Friday, June 15, 2007

Gettting Outside of Comfortable

(Excerpt only - not full article)

Bob Shacochis rants on the importance of living abroad-

If you want to know a man, the proverb goes, travel with him. If you want to know yourself, travel alone. If you want to know your own home, your own country, go make a home in another country (not Canada, England, or most of Western Europe.) Stop at a crossroads where the light is surreal, nothing is familiar, the air smells like a nameless spice, and the vibes are just plain alien, and stay long enough to truly be there. Become an expatriate, a victim of self-inflicted exile for a year or two.

Sink into an otherness that reflects a reverse image of yourself, wherein lies your identity, or lack of one. Teach English in Japan, aquaculture in the South Pacific, accounting in Brazil. Join the Peace Corps, work in the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, set up a fishing camp on the beach of Uruguay, become a foreign correspondent, study architecture in Istanbul, sell cigarettes in China.

And here's the point: Amid the fun, the risk, the discomfort, the fog of miscommunication, the servants and thieves, the food, the disease, your new friends and enemies, you'll find out a few things you thought you knew but didn't.

You'll learn to engage the world, not fear it, or at least not to be paralyzed by your fear of it. You'll find out, to your surprise, how American you are -- 100-percent, and you can never be anything but -- and that is worth knowing. You'll discover that going native is self-deluding, a type of perversion. Whatever gender or race you are, you'll find out how much you are eternally hated and conditionally loved and thoroughly envied, based on the evidence of your passport.

You'll find out what you need to know to be an honest citizen of your own country, patriotic or not, partisan or nonpartisan, active or passive. And you'll understand in your survivor's heart that it's best not to worry too much about making the world better. Worry about not making it worse.

When you come back home, it's never quite all the way, and only your dog will recognize you.

(End of excerpt)

Erin found this excerpt a few days ago and I needed to post it to get some feedback. It fits in with some things I have been thinking about lately. Everything I read, watch and experience seems to keep reminding me how self absorbed we are. We need to think our way is right and our world is the most important. We think that what we are doing is crucial to everyone else's existence. We believe that our comfort and well being is the measure for how things are in the world.

I'm wondering what we think about this writing. Do we agree with the author that experiencing cultures different from our own will drastically change our persective? Do our perspectives need to be changed? Do we agree with the author's statement that we should be less worried about making the world better but instead worried more about not making it worse?

Over the next few posts I'm going to be working on some thoughts along these lines and would love feedback. Please let me know what you think and how you see our perspectives on the rest of the world and maybe we'll all spend some time in a foreign culture for a while because of our discussion...or maybe not...


Velcroed said...

found this blog randomly, and since you asked for feedback...

I guess I would have to essentially disagree with this idea. Yes, we do learn some truths about ourselves by contrast, and living in or visiting a somewhat alien culture could definitely accentuate those. That being said, I think the truth of who we are as people and as a society (and I use "we" generally, as I am not American) is best understood from a community-based sense of identity. It is extremely "western" and especially "American" to seek one's identity as something that exists alone, individualised, though I would argue that to see a human being as an individual, as opposed to an inseparable member of an intricate community, is to lose sight of what it is to be truly human. So, in my fairly humble opinion, to extricate oneself from one's cultural context--if one is truly part of one--is perhaps a disastrous, self-absorbed, and inhuman way to obtain self-knowledge.

chad said...

Eric, good thoughts, Glad to see you are blogging again.

I think that this article has alot of weight to it. Once you have traveled abroad, or have lived abroad, America starts to look really different.

When you come home is when it really hits you. If one also quickly identifies oneself as "American" also matters.

It is a different culture, and this is not a bad thing, but we need to look at how our view of our culture affects the rest of the world.

What velcroed said

"...though I would argue that to see a human being as an individual, as opposed to an inseparable member of an intricate community, is to lose sight of what it is to be truly human."

has weight. Most people want to be seen as individuals and not identified by a part of a community. Every time I get suck in traffic I think about how we want to separatew ourselves off instead of join together. Americans aren't communally dependent on each other most of the time. I even know "grown-ups" that think they are not supposed to have friends, because it's kid stuff.

These are good thoughts buddy. Keep them coming.

Erin Crisp said...

Hmm. Interesting comments. I still think that the best way to see how self-absorbed we really are is to step outside of our lives for a while and walk in someone else's shoes, and since we are North Americans, those shoes are probably going to be smaller, dirtier or smellier than ours. But the goal is really about compassion. The more I learn about the lives of those who look, sound, act, are perceived as being so different (and let's face it usually less important) the more I am compelled to act out against injustice. For me that usually means writing, and hopefully someday giving bucket loads of funding for programs like the Tilapia Fish Program in Haiti that creates fish farms and trains families on how to operate them. Brilliant! Breaking the cycles of poverty around the world happens one little fish farm at a time. I really believe that as Christians in North America, if each of us is not alleviating the suffering of others (in our country or outside of it) in some way, the love of Christ is not in us. We can pretend the suffering doesn't exist by living our individualized lives, but cracking one eye open half way will reveal suffering people in your backyard.

I find the excerpt a bit pessimistic, but all the same, I agree with the ideas.