Today is Independence Day in the United States. It’s easy to shame me about my nationality right now. All you have to do is pull up Google News. At literally any moment. ‘Our President is a disgrace’ is the least fretful and unhappy thing I can say. It didn’t used to be that way. I used to admire the way our country was organised, the principles on which it was founded. I used to be very pumped on the 4th, full of beer and John Phillip Sousa and patriotism. I was saturated in the arrogant smugness of being #1, the best the brightest the most democraciest.
It wasn’t Trump that popped the bubble of my enthusiasm and shattered the fairy tale story about the nation of my birth. What rocked my world and my smugness was Mexico. As in the U.S., in New Zealand Mexico is a monster of a country. When all of our stuff was stolen by some asshat in Pukekohe, the New Zealand judge threw the book at him because I had said in our victim statement that we lived for 18 months in Mexico and never feared for our safety but now… here in the Land of the Long White Cloud… I felt unsafe. This Kiwi bloke was in such a rage at the thought, he gave the thief the maximum sentence. How could New Zealand be worse than Mexico? Well, you haven’t been to Mexico, sir. It’s lovely. The people are lovely, the climate is wonderful, the prices low and the entrepreneurialism high.
French Polynesia is nice too. So is Japan. England is misty and Scotland has weird sausage and you can’t understand a word they say but they are the most warm and welcoming hosts. New Zealand is awesome and Australia is like Texas except with more birds and better fruit. It turns out that most countries are full of nice, friendly people doing the best they can with the tools and resources they have at hand. Apparently people are not smarter or cleaner or more capable or compassionate in one country… they are just French or German or Filipino. (Digression: Why is the country Philippines with a ‘ph’ and the people Filipino with an ‘f’? Whose idea was that?) And the advantages of any given country are almost always an accident of timing, resources, and development not some inherent property of the folks who live there.
Some of our folks are returning from visiting our business partners in India and the Philippines and I recognize their epiphany. Other countries can and are super damn competent at doing what we think we are uniquely qualified to do. In turns out that with over 1 million people working in contact centres in Manila alone, Filipinos are pretty damn good at customer service. Surprise! That moment when you realise that everything you assumed – the underlying structure of your internal bias – is based on false assumptions and commercialised narratives that have little to do with reality. It’s humbling, eye opening, and ultimately makes us better people.
I remember a seminar we attended when we were preparing to cruise around the world. The speaker warned us not to pack our boats to the decks with foods, assuring us that we could buy what we needed everywhere we go. She noted wryly, “It turns out that in other countries, people eat!”
“Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.” ~ E.B. White