I wonder. I wonder if the Coronavirus Pandemic will change our world society in some vast positive manner. An inflection point for future historians? Perhaps this is too much to ask. Yet I do wonder.
This virus is an enemy common to all of humanity. It does not respect borders. It does not care about your religion, your politics, or ethnicity. It kills without bias.
Reach Beyond Your Biases
David was nervous. I did not know his name yet, but I could clearly detect angst as we approached for introductions. He was to be our tour guide on a safari. Eight Marines. This was the summer of 1994 in Mombasa, Kenya.
I was taken aback when he introduced himself as David in near perfect english. I would later ask if he was saving us the struggle of pronouncing something in Swahili. No no, he said. Born and raised in Kenya with the birth name of David.
The Tsavo West preserve is inland from Mombasa. We enjoyed a long ride learning about Kenya. The reason David was nervous? He was struggling to explain how important the preserve is to him. He wanted to ensure we would respect his land and not litter.
I recall so much from the trip. A pack of lions almost within arms reach (from inside a vehicle). Elephants tearing leaves from branches for an afternoon snack. Zebras, giraffes, and termite hills reaching above the roof of our van. It was David who left the largest impact on me.
I don’t recall a moment in the van where David asked about living in America. Instead he told us about his country. What he loved about Kenya. Why he loved being a guide for tourists on safaris.
Passing through small villages I noticed women balancing large baskets on their heads, taking goods from the market to feed their family. I asked why they carried things in this manner, and he responded, “so they don’t get too tired.”¹
In addition to his kindness, I recall David’s intelligence. But most of all I remember his love for his country. As we parted company I looked him in the eye and said, “asante sana.”
From my world travels I’ve learned people are largely the same. This is my thesis. People want to be happy. They want to fall in love, and they want to create a better life for their children. Most love their country. This is true in nearly every corner of the world.²
Granted I’ve only been to 21 countries outside of my own. If I am fortunate enough to visit others, I do not believe my thesis will be proven inaccurate.
Reach Beyond Your Bubble
A customer once told me, “the french people are so rude.”
“Oh? When were you last in France?”
“Never been there.”
I have been to France several times over the years, mostly to Paris, but also the countryside to include the south of France. Each time I was treated wonderfully, meeting nice people and engaging in conversations as best I could with my marginal French.
One evening, in a cafe within the heart of Paris, a mother and daughter were seated next to us. I caught the little girl glancing my way. Using my best French, I told her she had a nice doll. Her eyes turned downward with red cheeks. Her mother responded with kind eyes, “merci beaucoup, monsieur.”
The service I received at restaurants has almost always been equal to or better than restaurants in the United States. True even in parts of Paris, especially the art district Montmartre.³
There are biased extremes in our country which feed information to their base. Our news media, especially Fox and MSNBC, are prima facie examples. Whereas a politician will confirm the biases of his or her voter base, the news media does the same to maintain viewership, ensuring long term advertising revenue.
In 2002, as President Bush worked to shore up UN support to wage war against Iraq, France refused to join. The news media, especially MSNBC and Fox, focused on talking points to highlight this. Ad nauseam. We had saved their asses in two world wars. How dare they not join us on this quest to rid the world of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. At one point we were told to change french fries to “freedom fries.”
Reach Beyond Your Default Setting
Do you believe all Moslem people are prone to wanton violence with the singular goal of destroying our country? Do you view Africa as some dark continent living in the stone ages? Is it the goal of the Hispanic people to take our jobs and drive our infrastructure to ruin?
Two of my previous articles come to mind. In this article I ask the definition of freedom, and eventually challenge you to step beyond the conventions which attempt to define who you are. More recently, in this article I begin with my experience walking Dachau, the concentration camp preserved from World War II, where I was confronted with a stark truth about the holocaust.
There are many ways to define freedom. My favorite is the freedom to think. The freedom to believe. You own your mind. You can think and believe anything. You can decide when, what, and how to learn. You can decide to reach beyond your biases.
If humanity could learn one salient lesson from history, I wish for this. While it is convenient to pin our failures and challenges on a race or society, it is always wrong. Instead of working to better ourselves, we often decide to blame others. At a minimum this type of thinking blinds us to actual solutions. On the extreme it has historically led to horrific outcomes.
Can we, just, maybe, try something different? Can we stop allowing the fear of the unknown to drive us to negative thoughts? Can we learn to assume the positive until proven otherwise?
The country of India produces intelligent people.
You can find wonderful, spicy cuisine in England
Africa is defined with cultures more diverse than any other continent.
People from Mexico and Central America hold strong family values.
The citizens of Jordan and Israel both want peace.⁴
As a human society we should not require a pandemic to learn to reach beyond our biases. We are a wonderfully capable species. Yet we have not achieved the level of intelligence to reach beyond our inherent fear of the unknown. With all of our amazing strides, our technological advances, we haven't learned how to achieve peace.
You do not have to remain a part of the crowd. You are free to choose your default setting.
1. Later in life I learned that women and men in the small villages of Kenya carry things on their head because the neck is a strong muscle.
2. I have traveled, visited, and lived coast to coast in the United States. Same observation. From Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, to Carlsbad, California, to Chapin, South Carolina. We are all the same.
3. Paris is a large city with very dirty and overcrowded areas. The main tourist area, where the Avenue des Champs-Elysee joins with the Eiffel Tower, is rife with people trying to steal your money, and rude service staff hurrying you in and out of cafes and restaurants. It reminded me of some evenings spent in downtown Atlanta.
4. The resort town of Petra, Jordan, and Eilat, Israel are separated by a border. On each side are the beaches where vacationers lounge in the sun.