Source : Google photo of the frog in the well
Synopsis: If you live like a frog in a well, you will have a very limited view of the world. Most poor people who live in small towns in isolation from the rest develop it called the frog in the well syndrome that limits their ability to understand the greater world and how to come out of their limited view and their poverty. They blame others for their predicament but do not take the steps that can improve their life. Their limited view of the world makes them depend more on their belief system that tends to breed fundamentalism in them. The blog looks at the reasons for the poverty and the ways out of it.
Do you know what the proverbial frog does in the well? He waits endlessly for some food that might fall into the well accidentally. He does not know that he would have a much better chance of catching his dinner if he was not in the well but he cannot escape his prison because the well-being deep prevents his escape. Then one day a snake comes to the well and eats him but he too stays in the well waiting for his next meal.
This is a metaphor for some people who live in their own well and have a very limited view of the world. They are not in their well by choice but because they live in a small community that is isolated from the rest of the world due to the geography, poor road connections and the fact that they are born in poor communities where they are destined to spend their entire life just like their parents or grandparents. They have little or no education and find low paying jobs that do not require a lot of education.
This is the story of a lot of mining towns or towns with lumber mills where they are the sole employers if they are lucky. Others in such small towns depend on work in the farms that pay little and require hard physical work.
These small towns and villages create the well in the frog syndrome due to the lack of opportunities and their isolation from the rest of the country. They also breed rabid fundamentalism in their religious views because the church plays a great role in their mundane and humdrum life where the pastor drills into them the merits of their religion from their childhood.
They learn to dislike people who are not like them, who are educated and live the middleclass life with comfort, cars and decent houses so a class divide is created between the poor and the middle class who are called the elites by the poor. We see that poorer the community greater is the feeling of us vs them that fuels this unwarranted mentality.
They are not interested in the outside world and often what happens outside their community. They are not curious about the world and they care less because most will never travel outside their well to see the world and experience the beauty of it because they simply cannot afford. Their priority is food , shelter and survival on very low income so they have no reserve of funds in case of an emergency that can happen to anyone , anytime so they live from day to day and in fear of the crop failures or the job layoffs because the lone employer can’t survive the competition in the modern world.
Women find jobs in diners as waitresses or as grocery clerks while others find some jobs in hair saloons or similar shops. Others stay home and raise children. (I have written a blog called Small towns and dreamers that you may like to read in this context here)
This divide between the uneducated and the educated class exists in all countries although the ratio of poor to the middle class varies from country to country that depends on its geography, level of education and the employment opportunities. We find that a geographically small country like Switzerland has a high level of education that is offered free by the state and a high standard of living because there are plenty of job opportunities with good salary that allows everyone to live a comfortable life. This is easier to do in small countries but more difficult in big countries.
But a vast country like the United States of America or Russia where people living in small rural communities feel very isolated from each other due to their geography and limited employment opportunities creating the frog in the well syndrome that I explained earlier.
A friend of mine once told me that people in his small town in Texas were not interested in his worldwide travels and experience because they had never been outside the well to see the world and experience what my friend had experienced so they had nothing in common anymore. They played bingo, went to the bowling alley or just drank beer while watching some soap operas on TV. Women talked about their hair color or nails while gossiping with other women of similar taste or worried about who will bake the next pumpkin pie for the pastor next week.
I had a similar experience when I went home during my trips to India. I came from a city of over 600000 people living there but the frog in the well mentality was omnipresent. They were not interested in my color slides of various countries or in my experiences in Africa, Vietnam or the United States or what I did for a living because they lived in the world of their own where their world view was indeed very limited.
India is now a technologically advanced country where almost everyone is connected through cable TV via satellite and where everyone keeps a cellphone or two in the pocket. It is a country where practically all the government services are now available online and where massive infrastructure development nationwide is bringing the cities and towns together ,where the rural areas have been electrified and good roads link most of the villages but the frog in the well syndrome persists .
People living in any part of India have very good rail, road and air connection and any one can call anyone in India or abroad easily because of massive investment in fiber optic cables nationwide for communication so people are not as isolated as they were some 50 years ago.
But the reason this frog in the well mentality persists because most people are only interested in what is their priority which is food, shelter, clothes and other sundry things just like in those small towns of Texas. Numerous languages, customs and religions also create division among people so people tend to stick together like birds of the same feathers. This makes them less interested in knowing what happens in different parts of the country because they feel that it does not affect them in any way.
Now in a country where everyone speaks the same language, same everything then there should be more connection between different communities and a better understanding of each other but the opposite happens where the poor resent the middle class they call the elites and show this resentment politically as well by voting for someone who takes advantage of this resentment.
The middle class people in any country do not resent the poor citizens but the poor do because they feel that it is not their fault that they are poor so why they should not prosper? They do not care to know that most middle class people came from poverty but by their effort to get education and skills for the job market, they raised their standard of living. Some of the successful middleclass people were poor only a generation ago so you will find a son or a daughter with college degree while the parents have not finished high school.
It is because such parents gave their children the opportunity to get the education they needed to succeed in their life. They valued education and supported their children somehow in spite of their limited resources. They did not have TV, refs, air conditioners or car but they always paid for the tuition of their children up to the University level. This meant that they sacrificed their own comforts so that the next generation could climb into the middle class. This help from the parents has contributed to the phenomenal growth in the middle class population in India and has been instrumental in reducing the overall poverty in the country. We also see this trend in China where they have drastically reduced the poverty level through education and training to get numerous jobs offered by the government as well as the private sector.
In democratic countries we now see a trend that gives more opportunities to boys and girls equally when it comes to education and job placement. This is a change from the previous generation when women got married at a certain age and stayed at home to raise children. This is still true to a great extent among the poor and the very poor people in many societies but it is also true that the education is now available to everyone up to high school level in many poor countries.
In other countries the governments provide free education up to the college level to anyone who qualifies thus making them more employable in the private sector that needs skilled and educated people.
As the economy of a country develops and grows, more and more people start joining the middle class to live a higher standard of living than their parents but the divide between the middle class and the poor is not going to vanish any time soon because it takes time, resources and a strong mentality to lift the self out of poverty through education and skills.
The frog in the well cannot come out of its well unless given some help. This help comes in the form of massive investment by the government in primary and secondary education, vocational training facilities etc. so that the younger generation has a better chance to get out of poverty. Without such help, poor people stay where they are generation after generation breeding ill feelings for their predicaments and blaming them on the middle class. Or they can sacrifice and somehow send their sons and daughters to college like our parents did.
This help is like the bucket that someone lowers into the well to draw water when a smart frog jumps into it and comes out. What it means is that not everyone grabs an opportunity when it happens to come their way. One must have the attitude and determination that he will not accept the status quo so will try hard to get out of poverty. Only then he will be able to come into the wonderful and beautiful world that awaits him but it will not come easily. He has to make many sacrifices before the success comes for him or the next generation.
Only then he will learn to be of open mind and learn so many new things that are waiting to be learned. A frog that escapes his well will never go back into it given half a chance.
The question is — Do you have what it takes to climb out of your well and see the big world? If you do then you have taken your first step to make your life better. I wish you all the success.
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