Paula Swenson

The View from Here

In Abundance, Art and Creativity, Time and Change, Travel, Uncategorized on February 8, 2010 at 10:56 am

It’s February, and although we are still wrapped in a blanket of white, the days are getting noticeably longer and the worst of the cold is arguably behind us. Winter in this climate is an invitation to hibernate and contemplate, and I’ve been doing a bit of both.

When I was a child of about 11, a rallying cry went out amongst the young “never trust anyone over 30!” I was very confused about this as I transited my teen years, because although I had the same tussles with authority figures most teens experience, some of my best, most trusted confidants were much, much older—not only over 30, but over 60! Maybe it was that personal first-hand experience that has made me wary of sweeping statements about groups of people, ANY groups of people.

Two recent conversations, one with someone a generation younger than me and the other with someone a generation older put me in mind of this again. Of all the things that disturb me in our present reality, the one that disturbs me the most is seeing intelligent people abandoning their prerogative to question assumptions and to experience life first-hand; choosing instead to accept a second-hand version of reality from the media, the government, the church, their teachers, friends or family.

Therefore, I do not expect you to just accept what I say here as true for you — but I do urge you to consider if your fears and worries are based on first-hand, personal experience or on the experience of someone else, who may be living a different life with a different agenda.

The following are things I have personally experienced in the past 3 years:

· ~ I lived in Turkey for 10 months, surrounded by Muslim people. None of them tried to kill me. To the best of my knowledge, none of them wanted to. None of them tried to convert me. NO two were exactly alike. People were variously kind, helpful, generous, curious, dishonest, gruff, fearful, argumentative or hostile. Pretty much like being in San Diego or Tacoma, Hamburg, Munich, New York, Athens…but on the whole my experiences fell on the positive side of the equation.

· ~ For the past 18+ months I have been living in and wandering around Europe. Europeans are often outspoken and curious. They often criticize many things about America and American political and social policies, American fast-food and pop culture, but I have not yet met anyone who hates Americans. I don’t doubt such people exist, but I have not met them.

· ~I have friends and family who are quite liberal, some are ultra-liberal. They do not want to kill old people and unborn babies. They do not want everyone to denounce religion and become an atheist.

· ~ I have friends and family who are quite conservative, some are ultra-conservative. They do not want to shoot all liberals and burn all books except the bible. They do not want to lock up my gay friends, nor are they interested in forcing everyone to drive an SUV to church.

· ~ I have European friends who want to live in America, while I have chosen to live in Europe.

· ~I know young people who are writing books, volunteering to help the homeless, the poor and the sick and I know young people who have no interests outside of football and beer.

· ~ I know old people who have locked themselves away in gated communities awaiting the apocalypse and others who are planting organic gardens, teaching life skills to the young, donating time to help the illiterate learn to read or hitchhiking across their countries.

· ~I have learned how easy it is to be misjudged and how equally simple it is to give someone the benefit of the doubt.

· ~ I have learned that kindness is usually more effective than anger; and that, although very few things are actually worth getting stressed about, many things are worth caring about.

· ~ I have learned that individuals really can change the world.

Yes, there are individual people in the world whose ideas are completely opposite from yours or mine (some of my ideas are probably completely opposite for some of yours!) and some of those people with opposite ideas are so fearful, so lacking hope, that they will kill others and perhaps themselves to try to be heard, to “prove” something – BUT THEY ARE A MINORITY.

So far I have traveled in 16 countries, and lived in 6. What I have found is that people are mostly good, mostly kind, and doing the best they can to get by, to feed their families, to work, to enjoy their children, friends and life in general.

I am not asking you to accept my experience as your own, but I am asking you each to think about your own experiences, and to avoid being swept up in gross generalizations about those things, places and people that are different and outside of your experience. Be wary of sentences that begin “Everyone in . . . . thinks/wants/has . . .” and “All .. . . are .. . .” remember to listen with your hearts as well as with your ears.

Be kinder than necessary, for we are all facing some kind of challenge on our journey.

Be happy, be well, find joy where you can.

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  1. This is a great post. Thank you for reminding us about the reality of things!

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