Humanity consists of a broad spectrum of people; different races, different cultures, different circumstances. Like many of you, I’m prone to forgetting how privileged I am sometimes. I can suffer from “first-world” problems with the best of them. When I do, I try to remind myself that most people aren’t as privileged as me, not even in Australia. I’m male, white, heterosexual, cis, healthy, middle-class, debt-free; I don’t really have anything to complain about. When I plot myself on the spectrum of well-being, I’m doing pretty good.
The spectrum of well-being can be a scary thing to look at. If such a thing really existed — if we really could assess the well-being of every individual on this planet from one moment to the next — it means that we could identify the most unfortunate person in the world.
Think about it.
Somewhere right now, some poor person is suffering more than any other individual on the planet. For that one person, the idea that “well, at least I’m not as bad as they are” is an impossible thought. They are on the bottom of the heap.
Hopefully, this sad individual’s reign as the most unfortunate person is a temporary one. I’d hope that anyone who was in that position would be close to death in some way and their misery would be soon at an end. It would be awful to imagine anyone being in that position for a long time. Hopefully, for their sakes, the poor people who sadly end up occupying the position of most unfortunate person do so only for a short time.
Of course, at the other end of the spectrum, there must be someone who is the most fortunate person in the world; some lucky individual who is having the happiest, luckiest, most fantastic time of their lives. For them, everyone else is worse off.
Again, I would imagine that this moment is only temporary. It must be impossible to be that fortunate and happy all the time. Something will come along to make their experience less than perfect. They might stub their toe, or catch a cold; maybe their toast is the wrong shade of brown. Some change in circumstance will knock them off their perch, and someone else will take their place as the most fortunate person in the world.
What makes the spectrum of well-being even more worrisome is that the good times enjoyed by the most fortunate person in the world may be connected to the fate of the most unfortunate person in the world. I suspect that to become the most fortunate person in the world, you must be responsible in some way — either directly or indirectly — for the fate of the most unfortunate person in the world. To have all the good things in life, other people must suffer. If that’s true, then I have a lot to feel guilty about, and I’m not even close to being the most fortunate person in the world.
Of course, I may be thinking about this in the wrong way. Maybe they are the same person. Perhaps in that last moment of existence between being the most unfortunate person in the world and dying, the most unfortunate person in the world is so relieved that their suffering will soon end that they feel like they are also the most fortunate person in the world.
Nah, who am I kidding? That guy with the big house, the fast car, the hot girlfriends — that complete bastard — is probably the most fortunate person in the world. I hope not though.
But maybe there’s another way to look at it. Perhaps the most fortunate person in the world is someone who has just enough to feel contented. A job that makes them feel happy and fulfilled; great friends, and a family who loves them.
Or maybe the most fortunate person in the world is a 3-year-old kid who has just discovered how cool a cardboard box is to play with. Good fortune is so subjective. To a small child, a cardboard box is probably just as amazing as all the trappings of wealth and power. I hope so. The happiness of a small child is so pure and easy. That gets my vote!