When you meet someone from a miserable nation, you know it. You can see it in their faces, hear it in their voices, watch it in their body language. When you ask innocently, ‘how is your country doing’ they get tense. You can tell how bad things are by their answer. If they say ‘there are problems’ then you know it’s not as bad as it could be. If they say without skipping a beat ‘I love it, I miss my country so much’ with a big smile on their face and perhaps a photoshop-perfect watery-eyed sigh, you know it’s very bad, and you wonder how much worse it will get.
America is closer to the former than the latter, for now. We are miserable citizens who get asked to explain ourselves when we travel abroad. We are the citizens who no longer enjoy the simple pleasures of life together despite the smaller inconvenience that our ideologies don’t align. We say to ourselves about others ‘it’s too much trouble to be around people who are like that, who believe those things.’
Economies and politics are different but symbiotic, and both are again intertwined with class. You can observe this on a personal level. We are all constantly comparing ourselves to each other economically, we have a good idea of where we stand compared to each of our close associates, and we are rarely in intimate contact with people who are vastly higher or lower on the 7 billion rung ladder that we are all scrambling up. In so far as politics is an associative art, then, the choice to associate with people of differing economic strata is a political choice. The fewer people you associate with, the smaller your political experience will likely be. And importantly, another person like yourself can only show you a rung of the ladder similar to your own. So the fewer people from different rungs you know, the less varied your political experience will be. If everyone you know is just like you economically, then you haven’t heard everything there is to hear politically.
Add to this mix the confusions of culture, psychology, occupation, and on and on, and one can quickly start to see the likely culprit of our current woes: communication. The farther apart we grow, the harder it becomes to understand each other. It’s very hard to have a clear conversation through the noise of an entire human life. If you have ever tried to sit quietly and focus on your own breathing for just five minutes, you will see how little control you have over your own thoughts. The mind is like a wild horse, untamed and raging, and we trust only our own herd.
How do we fix our misery? The answer is not clear. But taming our wild minds would be a good start. Practice equanimity, control your reactions. Then find some person that is not like you and get to know them. Listen to them and allow yourself to genuinely care about them as a person. Don’t try to convince them or correct them. Just be with them for a while. That would be an even better start.
Maybe after we all do that, we can finally have a real, good conversation with each other and sort out some of those problems we are always telling foreigners about.