Life is, at some level, just a series of mental short cuts developed through years of trial, error, and experience. In today’s world of ever growing technology and information overload, it is necessary. Without it, our little lizard brains might explode. It prevents us from falling into a perpetual state of over arousal and confusion.
And so we label and jump to conclusions and make assumptions and distill entire books and movies and cultures themselves into just a few words. It is easy. And when living abroad, it is inevitable.
Thailand was temples and spicy street foods and lush lands. Australia was kangaroos and shrimps on the barbie and wild expanses of nothing. Greece was olives and feta cheese and warm evenings under Mediterranean skies.
Switzerland was clean and fresh and immaculate. Scotland was haggis and bushy red beards and kilts. Honduras was rough and dirty and delicious.
You get the point.
These stereotypes are easy. They allow us to understand and compartmentalize what we see before us. The task of a traveler is to go and see beyond all of these. To spot the blurriness that lies just below the fundamental facade.
The thing about these stereotypes though, they tell you a lot about what the rest of the world thinks of your country.
Assault rifles and the death penalty. Childhood obesity and fat shaming and body issues. Underpaid workaholics incapable of taking a vacation. Loud, abrasive, opinionated, rude. Political antics fit for a reality TV show, and the pay gap.
At some point or another during life abroad as an American, I heard it all.
As I sit here on my back porch with a cold drink, a blank page, and a warm summer breeze, I am struck by how lucky I truly am. I write a travel blog, which means I have visited enough places in the world to merit a writing a travel blog. I am healthy, I am happy, I am free to express myself, and I have comforts that I realize very few in this world will ever know. I am lucky.
And yet, I am here, writing a blog about assault rifles. It seems like a great injustice to discuss the aromatic streets of Egypt or the vibrant waters of Bali in light of life in America this month.
My travels gave me perspective on a daily basis. They taught me just how fortunate I am, they taught me just how far we have come, and they taught me just how far we have to go.
I was not proud to be an American. On many, many days living abroad, I was not proud to be an American. I endeavored, with every day and every interaction, to change at least one foreigner’s mind about Americans.
To be different.
To break the mold that we have built for ourselves in the big world out there. To be kind, to be patient, to be attentive. In short, to be a decent human being. “You don’t seem American” was doled out as a compliment over and over again. It was sad.
What did we do to deserve this reputation? Right now, as I watch the news, I understand what we did. What we continue to do.
Every country has its own issues. Its own injustices and prejudices and political embarrassments. Yes, every country has something. That doesn’t mean that on any given week or month or year that we get a hall pass.
We have a responsibility to push our society forward with every waking day. We have a responsibility to be leaders because despite current feelings of desperation and disillusionment, I have seen what we have compared to so many others. We have clean drinking water in our glasses, we have food in our bellies, and we have shoes on our feet.
That doesn’t mean we stop. That doesn’t mean that a country founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness can make excuses. No more excuses, America.
You can do better. You must do better. There is no alternative. Either we grow now or we falter forever.
Trump tells us to Make America Great Again. Don’t listen to that guy. Make America Great. Period. Full stop. Don’t look back. Don’t go back. Never “again.”
America was not great when we denied children an equal education based on the color of their skin. America was not great when we denied women the opportunity to pursue a life of individuality, independence, and employment. America was not great when we denied the love of two individuals based on their gender.
It would be a disservice to our country as a whole to go back. If we go back, we fail our minorities. If we go back, we fail our women. If we go back, we fail our children. If we go back, we fail.
Make America Great. Make America a country that is known for its integrity and respect and acceptance and openness. Not for its guns.
The only response to hate is love. Love and education.
Love your neighbors, not because a large book tells us but because we cannot afford to lose any more of our sons, daughters, sisters, or brothers in a nightclub.
Elect a woman, not because she is a woman but because compared to the hateful, fear mongering alternative, she is the only choice.
Teach your sons respect, not because you want a peaceful house but because if you do not they could grow up to be men who make poor decisions behind dumpsters and judge’s gavels.
We must listen. We must learn. We must educate.
And America, we must, must, must do better.