Dear International Friends

About 25% of the people who visit the Humble Blog are foreigners. Among others, this morning, a few Nigerians have stopped by. These words are for them. I imagine they would acknowledge Nigeria, like every country in the world, has serious challenges to overcome, but they would never characterize their country the way the President of the United States characterized some developing countries yesterday.

When caught saying hateful, racist, abhorrent things, the President acts in an extremely predictable way, and today is no different. Like a second grader at recess, he denies saying what others heard and in many cases recorded. As if by denying his words, he has the power to erase them.

The President does not speak for the vast majority of Americans who know Haitians, Salvadorans, Nigerians, and other Africans strengthen the U.S. Also, most Americans are far more aware than the President that Haitians, Salvadorans, Nigerians, and other Africans come from beautiful places with rich cultures that have proven amazingly resilient in the face of U.S. imperialism. They also know that we are an immigrant nation, that the vast majority of us came from other places, and that our economic success is, in large part, the result of hardworking, law-abiding immigrants from every corner of the globe.

The President has never read Chinua Achebe, Toussaint Louverture, or Manlio Argueta, because he doesn’t read.

We will turn him out in three years or less. And then we will go to work repairing the damage he’s done to the environment, the rich/poor divide, and the prestige of the office. And we will work to repair all of our international alliances, working doubly hard  to reconcile with the proud people of the Caribbean, Central America, and Africa.

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Experience Required

A pro-business friend whose compensation is mostly commission and bonus-based believes every member of Congress should have to have been a business owner. In his mind I guess, we’re a business not a democracy. At the same time he’s quick to criticize and write-off the successes of Scandinavian countries even though he’s never set foot in one. Similarly, he’s quick to criticize public school teachers who prefer email to telephone communication even though he’s never taught.

Despite those inconsistencies, I’ll concede that when shaping policy, giving advice, or just plain stating opinions about something, direct personal experience makes one more credible.

But how far should we extend that notion? Should we prevent priests from doing marital counseling, preclude men from teaching women’s studies courses, not allow civilians to teach about war? In my thinking, there are meaningful, substantive forms of indirect experience that create a tipping point and conceivably qualify priests, men, and civilians to offer marriage counseling, teach women’s studies courses, and teach about war.

For example, the arts and the humanities—excellent theatre, film, and literature in particular—broaden viewers’ and readers’ perspectives about things with which they have no firsthand experience. I’ve never been to Rwanda, but watching Hotel Rwanda, even if we allow for inevitable artistic license, powerfully introduced me to the genocide citizens of that country experienced.

If perception and insight are a house, maybe the front door represents direct firsthand experience. Film, literature, and history possibly the side or back doors or the windows.

I have above-average knowledge of sub-Saharan Africa because I’ve lived and worked in one African country and traveled throughout three others. But my insights into the continent, and whatever credibility I might have as a writer or speaker on Africa, have been supplemented by non-fiction books, lots of African novels, and a fair number of African films.

The educator in me causes me to think broadly about the ways indirect experience supplements lived experience. I guess it’s the entrepreneur in my friend that causes him to think direct firsthand experience trumps everything else when determining policy, giving advice, or even at times, stating opinions.

Avatar versus Invictus

Invictus because I’m not a sci fi guy. Friends were raving about the new Star Trek on a run recently. I don’t think I’ve ever sat through a whole episode. I’m definitely a non-fiction guy. That being said, I enjoyed Avatar, I just have a hard time giving into the notion of aliens. Of course the special effects were on a whole new level and even I followed the storyline. My take away, don’t mix business and pleasure.

I followed South Africa closely in the mid/late 80’s and really enjoyed Invictus because it mixed three of my interests, Africa, politics, and sports. I was left wondering how true to actual events it was. Afterwards, I did a little internet research and found an article from a British periodical that suggested not very. However, when I read that piece I had to chuckle. In my opinion, the journalist was quibbling with minutiae. It’s amazing Mandela, 91, has lived as long as he has, especially given conditions on Robben Island.

My suggestion, go crazy and see both.