Sitting between two total strangers, I am always grateful for being a small person. Especially on a budget airline with very small seats.

This time on my right was an American middle aged guy who was dressed for a business trip and on my left was a young Asian guy who was obviously a Buddhist monk. We were flying from Boston to Minneapolis and I was determined to get some sleep. It had been a very long day and my third flight already. While getting settled in our seats, I was the only one who was not on the phone checking messages and Facebook and I took it as a ‘good sign’ that nobody is interested in talking.

I glanced at the young monk with his iPhone and thought about the changing times and changing paradigms.  Talk about breaking stereotypes…

Suddenly the American man asked me some polite questions. Meanwhile I was curious about the monk and finally asked him about his red robe. It was a different colour then the ones in Thailand and he explained the Mahayana school which is mostly practiced by Tibetan Buddhists. He was from Taiwan, living in India and traveling to Minnesota to do some translation work.

So, here we were ‘united nations’ from Latvia, Taiwan and USA. Crammed together in a very small space, sharing all the conveniences and inconveniences of inexpensive air travel. The American became very thoughtful and then asked us both, “What do people around the world think about America now?”

Such a broad and vague question but I knew what he wanted to know. He did not want to know what people think about American clothes, hairstyles, history, holidays, work habits or movies. Between the lines, he wanted to know what ‘outsiders’ think about American foreign policies. He looked concerned and also puzzled.

Actually my answer was as vague and general as his question because during the conversation I realized that he was not a good listener. He would jump from question to question and then sigh and become uninterested. The Taiwanese monk, on the other hand, gave a very enthusiastic answer, explaining the geopolitical issues and how the US and Japan are the best and closest allies for Taiwan.

Also, the monk started talking about the values of respect and honor and how his Buddhist religious garments were made by a Muslim tailor. He said that there are good and bad people everywhere but there is much more good in the world than the bad. I could not have said it any better.

I noticed that the American passenger’s curiosity had limits. He admitted he had not traveled outside the US and had never been to Europe or Asia. He also did not seem interested in going even though he had the means.

So, here is an observation. I think that one of the big problems is that we think of international relations as “foreign” and “policies”. It is ‘us’ dealing with ‘them’ and ‘our politics’ versus ‘their politics’. “Foreign” often sounds strange and distant. And it will stay foreign and distant to this man unless he is willing to be much more curious about the world and actually go to other countries and meet more people face to face. Certainly the privilege of his passport allows it.

Much better question to ask is –  how are we, Americans, relating to you? The same as I need to ask – how are we, Latvians, relating to you? A friend of mine, Jeff Fountain, writes that “nations can find meaning in being rightly related to other nations, just as is true for us as individual persons.”

Let’s be very curious about each other…

International Airport Departures Board

Places to go and people to meet…

Latviski:

Iespiesta starp diviem svešiniekiem, priecājos, ka esmu tik maziņa. Īpaši izmantojot lētu aviokompāniju ar maziem sēdekļiem.

Man pa labi apsēdās amerikānis pusmūža gados, kas atgriezās mājās no biznesa brauciena. Pa kreisi iekārtojās jauns džeks ar aziātiskiem sejas vaibstiem, ģērbies kā budistu mūks. Lidojām no Bostonas uz Mineapoli, un man ļoti gribējās gulēt. Kā nekā, jau trešais lidojums vienā dienā. Iekārtojoties lidmašīnā, mani blakussēdētāji bija pārāk aizņemti ar saviem tālruņiem, un es to uztvēru kā ‘labu zīmi’, ka neviens negribēs sarunāties.

Pašķielēju uz jaunā džeka pusi, un pasmaidīju par mainīgo pasauli un mainīgajiem uzskatiem. Budistu mūks ar iPhone…

Pēkšņi amerikānis nolēma būt pieklājīgs amerikāņu gaumē un uzdeva dažus jautājumus. Mani tomēr vairāk interesēja tas mūks, un beidzot saņēmos pajautāt, kādas krāsas mantija viņam mugurā. Zināju, ka Taizemes mūki velk oranžas mantijas, bet viņam bija tumši sarkana ar zilu apmalīti. Puisis sāka skaidrot, ka seko Tibetas skolai, kas ir Mahajāna budisma novirziens. Viņš pats bija no Taivānas, dzīvo Indijā, bet atbraucis uz ASV kā tulks.

Te nu mēs bijām kopā ‘apvienotās nācijas’ no Latvijas, Taivānas un ASV. Iespiesti mazajās sēdvietās un izbaudot lēto lidojumu ērtības un neērtības. Amerikānis palika tāds domīgs un tad jautāja mums abiem, ko šobrīd cilvēki pasaulē sakot par ASV?

Tik izplūdis jautājums, bet es sapratu, ko viņš grib zināt. Viņam neinteresēja, ko cilvēki domā par amerikāņu modi, frizūrām, vēsturi, svētkiem, darba tikumu vai filmām. Pat neprecizējot bija skaidrs, ka viņš jautā par Amerikas ārlietu politiku. Ar tādu norūpējušos skatienu.

Mana atbilde bija tikpat izplūdusi, kā viņa jautājums, jo es novēroju, ka viņš neprot klausīties. Viņam jautājumi lēkāja uz visām pusēm, un tajā pašā laikā viņš ātri zaudēja interesi, ja nebija ‘gaidītā’ atbilde. Puisis no Taivānas gan atbildēja ļoti dedzīgi, un izskaidroja, ka ģeopolitisko un vēsturisko iemeslu dēļ ASV un Japāna ir galvenie un svarīgākie Taivānas sabiedrotie.

Vēl mūks sāka runāt par to, ka mums vajag vairāk cienīt vienam otru, ieskaitot cilvēku reliģiskos uzskatus. Kā piemēru viņs minēja savu drēbnieku, kas šujot viņa klostera budistu mūkiem mantijas, lai gan pats esot musulmanis. Visur ir labi un slikti cilvēki, bet labais un skaistais pasaulē ir vairākumā. Man atlika vienīgi piekrist.

Es sapratu, ka amerikāņa ‘ziņkārībai’ ir robežas. Viņš atzinās, ka neesot ceļojis ārpus valsts, un neesot bijis ne Eiropā, ne Āzijā. Izklausījās, ka viņam nav pat vēlēšanās ceļot. Kaut gan viņa pase, un drošvien arī ienākumi dod šīs privilēģijas un iespējas.

Pēc sarunas man radās secinājums par vienu no mūsu visu problēmām. Ja mēs runājam nevis par starpvalstu attiecībām, bet par “ārlietām”, tad arī bieži paliekam šajās kategorijās – “ārējās” un “lietas”. Tad nostiprinās “mēs” un “viņi” un “mūsu politika” pret “viņu politiku”. “Ārējais” izklausās kā kaut kas svešs un tāls. Un starp mums ir jākārto kaut kādas “lietas”.

Šim vīrietim tas viss arī paliks tāls un svešs, ja viņš nekļūs vēl vairāk zinātkārs, un mazliet nepabraukās pa pasauli, lai satiktu citus aci pret aci. Ja idejas paliks ideju līmenī, bet bez cilvēka sejas.

Daudz labāk būtu uzdot šādus jautājumus – kā mēs, amerikāņi, pret jums izturamies? Kādas mums ir attiecības? Tāpat kā man ir jājautā – kā mēs, latvieši, pret jums izturamies? Man pazīstams vēsturnieks Džefs Fountans raksta, ka “nācijas iegūst savu patieso jēgu pareizās attiecībās ar citām nācijām, tāpat kā tas notiek mūsu personīgajās dzīvēs.”

Tāpēc būsim daudz ziņkārīgāki…

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The perks of being curious

  1. Sounds like the American was curious about ideas, but not about people. When we ask about ideas, we lose interest if we don’t get what we’re looking for. When we ask because we care about people, any answer makes us more interested, instead of less.

    Thanks for the vignette and your thoughts, Ineta.

    Like

  2. Great post! I really agree that curiosity and good listening skills are extremely valuable. Also I liked your idea of being rightly oriented towards the other rather than being more curious about how they are oriented towards us/what they think of us.

    Like

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