Real Values

Just returning from Western Sahara I cannot let go of the thought that we in the material world are extremely blessed; we don’t have to struggle to survive, we don’t have to fight hunger on a daily basis, we don’t have to be afraid that water supply will run empty tomorrow, we don’t have to worry about not having enough clothes to protect ourselves against harsh climates. As a matter of fact we don’t have to worry about a thing. And still, has all this material surplus made us any happier? Whenever I travel to the so-called Third World – or developing countries as is another somewhat condescending term often used – I almost always come back with the same impression. People may be struggling to survive in those countries, but they have a dignity, a foundation of self, a care for each and a connection with what really matters in life that I hardly see in my part of the world. At least this seems to be true as long as people are actually able to survive – even if the struggle is hard. I am not trying to romanticizing poor people’s life – there is absolutely nothing romantic about being hungry, knowing your kids will have no chance in life, being cold or thirsty, but I just wonder if materialism in itself makes us lose the connection with true values of human existence. Is it so that the more wealth we gather, the less human we become, less passionate, less compassionate, less content, less generous, less thoughtful? I don’t have the answer, but again and again I have learned that material wealth in itself does not make for a happier life. Do you have any thoughts?

Above I have posted a handful of pictures from Øystein’s and my trip to Western Sahara. It shows some of the beauty and dignity of the people we met while travelling. I want to thank all of you who followed us on the blog. It’s been a tremendous inspiration for our work to read your comments. I also want to apologies for not being able to follow up on your comments; time just didn’t suffice.

53 thoughts on “Real Values

  1. This series has been so interesting Otto and I cannot agree more with your comments above. I’m grateful to you for documenting your journey and the pictures you’ve posted here are just amazing.

  2. Excellent post Otto. The material world gives us great comfort, yet as we face our problems, our selfish nature takes over – thus we forget about others – others here that struggle and others elsewhere who don’t have our conveniences.

  3. Beautiful images, wonderful commentary. I think that in privileged places in the world, we are able in times of strife, to find a way to support each other. Unfortunately, when immanent threat eases, we revert to our mostly complacent, competitive norm. Sometimes I think, it’s because we just don’t know what to do beyond our immediate needs, or become so distracted that the pull of compassion subsides. Many of us really do care, and your posts and images help us to remember to care and to also be grateful. Thank you.

  4. I agree! I came back from my three month trip to Egypt and started downsizing everything – closets, drawers, books, shelves, etc… Too many useless distractions.

  5. To some extent it’s true that the whole western system is all about one thing: people going shopping. On the other hand I prefer the freedom we have in western countries – compared to many backwards Islamic nations – where men & women often are not allowed to interact & socialize like normal human beings.
    Material wealth in itself does not make for a happier life, but being poor doesn’t automatically make you happy either.

  6. Beautiful photos…touching and compelling words…it’s not easy to go backwards with our possessions and taken for granted comforts, but we can always learn…and remember daily what is more important in life. Thank you.

  7. It was a learning experience that had you, Otto, not shared, it would have remained unknown–to me at least, since I tend to live in the sheltered world of creature comfort. It is good to be reminded of others who live with so much less in order to appreciate what one has and figure out how to help in making our world a better place for everyone. Thank you!

  8. Thanks for the trip review, I have enjoyed each post and the images. I remember well when in Egypt whilst in a village, when we were invited into the house of a man who had welcomed us to his village. Not knowing what to expect we entered to be greeted by his wife and children. Each was introduced to us. He then showed off his home with very great pride. That day he had acquired a fridge (old but working), it sat alongside an equally old TV. Bed was only several rolls on the floor and boxes as table/come worktop. They were oh! so poor…..but what I always recall is that pride he had in the family and what he had succeed in acquiring for them. It was real pride and I was pleased to be asked to share his pride with him. I do know some in our small party were horrified that he lived in conditions like that and yes, they were far from what we would call ideal. But I doubt our pride for our own homes would be as great as his. Pride is worth a lot.

  9. I’ve come to the conclusion that modern man (in America, anyway) has become so attached to their remote control that they’ve lost touch with humanity. We tend to measure our own self-worth with the ‘stuff’ that we own, rather than the spirit within us. When our forefathers were crossing the land in covered wagons, or plowing the Earth with a mule, and times were hard, they were probably better off in a way. They had contact with the Earth and with the elements, which kept them grounded and connected with nature. If it didn’t rain, a family might not eat. Now, going to the grocery store, most people, today, don’t even think about what it took to put all of that food on the shelves. We don’t think about the horrible suffering of animals that we eat. With modern technology, I sometimes think (some) people place themselves outside of the wonders of nature, altogether, forgetting their humanity, or that we, too, are animals. Being forced to rely on the Earth and her gifts for our survival is an awakening experience, I would think.

  10. Seeing a place in the world through your photos, that I would not otherwise see, has been phenomenal. Our culture is perplexing in our abundance, but many times lack of compassion for those less fortunate.

  11. Thanks for sharing all those wonderful photos and experiences, Otto.

    I’ve always had an artist’s love of ‘nice’ things and ‘good’ well cooked organic fresh food, but in general, I try to live a simple life and appreciate the simple pleasures. But since being forced to take early retirement due to chronic ill health, I have gained a new appreciation for very plain food and only two meals a day living on a disability pension. I can’t possibly imagine what it must be like to go for days without food and have to ration water. Living a more frugal lifestyle is not easy at the best of times.

    Living with NO lifestyle in these war-torn poor countries must be worse than your worst nightmare.

  12. Otto these are brilliant images and I wanted to say thank you for taing us along on this incredible journey. i’ve truly enjoyed and have learned so much from your posts while you were travelling.

  13. Wealth makes us comfortable, not happy. Happiness does not have a price, it is in every one of us, no matter our situation and it is up to each one of us to find it within. Beautiful photos, eye popping colors and a very moving experience you shared, thank you so much!

  14. Wonderful images Otto, no poverty of spirit in these strong faces! We all of us go to our graves with two sets of numbers only – date of birth and date of last breathe. No grades, no account of possessions, no earning figures and if we have loved and been loved in the meantime we have enjoyed a certain wealth.

  15. Great post… I think its the combination of material and technology that is making us lose touch with reality! Its sad that the ones who suffer are the ones that truly appreciate what matters in life.

  16. You’re right of course Otto, but just because the problems besetting people in Western Sahara are different to those that are experienced elsewhere, it doesn’t mean that European people have no worries.

    Ask the average Greek – suffering terribly for the dishonesty and (let’s be honest) gambling debts of the privileged few.

  17. I agree with your comments…while having technology and modern gadgets is great (e.g. here I am sitting down at my laptop with WiFi internet connection writing a comment on a blog…and thinking how blessed I am), I think somewhere along the way, we’ve made our lives very complicated. You see so many photos like the ones you’ve taken and the people you’ve seen who have suffered greatly and like 2RiversPhoto said above, they appreciate the important things in life…family, community, nature and life, in general. Great photos, thanks for sharing your trip.

  18. I remember a statement from Mother Teresa that the people in India were poor physically but the people in the west suffered from a different poverty-a poverty of spirit. I do not believe wealth makes one happy but it helps take the edge off. The obsessive striving to accumulate more and more is perhaps a manifestation of “lack” just as much as a person who has very little..

  19. As your previous photos from the trip in the Sahara these are fantastic. Not only photographically, but because they tell stories about these people you met.
    We here in the “First World” are incredibly privileged and materially prosperous and ought to be happy. But no, happiness is not followed automatically with prosperity.
    My opinion is that this world can not bear, that everyone on the planet are living with as much consumption as we do. We therefore have to give something to all those, who do not have all the wealth that we have. And if we can not do so voluntarily (which unfortunately I think will be hard!) we will soon be forced to do it……..

  20. I am with you too dear Otto in your thoughts… And this is always being same I mean the differences… And makes me so sad… There are more touching stories I can imagine, in there… I have no answer too for this, but how I wish things to change in positive ways… Thank you so much for sharing with us, welcome back home. Have a nice weekend, love, nia

  21. Wonderfully beautiful photos. They do capture the dignity of the people. I always sense your respect for people around the globe. I think the circumstances that you highlighted from Western Sahara were not even a part of my consciousness, which sadly, is more to your overall point. In our own comforts, we don’t enter into the suffering of others. Powerful photography does illuminate and bring a greater awareness. I hope you’ll continue to share more now that you’re home. Debra

  22. I relate wholeheartedly to your thoughts….the series I did in Guatemala and southern Mexico mostly of older women left me with the same feeling…they have so little…but somehow seem to live much fuller lives than we do…still can’t shake it…wonderful images…

  23. These material possessions. They’re just things. Not much else, really. “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” from “The Little Prince”

  24. I can relate to your experience. When I was volunteering in Kenya, I had similar thoughts. The families in that particular community – their lives are hard, clean water does not come easy to them, they don’t have much in terms of food… on the other hand, they had a strong sense of community (the mamas in the community would come together often to sing and dance, and invite us to join them), and a fuller life (in some ways).

  25. There is nothing wrong with material wealth, but it does make a difference in how it is used. It could be used to help so many who lack. But it can also be used in a way that isolates you and causes you to ‘buy more’ to fill the emptiness within. I agree with tomorrowswisdom’s comment about the importance of sense of community.
    Thank you for the incredible pictures and allowing me to be an ‘armchair traveler’ along with you.

  26. Hi Otto. Great series and it is so true about our values being all messed up. Here in Switzerland which is a very wealthy county, the level of depression and suicide is second only to Japan. Goes to show that money isn’t everything.

  27. Otto, we were truly blessed you let us be part of your trip. It was an eye opener. Your photos at times are haunting and do make me feel humbled. Thank you.

  28. The photos are superb and tell us a great deal when examined carefully. Your commentary is quite humbling and encapsulates the personal dilemma many of us experience.

  29. Thank you for reminding us of what we have. Your insight on the essence of human dignity despite the essential was especially moving…Your photos show that well. Thank you, Renee

  30. Yes, I do think materialism makes us forget what’s important. I realize this the most when I go backcountry camping where there’s no civilization around and all that matters in your day is to get from point A to B, set up shelter and feed yourself. It’s when I feel the most at peace of mind and I love it 🙂

    Beautiful photos and a story that needs to be told more often 🙂

  31. Hello! I love your friend’s posts. They shared with us some updates and insights in that distant part of the world – how the Western Saharans are coping, struggling and hoping despite the harsh realities. Your friend and buddy writes well, please tell him. And many thanks. ^^

    Glad your back and blogging again. Warm regards… 😉

  32. Thank you for sharing these moving images. I agree with you; within reason, having to struggle gives the individual dignity. I see this at every level, from a parent that stands back to let a child learn something the hard way to whole societies that decline because of indolence.

    Warm Regards

  33. Spectacular photos I have been charmed with Otto of four women, for his color, for his naturalness, am as if they were not posing and you were taking them unprepared!! I believe that you have reason, the more we have the less important see other things, vé in all these sites, articles go out in television of poor persons, singing, dancing, laughing, etc. And I think if I was in his situation it might not be like that of contentment, but it will be that on not having had anything, they give him more importance to the affection, to the human treatment do not you believe?, I am glad that already you are of return, embraces

    Fotos espectaculares Otto, me ha encantado la de las cuatro mujeres, por su color, por su naturalidad, es como si no posaran y las cogieras desprevenidas!! yo creo que tienes razón, cuanto más tenemos menos importante vemos otras cosas, se vé en todos estos sitios, salen reportajes en televisión de personas pobres, cantando, bailando, riendo, etc. y pienso si yo estuviese en su situación no podría estar así de contento, pero será que al no tener nada, le dan más importancia al afecto, al trato humano ¿no crees?, me alegro que ya estés de vuelta, abrazos

  34. A question that holds the answer, Otto. We certainly are becoming more greedy and less satisfied with every added possession. Well expressed.

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