Sunday, January 25, 2015

UAE Day 162: a soapbox on harsh realties of expatriate-ism

This weekend (Friday night, which is our "Sunday") I had a bit of an existential crisis as an American expat abroad.  In a mixed group, a series of propagandy-conspiracy theory-y anti-american/anti-western comments were made by someone I considered to be a lovely person and friend prior to these comments.  The individual has no relevant experience, education, or knowledge beyond media exposure and directed some sharp comments at me and then after raising the subject and throwing out insults, just as abruptly refused to let me respond or continue the conversation.  I found this to be both mean and cowardly.    I really felt sour and thought "how convenient a world where only the United States has power, an agenda, or responsibility".

Specifically, there was support of the Charlie Hebdo attacks expressed by someone with no religious inclinations who then suggested that the West deserves whatever it gets since Americans control everything anyway and kill people in other countries (referring to war-this individual is aware that I was in war for a year of my life and have that first-hand experience that person doesn't).  After I returned home I felt profoundly disturbed by the whole situation.

The freedom of expression is integral not just to French identity, being founded on civil war and revolution resulting in loss-of-life to protect and defend that freedom against the religi-political establishments (did I just make up a word?  if I did, it's ok, teachers are allowed to do that according to the rules I've just made up).  It is also a universal, protected, innate human right.  We all have the right to express our thoughts and feelings.  There is only one limitation on that freedom of expression- and that is the right to express the threat or intent to commit violence on self or others.  All humans get that right just for being alive.  No religion, no leader, and no culture can obliterate that right legitimately.  To see the complete list of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, click here.   I can tolerate that my friends, family, and colleagues don't have identical feelings and opinions to mine and separate their ideas and perspectives from what country they come from.  Is it really that hard for others to do the same?

After sleeping badly and waking up still upset, I brooded all yesterday over what this mean for me, for my friendship, for expats, and for the world.  Was i just a handy token American to take out mis-placed frustrations on (wrong place, wrong time type incident)?  Do otherwise kind and educated people secretly harbor hatred for anyone that is different from them but just cover it up everyday with superficial politeness?  Is it possible for people to have the maturity and awareness to disagree with a policy, approach, or ideology without hating people associated with it?  Why would someone want me to feel guilty, ashamed, and otherwise awful about my homeland, my heritage, and my lack of personal influence to affect global change?  I mean, I do try, in my apolitical way to contribute authentically to increasing understanding by language acquisition to create a platform for exchange and understanding and to level the playing field in terms of access to the global economy via English.  I'm a serious person, an introvert by nature, and an idealist.  If there was ever a person committed to reaching out in love and hope to try to connect and understand, it would be me.  I have a rich mixed heritage culturally, religiously, and ethnically.  Life is hard.  Let's not make it harder than needs be.

I am not ashamed of my country even when we have imperfect policies or imperfect approaches (in a word of defense- often the choices of avenues forward aren't ideal to begin with).  I don't agree with all of the cultural and political attitudes and beliefs that are popular among some in the U.S.
I am not scared of difficult subjects or listening to others' viewpoints.  I want to understand and I hope to be understood.  I am committed to doing what I can to make positive and authentic contributions domestically and abroad.  I do my best to do what I think and feel is right, to the fullest extent available to me.  I fiercely believe in the universal human rights and that we ALL need to be kinder to ourselves and each other.  We are human.  I am allowed to be me, and I am not not ashamed to be American.

But, while on the theme of "America controls everything, anyway and that's lark's fault",  I tried to envision a world where that would actually be true- not in the we-are-all-connected-via-interdepency-in-a-global-economy-frenemies-kind-of-way but America-the-dictator-kind-of-way.  The first change which would be immediately and strictly implemented would be the institution of copious quantities of hand sanitizer because even developed nations don't wash their hands properly and it makes me need to hide in bed when I consider all the bacteria spread by those who don't have clean water, soap, or never wash their hands.  Must.not.vomit.  Next on the list would be the permanent elimination of 1-ply toilet paper. Seriously.  That's been a LONG time coming.  After that would be to cease all panty hose- they just get banned.  THAT is what dictator America looks like- larkstyle at least.  And if I had a sphere of influence powerful enough to implement global policy, those items, would top the priority list in all honesty.  After that I could focus properly on human rights enforcement/compliance, but who can concentrate on that with all the germs, insufficient toilet paper, and torture devices in the way?  

America has more military power than all the other nations of the world combined.  if we wanted it to just be us, just be our way, or to do things for the wrong reason just to be extra powerful, we could eliminate the rest of the world in the span of an hour.  Be real.  No one wants to manage other countries social problems or economic problems.  Other people only get involved when a problem threatens regional stability- and even then there is great reluctance.  Normal people do NOT want blood on their hands or staining their hearts.

I still feel upset.  Not sure how I will proceed.  But I have a renewed gratitude for those who love me in spite of my national origin, ethnic heritage, religious observances, and opinions.  Thanks for reading.

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