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Everything Is Relative - 4/29/2011

I just returned from an all-too-long vacation in Myanmar, or Burma, as it was called in my youth.  But the Powers That Be there changed the name.  Sadly, however, that’s about all they’ve changed.  The country, at least in the rural areas, still functions as it did decades ago.  Oxen and water buffalo supply the pulling and plowing power.  Poor living conditions, poverty and  a very inadequate educational system aptly describe conditions there.  Everything is controlled - travel, where you live and how you live.   Gasoline is rationed. You have to queue up for four to six hours to legally buy eight gallons of gas.  (There is gas available on the black market, but it’s twice the price.)   For the most part, people work extremely hard and have very little to show for it.   Yet, the surprising thing is that everyone seems happy.  They smile.  They appear to enjoy their lives and have a zest for living.   Moreover, they’re kind, warm, generous people.  

I’m not advocating that style of life, but I am saying that it seemed vastly different from the country I left, where discontent, criticism and fear of the future prevail.  

It’s ironic because, had you asked me one or two days prior to boarding the plane for this trip, I would have said, “Our country is in deep trouble.  Financially, we’re on a road that is leading to economic disaster or, possibly, bankruptcy.  Sadly, there are still people in the United States of America who are starving, who have inadequate water systems and live below the poverty level.  Generally speaking, our educational system doesn’t seem to be doing an adequate job.  Our health care system is fraught with problems.  People are scared and have little confidence in the government or their leaders and politicians.  Both republicans and democrats alike appear blind and deaf to the problem.  Their rhetoric sounds good, but their major concern is, ‘How can I get reelected?  How can I stay in office?  How can I benefit?’  They seem to have little regard for we the people who put them in office.”  Without a doubt, I saw America, my beloved country,  in serious trouble.  Then I boarded the plane and left for Myanmar.

Three weeks later, I returned to the United States and experienced the same feeling I always have, after every one of the numerous trips I’ve taken outside the country.  I walked, passport in hand, up to the immigration officer and was thrilled to hear him say, “Welcome home”.  I felt a very familiar sense of pride over the fact that I am an American, a United States citizen, a person who has opportunities and challenges and possibilities available to me that few people in the world are fortunate enough to experience.  At that moment, my concerns for the United States of America were few and far between.  I was delighted to be back home to air conditioning, a soft, clean bed, roads absent of huge potholes, washouts, dust and dirt.  I was proud of a society that, for the most part, is still the best the world has to offer.  I know, you might say, “Well, what about New Zealand?”, and it’s certainly a beautiful place; safe, clean, seemingly without problems or troubles.  But, for me, the USA is home and I truly value it.  Because, even with all its shortcomings, it has so much more to offer than anywhere else I’ve been.  It’s no wonder that, no matter where I’ve traveled in the world, or how much criticism I’ve heard about us, I see individuals wearing jeans, copying our fashions and asking, “Can you put me in your suitcase and take me home with you?”  That says an awful lot about who and what we are and, certainly, about what we are in the eyes of others.

Perhaps the best example I can give you of relativity comes from an article I read in the Beijing airport, while transferring planes.  It was in the China Daily newspaper’s  english version, which is distributed free throughout much of Asia.  On the second page, there was a story titled, “Arrested Somali pirates liked life in ROK  - report”.  The reporter said that members of a Somali pirate gang captured and taken to the Republic of Korea after a high-sea commando raid, indicated that they preferred the quality of their jailhouse accommodations to life back home.  One detainee, a 20-year old man said, “Would you please let me stay in the Republic of Korea?”  Another said,  “The jail in Republic of Korea is better than many decent hotels in Africa.”  Still another told the reporter that “Korean food is better than I thought and the bed is very comfortable.”  A Maritime Police spokesman said, “The Somalis are receiving humane treatment. We’ve provided them with meals of steamed rice, tofu and kimchee (a spicy cabbage dish), but without pork.  They devoured it all and seemed to like it very much.”  Can you imagine?  Captured pirates indicating that life in a Korean jail was better then living conditions at home.  

That’s my story and the basis for my statement that everything is relative.  So, perhaps, when we become too critical of our own country, when we look at the problems we face and have no solutions, or take no action, such as writing letters to our congressmen/women or other elected officials, we have to realize that we are as bad as the people we elected and complain about.  We’re all talk and no action.  This isn’t to say we don’t have problems.  Nor, am I suggesting that everything here is perfect.  But what I am saying is that everything is relative.  So, we need to appreciate what we do have and act on what we feel needs fixing.  Because, when we don’t, the problem is us, not the condition of our country.

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