Sunday, January 18, 2009

 

Does Obama Make Me a Better Person?

At a dinner I attended last year with some writers, we spoke about the impending Obama administration. All at the table agreed that it would now be much more pleasant to go abroad; only the insensitive could have traveled overseas and not noticed how despised the Bush administration has been.

But, I said, it bothered me that people were suddenly visibly nicer. I mean, does Obama's election mean that I am suddenly a better person and more worthy of kindness and good manners?

Having just returned from the UK, I can say that it is very, very nice to go to a country and to see how excited others are by our new president. But! (to employ an internet phrase). Have I suddenly become a better person? Should people now be nicer to me because of who my president will be?

See, this is my problem. I am the same person I have always been. I haven't changed at all, even if my president has, and even if the way you view my country has. I am not my country. I am a product of my environment, and my culture to be sure, and I love the US for reasons which you, a stranger, might not know. But I am no different than before. Certainly I feel the optimism of the new administration. I identify with this president of mixed race. I like that he repeatedly asked and asks us to access our better natures. But does this mean that we are all better people? Has this changed all of us?

Comments:
it was living in the UK that made me understand how huge a global power America is (was?) and the ramifications of that perceived power--call me naive, but i never realized how much everyone cared about our president until i was there in 2003 and was getting hated on by everyone i met. seriously, it's like you personally have something to answer for.

and yes, i've observed the very phenomenon you describe--"congratulations on your successful voting this year! thank goodness i don't have to smack you upside the head for your countrymen again!" etc.

the sadness is we suffered the last administration just as much as (or more than) anyone in the UK did. a little sympathy, maybe?
 
Well, see, that was my frustration too. I remember getting hate mail from "friends" after 2004--when we were home, sick and depressed. I didn't think that this was the kind of thing that friends do to each other, but you know, it's part of the "great responsibility" that we aren't supposed to have and pretend we don't, but actually do, whether we like it or not.

In general, though, you learn who people are in bad times.
 
Apologies in advance for any unintended offense my comment may cause...

I think reactions such as moonrat was subject to says more about the person that expressed it than it does about any politician or political system. I would have found anyone expressing such an opinion at me ignorant for blindly equating me with my government (odds are they'd be just as appalled were I to do the same) and also simply rude for ignoring the Golden Rule.

Happily, in my travels abroad, before and during Bush's terms in office, I've encountered nothing but friendliness (and possibly polite silence). One of my favorite Twain quotes is "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." It wasn't until I travelled abroad that I realized the feelings of the people rarely reflect what's reported in the news. And also, if the people being governed don't like their politicians, why should a foreigner expect to?
 
Totally agree with you, Scott (and so, I suspect, would Moonrat). How someone feels about me overseas shouldn't change based on who my president is. And if it does change how someone feels, it tells me something about the other person.
 
PS--I thought I'd add that there is a difference between traveling some place, and spending time there so you really get to know it and really know people and find out what they say behind closed doors.

As a kid, I loved the world and thought everyone else did too.
 
"As a kid, I loved the world and thought everyone else did too."

Wow, what a tragic, powerful statement.
 
This is such a broad thing to discuss, for me... and I'm being lazy... As you all comment, some "friends" are not so friendly. But, that said, regarding "Americans", a lot of it has to do with the media and the stupid topics.

There are topics about Spain, my country, too. Namely, you mention Spain and the words "ole", "flamenco", "fiesta", "siesta" and bull-fighting immediately show up in the conversation. I have explained so many times that no, I don't sleep the siesta, and no, absolutely NOT everybody enjoys bull-fighting. In fact, so many Spanish people despise bull-fighting. Flamenco is only folk music from the south of Spain, it's very popular but many people also don't like it.

So, as a example, I vividly remember seeing this documentary about weapons in the USA, and this guy saying something like "we carry weapons because we are a free country", and the reporter saying "Well, there is freedom in a lot other countries as well...". And some people will say "Americans think they are the only free country" or "Americans love weapons", when it was only that person speaking, it was only his opinion, some American's opinion.
 
I know, Mary. We are all capable of making stereotypes. It is true.

And that is why there is never a substitute for spending time with someone, speaking with them, and getting to know them. It's why I am such a fan of travel.

Thank you so much for posting on my blog, by the way! I'm so honored to have you here.
 
I'm flattered that you are honored!

I am a regular here, I just don't always find the words to post.
 
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