As Americans we fail to understand the rest of the world because of two faulty mistakes in thinking. The first is that we make judgements based on our own contexts. We also feel that our present context today is applicable to all times and all places.
If pressed, we would admit this is wrong and that our thoughts are likely not logical. Knowing this and acting on it however are two very different things.
As I’ve listened – both to people talking and to the national rhetoric lately, this has become painfully obvious: we have an internalized rhetoric that we adhere to and the idea that this rhetoric is wrong or faulty is a very difficult idea for us to grapple with.
I say this mainly in regard to our ideas of poverty. We have very little idea of how it is caused, what the history might be, how it came about nor the systems that we contribute to that keep it in place. We cannot wrap our minds around it in our own country and we are especially bad about making judgements on other countries. “If they would just do it this way, like we did, then they too could be _________.” This also means that we blame the people in poverty and the countries that are not as wealthy as our own for their own problems.
The truth is much more nuanced and complex. Most of this know this in our heads, but it doesn’t stop us from pronouncing judgments on others.
I have heard many people belittle and shrug their shoulders when it comes to problems such as China’s pollution and environmental devastation. Why should we care? They brought it on themselves with their greed after all. Many good Americans have laid the blame for these evils squarely on China’s shoulders.
But is such blame justified? No. Certainly China has not helped itself in it’s race to the future, and the environmental devastation has intensified over the years.
Before the US points it’s fingers at China however, we should consider where we would be if we had recently (as the seventies) lived through a century of warfare followed by two decades of severe famine.
Could we honestly believe then as some claim, that China’s problems could all be solved if only they would do “thus and so…..” (insert western solution)?
I don’t think we could. Yet we truly don’t understand this background.