Sunday, March 06, 2016

League of Problems

No one likes being the bad guy. There is an awful feeling when you start to realise you are on the wrong side of things. It is worse when you feel alone. The only bad guys. I moved to England for the first time (two years between school and university) in 1998. I was introduced to the song 'I've Never Met A Nice South African'. As far as problems go, people assuming your are racist isn't even in the league of problems with actually being on the receiving end of structural racism. But it doesn't leave you feeling warm and fuzzy.

Generations fast move on too. Germany is starting to become the most welcoming of all the European countries to immigrants. They are redefining themselves and shedding the WWII guilt. I doubt many British and French people know about the Scorched Earth policies used in establishing their African colonies. I knew about the Red Coats burning the farms and putting women and children in concentration camps during the second Anglo-Boer war. I didn't know the French had done the same thing in Algeria. On their civilising mission, one fo the French investigating commissions remarked, 'We have surpassed in barbarism the barbarians we came to civilise'. The Americans also believed in a 'Manifest Destiny' of Europeans to spread across North America. Extending freedom. By force.

The fact that other people were bastards too shouldn't decrease the feeling of angst I have with my ancestry. But it does. History has a way of unravelling any story you build up to put your group above other groups. It also has a way of unravelling any story you dive into to think your group is worse than other people. It has a way of unravelling groups.

I felt really awkward on a recent walk through Cape Town. I had that same feeling of awkwardness on a walk I did through Chicago. I have said how irritated I get with people misusing stats about the percentage of people living in poverty in America. Defining poverty as a relative measure based on income and wealth... in a rich country. I admit to having my eyes opened. I walked through what felt viscerally like poverty in Chicago. Viscerally like Apartheid. Although saying people are impoverished in financial terms bothers me, the word felt right. On the other hand, there are much poorer areas in South Africa where the word feels wrong. Where the rich people feel impoverished and the poorer people seem to be bursting with energy and vitality. Where the rich are trapped and the poor are free.

A Chicago Street in one of the wealthiest countries in the world

It is hard not to think in a 'League of Problems'. To disregard the financial struggles of people in Greece when you hear what they are earning and the support they get compared to poorer countries. To look at the newspaper headlines in London and giggle when seemingly trivial things grab attention.

Disregarding problems with different flavours, and at different stages, and with different concerns, prevents learning. The toughest problems are not financial. A roof over your head. Warmth. Decent food to eat. All the absolute poverty problems we face are actually very solvable. We really don't need that much to have enough. We just need to get on with it.

The tough stuff can't be solved by throwing money at the problem. The tough stuff is working out how to live together. Putting aside ideas of superiority and learning from each other. Taking the best bits and building a world worth sharing.
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