Culture of Fear II
We have all seen movies where the smug, entitled rich kid demeans and looks down on the less advantaged kid. That rich kid is better educated, better dressed, better positioned to succeed in life. That disadvantaged kid has to work harder, be kinder, cooperate more instead of only competing. I have watched these movies with my grandchildren, and we cheer loudly when that smug, self-assured kid loses the talent show, comes in second in the sporting event, or is in some way beaten by the underdog.
If people were countries in these movies, we citizens of the United States would be the smug, rich, well-educated, spoiled, “ugly” Americans every time. Having visited there, I could easily argue that the French might be more smug than we Americans, but from what I’ve seen personally, they are about the only culture who can out-do us when it comes to pompous self-righteousness.
These characteristics – smug, pompous, condescending, egotistical, high-handed, ostentatious, inflated, lofty, lordly, pretentious, snobbish, stuck-up, certain, superior, self-assured, stuffy, and complacent – may not always apply to us when we are in our own country. After all, in the U.S., we have our own group of “most ugly” Americans, and they are frequently the “cream” of society. This very cream has the means to travel and so represents us abroad. It is also this cream which is featured in magazines, on television and, frequently, in the movies. Even we middle class and blue collar Americans are turned off by them.
Put these people in a “third world” country, though, and they will be glad to show you how “first world” citizens live. Doesn’t everyone use deodorant and mouthwash, hair spray and make-up, carry Coach Purses and hand off their Louis Vuitton luggage to the porter? The people making the beds, carrying the luggage, preparing the nine course dinners, and listening to loud demands may be smiling on the outside but, believe me, they are hating us on the inside. We are insufferable. And what do they see of American news? Which movie star got plastic surgery and which sports star was arrested for domestic violence? Scandals include rich white men cheating each other as well as cheating on their wives. Our presidents hang out with people who blatantly shoot others in their hunting party as well as hanging out with women who are not their wives and being caught, figuratively and literally, with their pants down.
Now, quickly, before you decide I dislike this country, let me assure you I am the most patriotic person I know. I have lived overseas and traveled to China on a mental health mission trip. Both experiences were life altering. I do not care if I could retire on ten dollars a year, I would never live anywhere other than the United States of America. However, we have a very tarnished image, and we have earned every bit of it. People abroad may be fascinated by our imagined life style, and us, but we are certainly not winning any popularity contests.
People who are smug are not open-minded and curious. They are close-minded and superior. When any person, not to mention a whole country of people, act superior, entitled, condescending and complacent, they are going to make enemies, not friends. John Kennedy realized this in the 1960’s and designed the Peace Corp to try to combat the stigma of nasty Americans. Dwight Eisenhower developed the program that took me to China in 1998 to share mental health theories and developments. Strides have been made to reduce the stain of our ugly behavior abroad.
However, there are things each and every one of us can do to get to know our international neighbors. For years, my dad would display a picture of a child on his desk, every year a new picture of a different child. “I send ten dollars a month so Louis (or Carmella or Phillipe) can go to school,” he would explain if anyone asked. I bet Louis, Carmella and Phillipe to this day have a good feeling about Americans. It takes so little. Many of us used to have pen pals and we would write to a child our own age in another country. If you have one good experience with someone from another culture, country, race or religion, it is often enough to open your mind and soften your heart.
A friend told me of a recent experience that supports this. She was riding to a business meeting with a colleague and they had four hours together in a car. She remembered that he had once mentioned that he was Muslim and she asked him if he would mind telling her something about his religion. She was fascinated with what she discovered. The Muslim religion does not condone killing at all in any way. It is very similar to Christianity, he told her. In fact, as far as he knew, one of the only differences was that Muslims believe Jesus to be a prophet, like Mohammed, rather than the son of God. The entire negative we hear about the terrorists being Muslim is false, he told her. They are fanatics and not acting in accordance with Muslim beliefs any more than the Klu Klux Clan was acting on Christian beliefs when they hanged and burned and terrorized families because of the color of their skin.
This young woman had an opportunity to gain knowledge first hand from someone different from herself. She seized the opportunity and feels differently about everyone who is Muslim, just like my dad’s small group of students feel differently about Americans because one kind American helped them go to school.
Terrorism, intolerance, hatred and fanaticism do not stand a chance against people who know their neighbors, both those close and those across the sea, both those who look and talk similarly and those who look and talk quite differently. We are one family of man on one very small planet, and we better get our act together fast and start appreciating how much we have in common. At this very moment, out of the whole 4.6 billion years of earth’s existence, we 7.3 billion people are all here together. We can fight and wipe each other out fairly easily. Or we can sing and dance and celebrate together the gift of life. War and Peace. Not only a dreadfully long novel by Tolstoy, but, also, our daily choice.
Blessings and peace deep in your souls from two colleagues who could not be more different or more grateful for each other – Tony and Susan
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“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” Ephesians 4:17-18 (ESV)
“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Proverbs 18:13 (ESV)
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32 (ESV)
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” 1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)
“As he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” 2 Peter 3:16 (ESV)
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