They don’t do this in The United States…

Leymah Gbowee, speaking at the Millenium Development Conference a few years ago, told an eager college-aged crowd of how women in Liberia had done everything they were supposed to do: they organized themselves in a movement for peace and gathered overwhelming support all across West Africa. They met formally with political leaders. The short response they got for all this effort was, “They don’t do this in The United States, why should we do it here?” End of conversation. Her message was for young leaders whose hearts were moving towards international development to clean up our messes at home first. Everyone cheered and clapped, which I don’t think she expected.

Tagore’s reflections on the world and especially the Eastern University, “The deepest source of all calamities in history is misunderstanding. For where we do not understand, we can never be just… If the whole world grows at last into an exaggerated West, then such an illimitable parody of the modern age will die, crushed beneath its own absurdity…” brings me back to thinking the most good I could do with my time and technology might be here at home. Is it fair to spend so much time and money and energy traveling to gain an understanding of other parts of the world while the West has such a negative impact on it?

3 thoughts on “They don’t do this in The United States…

  1. I think it is important to be able to understand and incorporate the viewpoints of other points of the world; regardless of the impact of Western culture. Is it better to be segregated than to encourage a melting pot of shared ideas?

    Technology has reduced the time and space cost of communicating with others in other places. Though this is not a full replacement of in situ experiences, could this not be a sufficient step forward in the sharing of ideals?

  2. Good point. I definitely think an isolated perspective is problematic no matter where you are, so maybe a more practical question might be what you hinted at – can communication technology be an effective enough tool for better understanding the world? The first time I traveled internationally, I came back with a new perspective on this country but I wasn’t gone long enough to actually understand the place I had visited. Based on this experience, my idea is that technology can be effective enough to learn from other communities in order to improve our own, but not enough to avoid the dangerous misunderstandings Tagore describes.

    1. I don’t think that any community will be able to get everything 100% correct, nor is any (current) technology able to account for cultural, language, and space differences. But maybe through shared interactions, we can all learn to fix our own problems?

      Actually, I think your first comment about the impact of Western culture is important, but it’s helpful not to see it primarily from a negative light. If one culture is more dominant than the other, or is seen to be superior, what have we already lost, which we could have learned, from the other? Does another community trade individuality for the standard of living which comes with new life practices and technologies?

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