Just another letter…

Does it matter if this will never be read by the people it’s meant for?

Dear those who cannot read this,

I am sorry. You don’t know my name and you probably can’t comprehend my life.  But that’s okay, because I don’t know your name or your life either.  I’m writing this letter to apologize.  I am in another world, with food and clean water and shelter and education and opportunities and hope.  Where I live, we think death is a big deal; poverty is unjust and unnatural; high school diplomas are standard; war is distant and unreal.  I live far away from where you live.

I cannot begin to pretend that I could ever grasp your life.  But I still know some things.  I know that we will never meet but that we are still linked.  What I do affects you, but you have no choice in the matter.  I’m sorry for my parents and their parents, who polluted your air.  I’m sorry for my government, which is primarily occupied by its own affairs and sees your need as statistics.  I’m sorry for my cars and supermarket, which make your home a commodity.  I’m sorry for my society, which treats science and social justice as mutually exclusive, even when one can help the other.  I’m sorry for my clothes, which could’ve been food for you.  I’m sorry for my thoughts, which stack you behind a superficial life, filled with touch iPods and glossy magazines.  I’m sorry for my words, which make me a hypocrite most days.

There is no real point for this letter… Can I confess something?

I’m also sorry for this letter -because its purpose is just to make me feel better.  Selfish in the end, but please believe me, it is honestly given.  I can only say that none of my life has helped you, that most of my life as made you worse off.  Nonetheless, a piece of my heart is with you right now.  It exists along side yours (not in harmony, not in humanity, not in history.  In spirit.  Uselessly.)

I give you my hope,

A North American Girl

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Tiffany is twenty and a citizen of two and a third countries. She is firmly unscientific in her thoughts, preferring the arts even though she got better grades in science during high school. She is not exactly sure what she's doing at UBC (it must needs do with learning, growing?) but there she is. IR and French are her focus- but then again she is sort of unfocused in general.

14 Responses to “Just another letter…”

  1. Mike Carlson

    This was eloquent and well written.
    It made me cry a little.

    I applaud this bridge of art and humanity.
    Thank you North American Girl.

  2. Scott Newson

    Cannot making yourself feel better be a worthy goal in itself?

  3. Alex

    Your last paragraph sums it up well. Unfortunately by posting here you’ve succeeded in wasting my time as well as yours. I would suggest keeping your ignorant and offensive pity parties to yourself in the future.


  4. Justin

    Whoa Alex – chill.

    Better yet, why not air your criticisms of the post in a more constructive civil way. Being offensive yourself only undermines your own (possibly) valuable point of view.

  5. Stephanie

    Wouldn’t it be better to air YOUR criticisms individually rather than ditto-ing someone else’s point?

    It’s all subjective folks.

    I also personally found this “letter” somewhat offensive. It addresses no one, and generalizes anyone not living in privileged First World countries and their suffering… hence (possibly) Alex’s use of the “offensive” word ignorant.

  6. Tiffany Pan

    Wow. I certainly didn’t expect my post to be so controversial. I just want to say that the post wasn’t meant as any sort of political statement; I’m sorry (there’s that word again) for any generalities or presumptions that came across. It wasn’t intended to offend or anything like that. It was merely supposed to reflect a particular sentiment at a particular moment. Namely, the guilt that comes with living with North America when one realizes the price of all their comforts. I don’t know if anyone ever feels this sort of helplessness, where all they can do is apologize for whatever harm that may come out of living a certain lifestyle. Anyway, feel free to criticize it. God knows, I’m not as sensitive as I should be sometimes.

  7. Rachel H

    What a waste of time. I thought this forum was used to enrich others’ lives, provoke thoughts, and possibly entertain…

    The only thing this showed me was that you’re too lazy to find out what the connection is between your lifestyle and the less privileged which is why you probably will never change it.

  8. Loni


    I am not sure what the author is trying to accomplish with this piece, other than to (as she said) alleviate her own guilt, but I can honestly answer her opening question with “yes”. This letter does matter even if those it was intended for never read it, because all the people it wasn’t addressed to (save babies, the blind, and those who are illiterate anyway) are subjected to it. It is probably for the best, come to think of it, that those it was intended for don’t have to stomach it. I think they would have a hard time choking down the pat, pre-fab feelings of a geographically privileged university student.

    That aside, I want to make two points.

    1) If you feel so bad, go and do something about it. Take a trip, volunteer,
    broaden your horizons, buy local. Whatever.

    2) You are showing your ignorance by assuming that anybody who has
    problems or experiences suffering as a result of our consumerist culture
    will not be able to read this letter. Internet access is not synonymous with
    a good or bad life.

  9. Lillienne

    Isn’t some kind of acknowledgment — however general — better than none at all? Acknowledgment is the beginning to further questioning, challenging, diving deeper. Everyone starts somewhere.

    The thing is, don’t stop there and think there is nothing you can do. Feel helpless enough to want to change that. Ask questions, find out more, do *something*.

  10. Jon Beasley-Murray

    You may be interested in this blog post, which relates to a class I am teaching (on Popular Culture in Latin America).

    As I say there, the letter writer clearly has her heart in the right place. (And incidentally, I don’t agree with the tone of the disparaging comments that she’s received.) But she, too, is worried that she is being self-indulgent. I would go further: we learn from an investigation of Latin American popular culture that the relationship between First World and Third World, or between North and South, is more complicated than a simple dichotomy of victimizer (however unthinking) and victim. There are more complex negotiations and exchanges at work. If we don’t recognize this, then we inevitably end up being patronizing.

  11. Skebede

    I liked your post. It was you, it wasn’t representing everyone in North America. It was written by you. Maybe you aren’t using the most politically correct words, but sometimes we can’t wait for that to come out of our heads when we are in the moment, entrenched in thoughts and emotions that just want to get out. When we express ourselves purely, which I think you did, it isn’t revised all the time, it is natural. It encompasses the beauty and the bruises. Sometimes in university I feel that people are afraid to express themselves because they fear that people will accuse them of saying something ignorant, and yes people do say things like such, but instead of making them hide their thoughts in their heads, its important that we discuss where these ignorant thoughts come from. Why we do we feel sorry? What can we do to change our thoughts? How can we become more responsible of what we say?

    I’m still learning.

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