Excerpt from Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World
Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked.
— Viktor E. Frankl
Some people's lives are transformed gradually. Others are changed in an instant.
My own moment of truth happened over a bowl of cereal one morning when I was twelve years old. Sitting at our kitchen table munching away, I was about to dive into the daily newspaper in search of my favorite comics—Doonesbury, Calvin and Hobbes, Wizard of Id. The cartoons were my morning ritual. But on this particular day, April 19, 1995, I didn't get past the front page. There was one headline that was impossible to miss: BATTLED CHILD LABOUR, BOY 12 MURDERED.
I read on.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) — When Iqbal Masih was 4 years old, his parents sold him into slavery for less than $16. For the next six years, he remained shackled to a carpet-weaving loom most of the time, tying tiny knots hour after hour. By the age of 12, he was free and traveling the world in his crusade against the horrors of child labor. On Sunday, Iqbal was shot dead while he and two friends were riding their bikes in their village of Muridke, 35 kilometres outside the eastern city of Lahore. Some believe his murder was carried out by angry members of the carpet industry who had made repeated threats to silence the young activist.
(Used with permission of The Associated Press, copyright © 1995. All rights reserved.)
After reading this article, I was full of questions. What kind of parent sells a four-year-old child into slavery? Who would chain a child to a carpet loom? I didn't have any ready answers. What I really wanted was to talk to Marc, my older brother by six years, but he was away at college. I knew that even if Marc couldn't answer my questions, he would at least know where to start looking. But that day I was on my own.
After school, I headed to the public library and started to dig through newspapers and magazines. I read about children younger than me who spent endless hours in dimly lit rooms making carpets. I found stories about kids who slaved in underground pits to bring coal to the surface. Other reports told of underage workers killed or maimed by explosions in fireworks factories. My head was swimming. I was just a kid from the suburbs, and like most middle-class kids, my friends and I spent our time shooting hoops and playing video games. This was beyond me.
I left the library bewildered and angry at the world for allowing such things to happen to children. I simply could not understand why nothing was being done to stop the cruelty. How could I help?