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Just as the plane landed, I closed The Fountainhead interrupting Ayn Rand’s famous courtroom speech. Everything Rand wrote about, from individualism to selfishness, all made sense. As I stepped foot into the dreary airport, I knew I wasn’t in Scottsdale anymore. Being my first time below the equator, I was quite eager to visit Rio di Janeiro. A young man greeted my family and offered to drive us to our hotel for 60 real, roughly $18. I could tell our driver was sharp. He had a calculating look to him, but still had a gregariousness that made me feel comfortable; I thought to myself that he probably could have been quite wealthy if he lived in the United States. My father haggled down to 45 real and we hopped in the cab. At the time, I didn’t think about how the driver could use the money we haggled away from him. After all, we live in a capitalistic world. As we drove into the congested city, I began to see tall skyscrapers, surrounded by tarpaper structures. The structures appeared as if a gust of wind would send them floating away. Our driver told us that the structures were called ‘favelas.’ Homeless people began squatting on government land and constructing houses with driftwood, old bricks and plywood scraps. What I found most incredible was that most of the people who live in the favelas are working class. Visiting impoverished neighborhoods was a sobering experience. Ayn Rand’s idealistic views to which I had taken a liking, weren’t so crisp and clear anymore.
After visiting South America, I realized that there is more to life than climbing the corporate ladder or becoming a high priced attorney. That’s not to say that those are poor goals, but devoting one’s entire life to that cause does seem quite trivial on a global scale. I want to use my fortunes to help those who weren’t given an equal chance. Thinking of our taxi driver, I now understand how random life can be. How would I act if I were born in a slum or in a third world country? Would I be attending school or would I be working to survive? Our driver was just as bright as anyone I know. How would his life be different if he were born in Manhattan? It’s quite possible I would work for him later in life. While the United States is developing into a meritocracy, many parts of the world have remained stagnant, leaving diligent members of society impoverished. Through this first-hand experience, I acquired a stronger sense of social responsibility and duty to those in need.
My life has insofar been quite privileged. My parents have provided everything I’ve ever needed to pursue my education, and there is nothing for which I am more grateful. But being appreciative doesn’t better the condition of anyone else. My trip to Brazil was a personal call to action. The juxtaposition of my condition with that of the people living favelas displayed the serious inequity in the world. Visiting the slums of South America washed away my naive belief in Ayn Rand’s philosophy of working for the individual. But it also brought my views to equilibrium. I will never feel guilty about earning a generous living. I also know that while it may be selfless, which is the pitfall of Randian philosophy, I cannot ignore the problems facing the world. I strongly believe in Rand’s notion that a principle of all cultures should be justice; in essence, you earn what you deserve. Nobody deserves to be born into a life without hope. While a class system without lucid walls may always exist, I can only strive to provide hope for people less privileged.
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