Is Civilization Hanging On A Thin Threat… ?

Could we go wild… because of poverty?
Would we fight for scraps like alley cats, if we had nothing else to eat?
I believe that poverty is a very bad counselor for civilized behavior.
I also believe that in each of us lays a “beast”…. ready to pounce and fight for survival.

Let me tell you briefly about an adventure in which I unfortunately played the main role.

I was traveling in Senegal, West Africa. Senegal is a democracy since many years—not that this has any major bearing on my story.
I was on a touristy side trip and we stopped someplace in the countryside. (I don’t quite remember the reason for the stop now, it’s been a few years…)

There were a number of children hanging out at that place, none of them older than ten or twelve. They looked dirty and poor.

I had a cough (remnant of a cold that I had caught in the airplane) and carried a small box of eucalyptus cough drops in my bag. I took one out of the box….

Instantly, one of the smaller children stood in front of me with his hand outstretched, begging for a “candy”. It didn’t take more than two extra seconds for five more children to stand around me, in the same pose.

I couldn’t understand why they would want yucky cough drops (little did I know about poverty, then…) and so I proceeded to distribute my “candy”, one to each child. In the meantime, I was the center of a small crowd of maybe thirty children.

I had barely handed out one or two cough drops when they started groping at the box. At first, I held the box higher, out of their reach. But they pushed each other against me, jumped up, grabbed my arm, my sleeve, anything….

Anything to get one “candy”….

I let go of the box and they were fighting a wild fight with fists, claws and teeth in one huffing, dusty knot. I stepped back, shocked and almost crying. I was afraid they would kill each other…. over a few cough drops! It was a terrible and frightening sight.
Until today, when I hear the word “poverty”, I think of those Senegalese children.

And sometimes I wonder how much (or little) it would need for us, too, to stomp on civilization with dusty feet, bite and scratch sophistication to death, and generally spit on refinement….; because I also believe that the “beast” within would come out and fight if we had to endure the deprivations and poverty that a great number of people in the world have to endure.

Indeed, we are very privileged and should never forget it.


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