3 Years Gone: Lessons Learned About America

Our journey to Bali and Europe was supposed to be about learning a different culture.  It was.  But our travels also helped us reflect about our own country. Here are a few of those lessons.

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I love freedom.

I mean, I really LOVE FREEDOM!! Freedom to criticize your leaders. Freedom to practice your religion without government bureaucrats looking over your shoulder. Freedom to demonstrate, protest, complain, organize, petition, and kick the bums out. Freedom to privacy from sneaky NSA information thieves. Freedom for reporters and bloggers to report whatever they think is important — even if it’s nonsense from MSNBC or Fox News. Living in countries where they want to make it a crime to insult the President or to say something about the corruption makes you realize what a special gift the Constitution is. Our system may not be perfect, but at least we have the right to voice our grievances and question our government leaders.

But we must be ever vigilant! Returning today, I’ve been reading about politicians wanting to read everyone’s email and Facebook pages in the name of fighting terrorism…and do other dumb stuff to act like they are dealing with the problem, but in reality leaves us less free. Don’t let them do it.

I love the certainty of the rule of law.

God knows our legal system has flaws, but it beats other places we’ve visited by a country mile. The fact there are real rules, more often than not transparently enforced just makes life a little more stable and less stressful. I was bewildered by the often changing laws, rules, etc. based on the whim of a police officer or bureaucrat that we had to deal with. And it happens at every level of government.

I hate corruption.

Sometimes just handing over the bribe is the easiest and only way to deal with being stopped by a policeman, obtaining approval for a project or just about anything else in other places in the world. But it’s a terrible way to run a country. It just eats away at the legitimacy of a government, makes people despise rather than respect their leaders. There is still corruption in American governments, but it’s not as widespread and it is often hunted out and exposed. That would never happen in many other countries in the world.

 America isn’t the only big dog in town.

The world is changing. Many think America’s empire is waning. Even with its ailing economy, China’s economic power and cultural influence is growing. In Asia, people rarely think of the USA first, second or third when thinking about business partners or customers. We don’t even seem to be terribly important to Europeans. That’s fine. We aren’t the only big player in the world anymore. We don’t need to be an empire, but we can be an important player. That should mean shared responsibility and costs. We can all grow to meet our needs, but we aren’t going to be able to dictate anymore.

 

People all over the world wonder why we tolerate gun slaughter.

Maybe a hundred times, an Australian, Austrian, Indonesia, Italian,…asked: So what’s up with the gunfights in America? Why are you letting people walk around with automatic weapons? I try to explain about the Second Amendment, our culture of independence, hunting…None of it makes any sense to my friends, and less and less sense to me. Why are we putting such powerful weapons in the hands of kids, people with mental problems? Why can’t we stand up to the NRA?

There is room for smart, hardworking people to create wonderful new ideas.

There really is no place in the world that supports innovation and entrepreneurship like America. Google, Facebook, Apple….This is exciting and creates huge economic opportunities for millions here and abroad. But are people too focused on the IPO and forgetting their spirits?

Does America still have its spiritual mojo?

Sometimes I wonder if the nation’s religion isn’t about creating a new killer app to make millions.  Is our church the mall or Amazon.   But then I returned and see people practicing Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, meditation, Hindu. I have more faith that spirituality is not lost in America…just a little more diverse and taking a less visible role.

Cell phone service and Internet is bad and costs are too high compared to other countries.

In Bali, I can make a cell phone call to the USA for 3 cents per minute. Get data on my phone for $5 per month. There are a half dozen providers to choose from. There is real competition. Why are there only Comcast and AT&T to choose from here?

Health care is way more affordable and often on par or better outside of the USA.

It’s crazy how much we pay for medical care in America. The medical service we received in Bali, Singapore, Thailand and Croatia was just as competent, but a fraction of the price.

Our government has done great things in our name.

Japan, and Asia in general, is a better place thanks to our post-war program. Europe has had no more wars and is richer and more stable thanks to the Marshall Plan. As Americans, we should be very proud of these achievements.

Our government has done terrible things in our name.

During the 1960’s the CIA helped to execute nearly half a million people in Indonesia under the excuse of stopping Communism. The bloodbath still stains the Indonesia psyche. In the same café, you would see the killers at one table and the family of their victim ate at the next table.

 

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