Breaking free to go places!
Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend how narrow-minded some folks can be and act. Then on the other hand, it is often quite easy to see why people act the way they do.
I think not having any exposure to, or experience of different cultures or worldviews, limits ones perspective on life, perpetuates ignorance, and could even create ideas of arrogant ethnic superiority.
Last month for example, I again overheard a conversation that just had me shaking my head. The conversation was between two middle aged men discussing politics, the economy, the war and such. At one point they were loudly making derisive remarks about French people. They were saying things like
how useless the French were, and how the US had to go save their butts during the war. (They actually used much stronger language, something I ascribe to their liberal consumption of “adult-beverages”.)
Shocking as this might seem, this kind of talk is actually not unusual. Despite the “modern age of tolerance and enlightenment” we live in, I know quite a few people here in the Midwest who, for no reason in particular, tend to knock the French, and some other nationalities too. Why?
I’m not one to make excuses for the behavior of people. Embarrassing as ignorant people can be, I rarely feel any pity for these babblers. Rather, I feel empathy for the folks who are hurt by this sorts of careless remarks.
I know many people are just “innocently” ignorant. Like the two college kids who kept asking me. “From which country in South Africa do you come?”. Wow. After explaining that, in fact, South Africa is a country, they were eager to know from which city I was. The reason: Apparently the one girl has a cousin working in Nairobi and they wanted to know if maybe I knew him! Please! Someone smack me now!
No, even though there isn’t any excuse for intellectual ignorance in this modern day and age (especially in a nation that claims to be “the world leader”), I have much more of an issue with the willfully arrogant “ignorants” who walk among us.
While ignorance is clearly displayed through actions, it seems that there is actually a less obvious ignorant mindset that sometimes stubbornly clings to its own notions. A case in point: A while back, in a rather professional and formal setting, I was shocked to hear an African American man make some really nasty comments about “all folks from West Africa”. Later in private I asked him about this, and eventually discovered that he’d been taken in by a Nigerian email scam.
While I sincerely commiserated with this fellows loss, I tactfully pointed out that, in fact, Nigeria was almost considered to be a Central Africa country, and also, that the English speaking Nigerians were very unlike the French West African peoples. Wow! Did that go over well! Not. The next thing I knew, faster than you could even say “warped cultural perspective”, I myself, and all my “racist” forefathers were being subjected to the whole injustice-of-colonial-slavery issue, all over again.
What to say? In cases like this it’s clear that, somehow, some folks – like this man – are still slaves in their own minds, bound by the chains of narrow personal perceptions. “This is my opinion! And I am right! End of story! Topic closed!” Really?
St. Augustine the cleric once said, “The world is a book and those who don’t travel read only a page”.
While physical travels will surely expose one to different places and people, just being in different surroundings does not guarantee that we will be enlightened or enriched by the experience. I think one can only really enjoy a trip abroad if he or she is willing to leave your home with both your heart and head!
Leaving the “home ways” of thinking and doing at home, puts one in the right place or frame of mind to immerse oneself into a world of different adventures! To “read” and experience the different “chapters” in this world, one must be willing to turn the present page and move on.
When I first left South Africa in 1989 I had never been abroad before. I was young and inexperienced. Full of the vigor of youth. I’m sure I looked and acted every bit like a common tourist when I first set foot in Mauritius. Nevertheless, I was fortunate in that I did Mauritius the right way: We stayed amongst the locals in their shacks, far away from the idyllic white sandy beaches of the hotel resorts. That was the best thing that could ever have happened to me in my whole life! While conditions were physically stressful and often uncomfortable, the beautiful people of the island welcomed me with open arms, treated me like a king, and somehow helped me become beautiful too!
When I first arrived in Mauritius, I immediately unpacked my point of view and eagerly started brandishing it about, decrying the obvious issues that the islanders surely had not noticed before… I was bad, but by the grace of God I got better as the gentle folks patiently traded me my stuff for theirs.
From my narrow perspective I could not understand why the Mauritians would continue to live in squalor, but I saw that love could make brokenness whole; I could not believe that young boys wouldn’t want to go to school, but saw honor in their hard work and smiling faces; I couldn’t imagine not aspiring to achieve a better future, but learned instead that happiness and gratitude were noble pursuits as well; and I realized, above all, that I have much much more to learn about being human and enjoying people. I went home the richer by far: enlightened, with very little luggage and only a few souvenirs in a canvas sack, but with a new chapter indelibly written into my life.
Narrow-mindedness is like a chain: It will hold one back from going forward into the world to experience other chapters in life. Ignorance is the lie that enslaves the mind in the same way an elephant is chained to a stake. A case in point is the elephants in India.
In India, the training of an elephant starts shortly after it is weaned. To keep the young elephant away from its mother, the calf is chained to a stake in the ground. The little elephant tries desperately to break free, but the chain is strong enough to keep it. Once the elephant has learned that it cannot break its chain, it calms down, and for the rest of its life, the elephant will stand patiently and docile when it is tied in this way. Even despite the fact that a fully grown elephant could both snap the chain and rip the stake from the ground, the chain around its leg is all that is needed to keep the great elephant in place for the rest of its life.
How is this possible you might ask. Well, the great memory of the great elephant reminds itself that it once tried to, but could not break free. While this might have been the truth when that elephant was still small, all that now holds the elephant in place is the memory of that strong chain in its own mind. So overpowering is the effect of that memory of the chains from the past, in the mind of the elephant, that some elephants are even held in place by just the simplest braid of rope tied around the leg!
Chained to one place, narrow-mindedness will doom one to be but the briefest of entries in the book of life. Unless… Unless, somehow, one can teach the Elephant to dance! For it is when the elephant is enticed by the right song, and the mind temporarily forgets to remember, that the mighty beast lifts its feet free, and the elephant begins to dance.
Over the past 20 years I’ve been privileged to share in the lives of hundreds of beautiful precious people on three continents, in some eleven odd countries around the world. Ever since that first “writing” in my life on the island of Mauritius, I have looked forward with great excitement to every new place and “page”. Even as I now mostly run the daily nine-to-five, I still remember those first lessons I learned on noble pursuits: How a new page is not always a new place, how a simple trip can turn into a voyage of discovery, and how a new attitude can unlock a new chapter in your world, if one is willing.
This is my fond hope: That somehow as I travel through life, like a sort of a “pied piper”, I could know how to play the right tune at the right time to help some people become beautiful, and teach others how to dance.
From my Pointaview, one day in the end of times, I would like it written in my book of life that “Many places were traveled by him, and He helped set beautiful minds free”!
“The world is a book and those who don’t travel read only a page”.
Feel free to share your PointaView on this article. Please use the comment section to let me know what pages in life you would wish to experience someday!
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