Things I am missing about Kabul …

3 Aug

So, today I am really missing my friends and colleagues in Kabul after two aggravating incidents. Yesterday an entitled and aggressive man sat next to me on the subway and expected/demanded I move over so his companion could sit where I was sitting.  I was confused and wanted to move away from him, so I moved.  Then today, I am walking down the street and another man rams into me and shoves me over with his shoulder.  (This is in Queens, too!)

Ugh … and they reminded me of what I loved about my interactions with people in Afghanistan.

1.  No one raised their voice to others.  Everyone spoke gently, softly, and with respect and kindness.

2. People weren’t pushy and urgent with each other.

3. If you smiled and said hello, people smiled warmly and said hello back.

4. When you had a conversation, the person you were speaking to was fully present.  Listening, attentive, engaged.

5. No one had a sense of superiority or entitlement over others.  We shared and cooperated.

I think these are markers of a “developed” and “modern” society.  And so what does that say about the alienation so many people in the “developed” world feel?  We who seem to be deprived of such simple courtesies?  Does it mean that industry has developed, economy and capitalism has developed but somehow our sense of neighborliness, kindness, and connection has moved backwards?  With advanced technology, capital, and industry, have we not managed to deepen and expand our sense of human rights, connection, solidarity, and cooperation on an everyday basis?  We trust each other less and take comfort in our “goods”.  We cling to our known circles and don’t bond with new people.  While part of me knows that there are so many people fighting to build real connection, respect, and love in our society – sometimes it feels hard to see and touch.

We all know that amassing wealth isn’t the answer and that the free things in life like human laughter, friendship, and trust are supremely valuable.  So what do we have to do, as individuals, and as a society to foster community building over capital building?  Ideas welcome!

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7 Responses to “Things I am missing about Kabul …”

  1. Karyn August 3, 2010 at 4:27 am #

    Denny & I were just talking about this very thing today–about the overwhelming sense of entitlement among many Americans & the way many children are being raised to be self-centered–lacking empathy & definitely fostering that ugly sense of entitlement. We were wondering if this is unique to the U.S. When we travel, we notice much more well-behaved children, as a rule, and yes–people are so willing to go out of their way to help us & I’ve often wondered if we give the same courtesy to people visiting the U.S. I can so see how we are getting a reputation around the world for being demanding bullies. What makes “us” think we are so special as to be treated in some superior manner? Denny & I try very hard to blend in & not make demands–sometimes to our detriment. We try to be good ambassadors for the U.S. & to contribute to changing the perception around the world. We try to connect w/ people we meet on a personal level.

    I think that part of the monster we’ve created has happened in public schools. We have taught children that every action they make deserves something…a sticker on a chart, a prize from the prize box, a photo in the hallway, a drawing at the end of the week. So we contribute to their sense of entitlement every day. Children often ask me what they get if I catch them doing something well & I tell them that they get a sense of satisfaction from a job well done. They sometimes look at me in a confused way, thinking I misunderstood, & will try again with, “yes, but what do I GET?” The American education system, for the most part, is built on the premise of competition rather than cooperation. Therein lies a fundamental problem. Additionally, just about every TV show on during prime time has some sort of “us vs. them” theme going on. Our children are bombarded by the message that life is all about winners & losers, not about working together for a common goal. In most other countries, the opposite is true–working together as a whole trumps the individual success. We’re teaching children “it’s all about ME” when we should be teaching them “it’s all about WE!”. We need to focus on the collective whole…the collective soul.

    Just some thoughts from an educator standpoint…

  2. Teresa Fisher August 3, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

    In NYC, I find that so many people live in a little personal bubble. That the idea of interacting with so many other NYC residents and tourists becomes so overwhelming or otherwise negative that it’s easier to just think of yourself as alone or with a small cadre of friends. I find it rather disheartening, although I understand the impulse.

  3. Cal Ward Jr. August 6, 2010 at 3:24 am #

    First of all … I’m assuming you’re all right.

    Peculiar American Hostility.
    Fear and Anxiety.
    Self-Justified Hostile Denial.
    Denial Hostility Anxiety.
    Insular Self- Justified Hostile Anxiety Denial.
    Modern American Future Panic Denial.
    Hostile Self-Justified Anxious Future Fear.

    Avoid violence as best you can, but as even Gandhi found out, in some cases it won’t work, so try to be ready for it.

    Keep your own thinking and reasoning clear and objective, so that when all else suddenly collapses around you, you won’t make things worse by wandering in some muddled panic.

    Shoot as much video and write down as much as you can, so no one can screw around with your point of view.

    Grab someone you love and run for your life.

  4. Bridey August 6, 2010 at 8:56 am #

    I am sorry to hear the melancholy in your voice. The answer, though it is probably a poor balm, is that we begin where we are, no matter where we find ourselves. Either it is all one, and every thing, whether in Kabul or New York (or Florida, for my part), is part of every other thing, and so what we touch resonates through the universe, or it is dichotomous and fractured, in which case, nothing we do matters very much. I can’t bear the latter possibility, so I put my faith in the former.
    I teach sociology at a small community college. The summer class ended last week. For the final class, we discussed praxis – As we part, how might we, in a concerted effort, make the world better? My students settled on a three-step plan:
    1) Greet strangers, and forgive them if they scowl or ignore us
    2) Be kind to cashiers (ditto on automatic forgiveness).
    3) Hold close the truth that you are not alone in this effort.

    • kayhanartivista August 12, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

      Your students are brilliant Bridey – as is their teacher! Thank you for the post.

  5. Cal Ward Jr. August 11, 2010 at 2:10 am #

    Thinking about these medical volunteers killed the other day – did you by any chance know them or meet them?

    It seems they were killed because of the thinnest affiliation with a religious group they objected to; intimidated by the mere representation of a religious group that can only be seen as offensive from their point of view.

    There is resistance to the mosque near Ground Zero because of the thinnest affiliation with a religious group they objected to; intimidated by the mere representation of a religious group that can only be seen as offensive from their point of view.

    So much could be understood and settled if both sides understood that they are both hated and feared by each other for the same reasons.

  6. Funlayo August 17, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    First, glad you’re back safely and obviously had a wonderfully enriching time!

    I completely agree with Karyn, and I was just thinking about this yesterday when a young man in my neighborhood walked by me and didn’t acknowledge me yesterday, as happens often now. I was thinking that as a child, I never would have walked by an adult in my neighborhood without saying “hello” or making some acknowledgement. I still don’t do it now. Children (who grow into adults) are being raised with a lack of respect for their elders and for themselves and it shows. We are so insulated in our little “me” bubbles that we don’t take the time to connect and really appreciate the beauty in one another or even show each other common courtesy and decency in many instances. I, for one, want to make sure my children are raised with the knowledge and understanding that they are special but are not, by any means, the centers of the universe.

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