I think and read a lot about politics when we travel. It’s important to know what’s going on politically in a country that’s not my own, after all, since I lack the social networks to learn about the goings-on through another person directly. In contrast, I try NOT to think too much about politics when we’re at home because it’s demoralizing to me to get caught up in the quagmire of raging against the machine. I don’t like to take sides and alienate one group over another. And I like to feel happy as opposed to feeling angry or fearful. So I seek out happy things. Some people might say that I’m politically irresponsible. I think about politics, they might say, but I don’t do anything.
I haven’t voted since George W. Bush took office. And I don’t intend to start anytime soon. I believe in karma and the idea that what goes around comes around and as educated as I believe myself to be on political topics, I don’t feel like I ever could know enough to make such a big decision about the fate of an entire nation and the world. Is this irresponsible? Does this make me “inactive” politically? Perhaps by some measures. But maybe not if you consider the fact that I’ve traveled to over 30 countries, most of them third-world countries, and lived in nearly a fourth of them for more than 30 days. I’ve met a lot of non-American people and talked to them about politics. I’ve asked them about their views on America. Even though I’m not politically active in the sense that I lobby, vote, or sign petitions, I’m politically active in other ways that suit my moral tastes and philosophies. I consider myself a tiny little Minor Diplomat. I go and see if what the media says is really true. And I ask people on the street all across the world whether they see Americans the way we see ourselves.
As a general rule, they don’t.
The night after we flew into Chennai, we turned on the TV to try to find some Bollywood. Instead we found an Indian soap opera, which was fine. We couldn’t understand what the characters were saying, but the plot was thin enough that we were mildly entertained. American soap opera plots and Indian plots are roughly the same, after all. What struck me though was an ad that we saw about Hilary Clinton. There was no mention of Trump as a potential candidate for presidency, but rather, the ad focused on the possibility of the United States electing a woman as president. The ad was basically promoting feminism using Clinton as an icon. If you didn’t know much about the role of the U.S. in world politics the ad would’ve seemed really out of place in the queue. Why would India care who the U.S. elects as president? And why would our female presidential candidate be worth 30 seconds on Indian airtime? I’d be really surprised if anyone reading this blog even knows the name of the Indian prime minister, after all. As Americans, we live our quaint little lives in relative isolation from other nations’ policies. But the U.S. and our policies are an important factor in the lives of most of the people all across the planet.
Few Americans make it a point to see how our lives and our choices affect the rest of the world. But when our family travels abroad and we talk to people in the countries where we live, they believe that Americans are educated and actively thinking about global policies. They’re not. How could they be? Fewer than 35% of Americans even have a passport and of those, only about 5% travel overseas for leisure/exploration. According to one analysis, 35% of that 5% went to Europe on their big trip abroad. Less than 6% of that 5% went to the Middle East and less than 3% of that 5% went to Africa. Americans who have never been overseas to the places that play a big role in developing our home policies hardly have the knowledge or experience to make wise political choices that would affect other areas of the globe. And for everyone out there who proclaims, who CARES about the rest of the world? —when we make choices that impact places like Syria or India or China or Egypt, we make choices that have an impact on our nation as well. America is one of the most active nations in the world, directly impacting other countries and their citizens. Our political responsibility toward the rest of the world matters even if you don’t care about other countries or the people who live in them. Let’s use Syria as an example. If you don’t care about Syria, you still need to consider America’s actions toward Syria. Even if you hate Syrians (but first, before you decide to “hate” them, visit Syria and get to know a few Syrians) you need to think ahead about how our behavior as a nation will be viewed by Syria and Syrians (SIDE NOTE: Syria as a nation is not the same as Syrians as individuals). As with a bully who stabs the kid ahead of him in the lunch line with a sharp pencil because the kid has a funny haircut, there are repercussions for stupid behaviors. Eventually, a kid who stabs other kids is going to pay for his behavior in kind.
Is America the bully or the kid getting stabbed? Think about it. Don’t EMOTE about it. Read books. Travel. Turn off the nightly news and stop reading newspapers. Go see for yourself and then decide.
Our political choices are a big responsibility. That’s why I don’t vote. (UPDATE: Turns out that voting didn’t matter in the 2016 elections anyway…the popular vote was in favor of Clinton, but Trump took office anyway.)
But I know a lot of people who do vote. A lot of these people have very narrow interests. They want to protect their religious convictions. Or they want to exclude certain people from participating in society. They want something in their lives to change in a specific way. Or a popular figure, a celebrity perhaps, encourages them to vote this way or that way and so they switch off their brains and walk like zombies to the voting booths. This is how a large number of American people decide who to vote for. Some politically active people do have a broader view of things. I acknowledge that and I know a few of these people …VERY few.
But I don’t believe that Americans with narrow interests intend to be malicious. I don’t even think that they think that their interests are narrow. I think that they think that they’re thinking about the world at large. Their world. The one they know, however small it is. These people haven’t seen anything outside of the pristine, highly regulated order of American society. They’ve never seen a paraplegic crawl onto a subway car in Beijing with a little cup in his mouth, begging from the dirtiest floor in the world. In America, we have organizations that care for destitute paraplegics. These narrow-interest-voters have never squatted outside a tiny thatched hut doing laundry in a tiny village in southern Nepal trying to make friends with the locals. In America, we have chairs and washing machines. We don’t squat. Ever. They’ve never felt what it’s like to live in Arabia and how it’s different than living in India. The homogeneity across the states is mind-blowing once you’ve seen a few places outside the United States. Whites who have never left the states have never felt the oppression of racial profiling. Walk down the street in Agra, near the Taj Mahal and feel what it’s like to stand out and be different. It’s thought-provoking, let me tell you. Feel how it is to have the cards stacked against you because your skin is a different color. Then you can start to relate to and think critically about all the people who feel racially profiled in the U.S.
So thinking globally is hard to do. It takes some effort and I’m not just talking about posting an emotional outburst or a few lines of thought in a Facebook debate. You can try to imagine the other side, the side you think you’re against, but the other side is always different than you’d expect unless you’ve been there already and studied it with an open mind.
You see, I can’t vote because I don’t stand for a particular political candidate. I’m Pro-Thought and that’s it. I want to encourage people to THINK, not about me or who I’m going to vote for, but about who and what THEY’RE going to vote for. My role in politics is limited to encouraging people to think a little more deeply about their convictions. Are religions other than your own really hurting you and yours? Go see people practicing other religions in real life. Does their religion hurt or does it help? I mean, does that other religion hurt you or does it help you? Look at the big picture. You might be surprised at what you see.
Do immigrants detract from our society or do they add to it? Maybe upon close examination and personal experience you decide that the answer is that they do both. The calculus can be challenging. These are not questions that should be answered from a LazyBoy.
The media in the U.S. does a lot of thinking for individuals who are fully capable of turning on the switch and thinking for themselves. Few things are purely black or purely white. Americans used to think. We used to be political innovators of the highest sort. What are we now? We. Are. Consumers. People who consume whatever’s placed in the trough. The American obesity problem is a metaphor that’s too obvious and disgusting to not mention it. We’re consumers until we stop eating out of the trough, folks (the trough is the news, the media, for anyone who’s confused by the analogy). Know where your food is coming from. Seek out sources that are healthy and organic. STOP EATING ALL THE CRAP FROM THE TROUGH.
Historically, what are the societal ramifications of exclusion? What are the ramifications of using fear to make decisions that need to be approached more critically? Read history books…not the books in the public school system, but books written by a variety of authors from viewpoints you actively disagree with. Use the books to develop your own authentic opinion about things. Read history books written in other languages by authors outside of the U.S. What do they say about America and our decisions?
But most of all, don’t lose hope. There’s always hope. Things work themselves out. Anger dissipates. Financial troubles wax and wane. People at odds with each other come together in unexpected ways. Humans are corrupt. Governments are corrupt. Yes, this is true. But I can live under a corrupt regime and still find happiness. People do it everyday, all across the globe. Hope does not have to have a plan. It doesn’t have to have a vision or a platform. Hope mostly finds it’s own way, with or without a human candidate promoting its virtues.
I don’t believe that politics is purely politics. I don’t believe that science is purely science. When I look at the upcoming presidential elections, I believe that there’s more going on here than meets the eye. Our decisions are not purely political. They’re spiritual, but not according to any particular religious creed. I mean “spiritual” according to the broadest definition of the word with overtones relating to ideals like unconditional love and progress. What we choose will have rewards and consequences for our children and their children. What we choose will impact other people and their children all across the world. I can’t cast a vote and decide for the masses, but I can decide for myself whether or not I’ll stick around in the U.S. to live with the consequences. This election is important. Perhaps the most important one of this lifetime.
I cast my vote every time I travel. I vote in favor of acceptance, understanding, and whenever possible, peace. I vote in favor of finding happiness in my day-to-day life. I vote in favor of other people in the United States and all across the world having the opportunity to find happiness in their day-to-day lives. Happiness. Because when people are happy they can see a clearer path to things like God, prosperity, and good health. Happy people tend to make me feel happier. This is what I want. But I don’t have to go to a voting booth to get it. I don’t have to be a democrat or a republican. I can just be me to be happy.
For all those voters out there, I commend you for taking on the responsibility of making decisions for the masses. To make any decision is a heavy burden. And this is not a small one. It’s a decision that will affect the whole world. If you’re not fully prepared to pick up everything you have and move to a new country to escape from what you vote into office, if you’d have trouble deciding where to go (because decisions that directly impact you and your lifestyle are challenging) and what to do when you leave, take some time to read and study the candidates more. Chances are, if you have an idea of where you’d go should things turn terribly sour, you’ve been someplace outside the country before. Remember, for those of you who’ve never set foot outside our borders, this is a big decision. When you put your checkmark beside a name at the voting booth, it’s a package. And you, your children, and the rest of the world have to live with it.