Thursday, February 18, 2010
The Good Life (La Dolce Vita)
It's good to teach the world's fortunate people from time to time, if only to shame their pride for a single moment. Because there are higher forms of happiness than theirs, on a grander scale, and more delicate.
~ Baudelaire, "Parisian Melancholia"
One of the reasons I love to travel is to have my badly-battered faith in humanity restored by coming in contact with other cultures. It does my cynical heart good to know that there is still hope in the world, if not in this country. Yes, the rest of the world can offer us much, but perhaps the most important thing they can do is force us to take a good look at ourselves. Americans can be an ugly lot when representing this country abroad, as residents of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada are probably finding out all too well these days. We really need to chill and stop looking at everyone and everything in materialistic terms. I think it would do wonders for our collective psyche and individual psyches for a sea change to occur in our way of thinking.
Let me offer one example from my own experience. Many years ago I attended a conference/tourist junket to Rio de Janiero. There were lavish lunches and dinners, a hotel rooftop pool, and pulsating nightlife excursions which are de rigueur for these types of trips. But the thing I took the most joy from and which I recall most fondly of all my time there was an afternoon of playing frisbee and volleyball with local kids hanging out at the beach. There was a human connection there that was so simple and pure, a familial bonding with people I had never met before and didn't know me or want anything from me besides a moment of camaraderie. Yet this was a feeling totally lacking from the circle of associates that I was travelling with. It made me look at myself in terms of what my value system had become under the influence of American society. It shook me out of my comfort zone and into questioning what I had accomplished in real terms, human terms...which is the only yardstick we should be using to measure our progress. That experience always stuck with me and continues to define my belief that a much better world is possible if enough of us "ugly Americans" would spend more time looking in the mirror.