By Kay Whatley and Nicole Banks
References to the “third world” bring to mind images of families living in crude dwellings, undernourished people, and poor-quality water supplies. This term has been used for decades and dates back to the Cold War years. Did you know, though, that there are first, second, and forth worlds too?
Here in the US and other capitalist countries, we have a land of plenty. There are cities, transportation systems, supply systems and comforts. We are in the “first world”.
Socialist countries, which have a planned economy instead of one run by a free market, also have development but because of the economic differences are “second world”. “Fourth world” is a newer term, and is less about countries than about populations. Those categorized as fourth world are essentially without a country. They have been displaced politically, or as is the case with Native Americans, marooned within a first world country. Often their living standards are poor and the population impoverished, despite being surrounded by a rich economic area.
Problems facing third world and fourth world individuals are life threatening. Food and clean water may be in short supply. Shelter is rudimentary, potentially unhealthy. There may be little chance for work. Depending on the political climate (or lack of one), there may be no safety from robbery, physical harm, slavery, or murder.
If you’ve been on the Internet, you may have seen the term “first world problems”. These are small problems to which people react in major ways. These problems are usually minor inconveniences or disappointments; for example, when the coffee shop forgets to put whipped cream on your drink; or, when your parents buy you a black tablet computer and you wanted a white one. These are non-problems that are escalated to the level of life-and-death.
Everyone experiences their lives in different ways. While most of us realize in the grand scheme of things our lives are not crumbling because of the flawed cup of coffee or off-colored tablet, some may truly feel that their life is ruined if they do not get exactly what they wanted. Others are simply happy with what they have and understand if things do not go exactly as they had hoped.
Because life experiences vary vastly on how each of us is brought up, our views and journeys through various stations will vary as well; however, recognizing our plights and annoyances in the grand scheme of things will not only enable us to check our grumbling, but will also help us to better appreciate the problems we are fortunate enough to be annoyed with. So the next time our cell phone loses its connection, or we have to walk another couple feet to a grocery store entrance, we can get past these predicaments with a smile and maybe even a chuckle.
Ed. Note: Original newspaper issue date: August 2–15, 2013.