Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Will The Real Civilized Culture Please Stand Up

Just returning from a month of globetrotting to various remote corners of the world, mixing mostly work with a little bit of play. I’m grateful to all of the good people that I was fortunate enough to share time with scampering around some wonderfully inspiring alpine settings.  I never tire of witnessing my clients/friends embrace the beauty and challenge of movement through mountainous terrain and interfacing with the hardy local folks.

This month was truly another wonderful collection of vivid memories and images of local villages and homes speckled on the flanks of mountains and hills on 2 different continents. The simple life that appears before us as we tramp through some of the more secluded regions seems so rudimentary to most of us… with their lack of running water, cell phones and grocery stores. It’s easy to look across the valley at one of the thatch roofed homes with sheep and goats milling about and feel a bit of despondency for the inhabitants at how tough their life must be.  

“It must be so hard to live in such a primal way. Bless their hearts.”

And then, if you’re lucky, you have a face-to-face encounter with one of the locals. You see the wide smiles and note the sense of comfort in their eyes. You feel that they need very little to be happy. Food, shelter and family. Undoubtedly they experience pain and sorrow due to disease, crop failure and lack of health care, but they exude this sense of being satisfied with what they have in front of them.

On the second leg of my work month I was in Peru with a wonderful group of Gold Star women ( that are the living, breathing definition of resiliency. Recounting the characteristics of these amazing women and their fortitude is another story entirely.  One of these women has been sponsoring a Peruvian child for several years and decided she would try to meet the child and his family while visiting the Cusco region on our adventure. After many phone calls and much effort from her and the sponsor agency, the meeting was arranged. The rest of the group was invited to watch and listen in as the meeting took place. At one point during the meeting it was conveyed to our group that this was the first time this family had left their hillside village. The first time they had been transported by vehicle. The first time any of them had ever been inside a building or seen Americans (or white people for that matter). This beautiful family of 5 handled this “strange” encounter with dignity and calmness. I can’t imagine how overwhelming it must have been to have a group of 12 Americans sitting across from them in a hotel lobby, smiling and asking questions about their lives. The children walked 3 miles each way to school everyday… rain, snow or sun. They lived modestly and trusted that the earth and Pachamama would provide all they needed to survive.  These families value the opportunity to go to school and aren’t afraid to work for it while we complain if the bus is late to pick up our kids or our plane is delayed an hour (try walking from LA to Chicago the next time your plane is late).

Unbeknownst to them, the world went on bustling and careening around them.

On this same Peruvian trip I was required to medically evac one of the participants from 13,500 ft due to a very significant medical event. After a fairly touch and go 24 hours, complete with early morning horseback rides and hospital visits, I finally tucked her into a hotel room in Cusco and retreated to my own room for some much needed rest. Not sure why, but I was inclined to turn on CNN just to see what was happening in the world.

Innocence is best served in the dark.

“500 Palestinians are now confirmed dead in Gaza”
“Israeli soldier taken hostage and tortured”
“50 combatants killed while battling over an airstrip in Tripoli, Lybia”
“Ukrainians place blame of downed commercial airliner squarely on Russia”
“Another commercial airplane disappears over Algiers”
“Female correspondent sexually assaulted by mob”

The news cycle played out. Then as it began to repeat… I had had enough. It was all just vitriolic pain.  Every word contentious and coming from a place of anger and hate. Our “civilized” world was in complete disarray with no end in sight.

I reflected back to that sweet, wonderfully naïve Quechan family that would not even be able to relate to all the pain that their fellow humans were inflicting on each other. They were, at that moment, just lying down with the sunset, awaiting another day of planting, harvesting and grazing. Nothing more.

As these travesties against humanity take place, these families go about their business just as they have for thousands of years, oblivious to the pain, sorrow and violence that is taking place around the world.

I’m not suggesting that western society should disavow our technology and cultural advancements and resort to a more “underdeveloped” way of life … nor am I suggesting that I would trade my comfy life with my campesino friends. I would simply ask each of us, me included, to reflect on the simple nature of life and how we can become more civil with each other.  Our needs are fundamental… food, water, shelter and love. If we could live more simply and allow others to achieve their basic needs, the world be a much more “civilized” place.

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