While in college, my first upper-level course was one entitled "The French Revolution." The course was difficult, with a lot of reading and writing, but I loved it and ultimately changed my major from business administration to history. As I studied the revolution, I felt that Marie Antoinette and her husband, King Louis XVI, were given a bad rap. Those of you with a basic understanding of French history know that both went to the guillotine for their "crimes." Many people also believe Marie Antoinette uttered the famous words, "Let them eat cake." (There is no proof that she said it.) In reviewing all the evidence, I found that the king and queen were not necessarily insensitive to the needs of the peasants. Despite their historical reputaions, they really weren't bad people, just individuals in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were raised with a certain standard of living and had certain expectations as far as what it meant to be French. Their perception of the world was the result of being pampered and of being isolated from the common people. Their world was one of opulence and they only associated with other royals and nobles. Thus, they were clueless as to the suffering of the poor. Marie Antoinette could have easily said, "Let them eat cake," because in her world, if you were out of bread, you just ate something else. Food shortages (and other issues faced by the peasants) were not part of her vocabulary.
I've gone into this long history lesson because I believe that Americans are no different than these doomed royals. For the most part, we view the world from a position of comfort and abundance. Ours is a nation where the number one health problem among the poor is obesity. We don't know what it's like to go days without food, to have to drink polluted water, to be displaced by wars, or to lack basic medical care. So, as we interact with the rest of the world (the other 95%), we are wearing rose-colored glasses. We don't mean to be insensitive, it's just that we have a skewed reference point .
During this advent season, I encourage everyone to take some time to get to know our "neighbors," those with whom we share this planet. As we have learned from Marie and Louis, we are what we know, so let's set out to learn. Read a book, watch a documentary, or research on the internet. Let's try to understand the rest of the world and look upon them with love and compassion. And avoid going down in history as a nation who thought the rest of the world should just eat cake.