should strive to make sure he or she doesn’t forget the lessons about life that were learnt on the road.

To forget the people we met and experiences we endured is the greatest of failures.

It’s an internal battle, and a constant one.

Remember that traveling has already shown us the answers. Whether out of necessity or intelligence, situations will arrive, and solutions will come for better or worse.

As long as decisions are made in light of the awareness and perspective gained from these experiences, you should not feel guilty.

You are doing your best, and that’s all that matters.

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