Experiment time!! Close your eyes and note the first words that come to mind when you read each of these lines:
Third world country =________________
Mexico = ______________________
Guatemala = __________________
Outskirts = ___________________
Poverty = ____________________
Please be honest about your answers, write them down for later, and then write them in the comment section below the post when you finish reading.
I'm just old enough to remember my mom telling me to look up the stuff I had questions about in our family's encyclopedia collection. Occasionally she would sit, read it with me, and we would discuss it. (The "H" encyclopedia was the best because it had the "human body" in it with all these transparent pages with the human systems that would overlap to make a crazy-looking person with all their insides revealed!) Does anyone remember this?
The important part is that these were concrete words or topics, and the encyclo-media was trusted enough for my parents to invest a big chunk of their savings in it. For starters, the decision to buy into the information was carefully considered. It was verified, peer-reviewed information that sat on our bookshelf to cross-reference. The second important part is that the encyclopedias didn't have any "look a squirrel!" ads on the pages for me to click on and get distracted. The research was focused, and it wasn't an exercise that shortened my attention span; it lengthened it.
Those were my "good old days." My parents even took the whole collection to Peru with our family in '94 when we moved there. (At the peak of the terrorism violence, with mainstream media rating it as one of the most dangerous countries in the world at that time.) Little did they know, just four years later, windows '98 would be all the rage, and everybody who was anybody would be able to look up the encyclopedia online. (The dialup net was still at the same speed it would take to lookup by hand in the books!)
What a different world we are living in now. I can't even look at my phone's Home Screen without forgetting what app I was about to use. Facebook, Chrome, Instagram, YouTube, "what was I doing again?! Oh yeah, Calendar!"
We are all now living in a world of fast food short-form information. As a father, it scares me. Living in Guatemala has done something big for us as a family. It has slowed down our media intake, and we are learning to rely on one another more for information and the formation of original opinions. It's cool not having the internet in our home! When we don't know something, we talk to people. And hey, even if they get their info from the internet, it's at least gone through one filter before us. Depending on the person's personality delivering the information, we can form opinions on whether or not we will choose to trust it. It's old school.
We still do google stuff, of course. However, it's the waiting, the wondering, and the delay of the information until we find wifi that also adds an extra layer of magic. Sitting with questions for a while before getting a quick answer often deepens the thought.
I anchored in with a title and shouldn't drift too far, so I'm going to pull myself back in here! "Travelling." Traveling has taught me so much about media and how negative it is overall. I already knew it, but experiencing it is the next level. When we travel around Mexico and Guatemala or walk through side streets and alleys in our hometown, all we see are people smiling at us that want to help us and get to know more about us. We talk about our kids, their kids, and what we are doing here. We talk about Canada; we talk about the world, God, culture, money, work, all of it.
We encounter extreme poverty daily. Pollution, pain, happiness, and generosity are also many things we see and discuss. A year later, we have NOT seen or heard about first or even secondhand assaults, kidnappings, and major robberies.
My point is that we arrived with a fair amount of engrained fear. There was a lot of discomfort and prejudice that needed and still needs to evaporate. Peers and family cautioned us about coming. Those that didn't, congratulated us on how "brave" we were. "You've got balls," some would say. Either way, these responses are big windows into the biases and programming our dear programmers over at the cable and internet mainframe Gigaram headquarters have done such a great job at.
In his book, Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haigh brilliantly writes:
"THE WORLD is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn't very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti-ageing moisturiser? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy, human selves, would not be good for business."
The more our family interacts and learns from the elders and the local indigenous community, the more we see how beautiful a society can be when it focuses on relationships over the acquisition of wealth.
Back to my first question: Here is what my answers would have been if I was reading the news every day from my living room in Canada.
Third world country: poverty
Mexico: sunny beaches, organized crime
Guatemala: Bananas and coffee, getting mugged, kids getting kidnapped.
Outskirts: poverty, run-down, shantytowns.
Poverty: crime and addiction
Do they match any of yours?!
I'm not claiming any of these descriptions are necessarily 100% untrue. However, none of these topics or locations deserve these descriptions as the main points.
After a year in Guatemala with two road trips into Mexico through small towns and backroads:
Third world country: "Underrating countries. Who made this up?"
Mexico: Rich culture, charitable people.
Guatemala: Fertile land, eternal spring, cheek-pinching ladies!
Outskirts: beautiful landscapes
Poverty: Generosity and authentic community. Oppression, corruption.
Do I fear something terrible will happen to my children?
Of course, I do. I think most good parents do.
Will something terrible happen to my children?
Most likely! We all have traumas no matter where we are from, despite our own parents' best efforts. Our role as parents is to hold space when those times come for our children to feel and express the emotions that result from difficult times.
While Christina and I's job as parents require caution and protection for our kids, we firmly believe that is secondary to equipping our children with how to deal with problems and avoid them while not living in fear. We want to teach them how to think on their own.
This post boiled down into four more lines?
Forget the all-inclusive resorts.
Connect in tangible ways with others.
Here is a 10-second video of me and Katie Dancing to the Marimba Band in Copitan's Main Plaza last week!
Now let me know your answers!
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