Walking in someone else’s shoes
As a teen, I was enveloped in my own world of the boyfriend, cheerleading, homework and makeup. My world changed dramatically after I left Bray-Doyle High School. When I my feet reached the campus of Cameron University, my world converged with countless other people’s worlds, so here I am – sondering.
A friend of mine recently taught me the word “sonder,” which the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows defines as “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”
I realize it’s risky to go there – to try on the shoes of random strangers on your way to an 8 a.m. class – and sometimes it’s even riskier to try on the shoes of your best friends. Their shoes may not be as comfortable as yours; their feet may be scarred, burned or bloody, even if you can’t see them.
Still, let’s go there. Let’s sonder.
You fly to Shenzhen, China. You see crowds of people of all ages walk into Foxconn Factory. According to the Agence France-Presse article “Foxconn Workers Strike at China Factory,” Foxconn is “the world’s largest contract maker of electronics components” for international brands, including Apple, and employs more than one million Chinese workers.
The fact that iPhones are designed in California but assembled in China is important.
In the Marketplace article “How Much Would an All-American iPhone Cost?” Stacey Smith said an iPhone made in China costs Apple $5 for labor and sells at retail between $650 and $850, but that same phone made in the U.S., where labor costs are two to three times higher, would be about $2,000 retail.
Imagine paying $2,000 for an American made iPhone.
Chinese factory workers pay the deadly price of our “cheap” phones – they work in environments smaller and smellier than your old sneakers.
In an American Diplomacy article, Paul Levine reviewed the book “We Are Like Scattered Sand: 200 Million Migrant Workers in China” by Haiao-Hung Pai.
In his book, Pai interviewed a woman who said, “Look at those [worker’s] apartments. They are overcrowded, eight workers in a four-square-meter room.”
Workers in Apple factories have also been exposed to n-hexane, a neurotoxin that leads to nerve damage, and benzene, a carcinogenic liquid similar to gasoline, according to the Public Radio International article “Chinese Workers Pay a Toxic Price” by Arwa Gunja.
Although Gunja said the chemicals were banned in August, Brian Chen of the The New York Times said “many potentially harmful chemicals are still being used to produce electronics.”
FYI: We buy iPhones.
A personal testimony by former Foxconn worker Xu Lizhi reflects oppressive factory life, which was published in a Bloomberg Businessweek article by Christina Larson.
Larson said 24-year old Lizhi sent poetry to “Foxconn People” before he took his own life last September. After he died, his friends found poems he wrote that had not been published.
In one poem, Lizhi wrote, “With no time for expression, emotion crumbles into dust/ They have stomachs forged of iron/ Full of thick acid, sulfuric and nitric/ Industry captures their tears before they have the chance to fall.”
Take off your shoes, and slip on his.
You’re stuck in oppressive working conditions. You don’t own a shiny iPhone; you shine it up to be shipped off.
Some people don’t know where their iPhones come from.
As the holidays approach, we must remember that our commodities come at prices that our instant gratifications can’t pay – can’t justify.
Injustices perpetuate around the globe; each society is a mixture of both poverty and prosperity. Although the issue of harsh working conditions is close to my heart, it might not be to everyone’s, and that’s okay.
The point isn’t to take a guilt trip in people’s shoes. The point is to realize that other people’s lives matter.
Of course, one person can’t do it all – meet the needs of every homeless person, save every lost puppy and cure every disease. Even if one could, the solutions are not simple, and the problems evolve overtime.
Still, I can do something. I can remember that although I was born in America, I am no better than any other 19-year-old girl across the ocean. As she slips on a factory coat, I slip on a Cameron t-shirt. As she assembles an iPhone, I soak in knowledge at college. It’s not fair. As a cry against ignorance, I can promote education before consumption.
You can do something, too. Find your passion. Your life matters and so do the lives of those who eat dinner alone and cry in their dorms or those who pop pills and sell their bodies. Whether they’re millionaires, thieves, political leaders or terrorists, their lives are significant.
I challenge you to think past yourself; think past the homework due tomorrow, the date this weekend, the new boots at the mall and the sadness or anger or whatever you feel in this moment.
Try on people’s shoes. Sonder. Pursue your passion.
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