who is my neighbor?
Originally a command given by Jesus to his followers, this simple phrase has become a foundational life mantra for people of all beliefs, religions and demographics.
You just can't go wrong with loving your neighbor.
But many of us find ourselves asking the follow up question of "who is my neighbor?"
We know that the phrase doesn't simply apply to those who share our street name. We understand that anyone we find ourselves coming in contact with day to day is a "neighbor" of sorts. Even if we've never met someone who lives in our city, we still might consider them our neighbor because our life and actions "intersect" each other. We impact each other without even knowing it.
But let's think a little bigger...
Is someone across the globe really our neighbor?
If yes, how do we show love to them?
I suppose we've always all been neighbors on this planet, but for centuries people didn't even know of one another's existence across the globe.
With the passing of time and advancement of technology, people obtained a clear understanding of who and how our world is populated. Still, it was fairly easy to be indifferent to the poverty of someone across the sea. After all, what did we have to do with it? Unless you were a big-hearted missionary or relief worker, you didn't have much reason to think globally.
All of that changed in the 1970's-1990's as 98% of the apparel manufactured in America became outsourced to "developing countries." Within a few decades, our entire way of dressing and shopping became dependent on the ability of those countries to employee workers for the lowest wage possible.
Because of this, our lives are now indisputably connected with people in countries like Bangladesh, China, Vietnam and India who make the clothes we wear everyday. We're just one middleman company away from these people, and it's "our" companies that now have a hand in their poverty. It's a lot closer to home than we care to think about.
Sure, we don't directly purchase from them. We don't know which factory our shirt was made in. We don't look into the workers eyes, hand them $4 for a shirt and go on our way.
We go to shiny well-lit stores with oversized pictures of happy people all over the walls. We usually only glance at a tag to make sure it's machine-washable without ever considering how on earth a $4 tank top made it all the way here from Taiwan.
It doesn't feel like we interact with the people who made the shirt. But we do. Our demand for lots of clothes at low prices dictates the livelihood of the workers who wove the fabric we wear.
These workers don't really get a say. When they attempt to unionize to get a pay raise or safer factory, they're beaten or worse.*
We do get a say. Money talks. We choose where and what we buy.
We choose who we buy from and in that interaction we solidify their status as our neighbors.
So who is our neighbor? They are. They all are.
How do we love them? Let's start by loving them through the only way we currently interact with them. Business. Purchases. Money. That's our only tangible link to them, so let's use it for good instead of evil.
*example taken from stories in The True Cost documentary and The True Cost of Low Prices: The Violence of Globalization.