Student Life

The UN from the inside, part 3: Reflection

Hey again and Happy New Year!

For anyone in a hurry, the key takeaways from my blog post are:

  1. Regardless of where you start your race, you have to run it. Therefore, make sure you do the best race you can do with your starting point.
  2. Realise that people’s ability to succeed in life, to some extent, rely on external factors one cannot control.
  3. Enjoy your accomplishments, but be conscious about how and why you succeeded.

However, for those interested in the whole story, here it is:

I was fortunate to have two weeks off to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve with my family and friends in Sweden. A well-needed holiday after an intense period of new impressions and lifestyles here in Bangkok while working for the United Nations (UN).

When I travelled to Sweden and returned to Bangkok, the country and its cultural differences strongly appeared to me. I think it is fair to say that Sweden and Australia are roughly similar societies to grow up in when considering the political system, people’s preferences and life opportunities in general. However, those similarities are not observable at all in Thailand.

In my previous article, “The United Nations from the inside: Part 1”, I quickly mentioned that participating in the University Scholarship Leadership Symposium (USLS) conference in August 2018 was quite a different experience compared to living here and actually observing the cultural differences and the poverty on a daily basis. It made me think of a great clip on YouTube, “The Race of Life”. A 4-minute video clip I highly recommend everyone to watch.

The clip is about privilege, something some people have from birth and some simply do not. Privilege is all relative and can thereby be observed in cities, communities as well as on a country level. If you have not yet seen the clip, below is a short summary:

A PE teacher lines up his students along a football field and instructs them to take two steps forward for each statement that applies to the student. If the statement does not apply to the student, the student should stay where they are.

The following statements were called out: 

  1. “Take two steps forward if both of your parents are still married.”
  2. “Take two steps forward if you grew up with a father figure in the home.”
  3. “Take two steps forward if you had access to private education.”
  4. “Take two steps forward if you had access to a free tutor growing up.”
  5. “Take two steps forward if you’ve never had to worry about your cell phone being shut off.”
  6. “Take two steps forward if you’ve never had to help mom or dad with the bills.”
  7. “Take two steps forward if it wasn’t because of your athletic ability you don’t have to pay for college”.
  8. “Take two steps forward if you never wondered where your next meal was going to come from.”

Once the PE teacher went through the statements, the students were spread out along the football field and were then asked to race to the finish line.

The exercise simply visualised that some have a head-start in life and others have limitations. Thus, when running the race of life, it would be extremely foolish of anyone not to realise that privilege exists without the privileged, or the non-privileged, having made any such decisions.

What I find to be both interesting and obvious is that every statement above had nothing to do with the students’ own decisions or actions. I also think the exercise highlighted the importance of respect and understanding. To respect and understand that other’s lives or circumstances may be the result of someone else’s decisions and not their own.

However, does this mean that those back on the starting line should not race at all? Of course not! But giving yourself credit for all your accomplishments and not being willing to give back is just a lack of understanding of how the race of life works. Most of us are not to blame for our head start in life, but neither are most of those with limitations.

How is this relevant for my work at UN and stay in Bangkok?

Recently, the UN hosted a Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland, where one of the main issues to solve was the Financing of Developing Countries. A sensitive topic of course.

Nevertheless, I think that the lack of understanding privilege, somehow put thresholds on the negotiations. Not understanding that some countries were lucky, and some were less lucky, resulted in an absent decision, instead, they postponed the negotiation and decision for the future.

At the same time, I am a strong advocate for being grateful for what you have and making the best race possible regardless of your prerequisites – that benefits everyone. Complaining, on the other hand, or destroying for others in any way even, will not help or change anything for the better.

Takeaways

  1. Regardless of where you start your race, you have to run it. Therefore, make sure you do the best race you can do with your starting point.
  2. Realise that people’s ability to succeed in life, to some extent, rely on external factors one cannot control.
  3. Enjoy your accomplishments, but be conscious of how and why you succeeded.
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Master of Business (Management, Applied Finance)

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