Outward Focus

I don't drink black coffee. I don't drink coffee as a rule, unless it involves espresso, steamed milk, and a large quantity of chocolate. Whipped cream is always a good addition.

I am also not the poster child for full plates of breakfast at the designated breakfast hour. In my childhood, breakfast might have been a freezer burrito, or Campbell's Bean with Bacon Soup, or whatever else my mother figured I would eat. As an adult, I may eat breakfast if it's a muffin or something that requires a similar lack of thought and planning. Or I may just give up the struggle and wait 'til lunch.

Yet, for a new friend, I slid my way out of a cozy bed last Sunday at an hour that's really only appropriate for fishermen, donned acceptable attire, and rolled down the road to a breakfast venue that served eggs of nearly any description. In my case, that translated to a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on a croissant and some excellent hash browns. And coffee, because I wasn't the one pouring and awake seemed like an excellent plan.

The conversation was interesting. My friend is an artist and, due to the nature of the global markets for traditional handicrafts, it's beneficial for him to be in the Southwest. From a personal perspective, though, that means spending most of his time away from his wife and sons, who remain in their South American homeland. It's clear that he misses his family, especially when he talks about his boys' interests in robots and how the younger can't quite assemble the complicated pieces the way his older brother can.

What struck me most, though, is something I've heard so many times from my other friends who've grown up outside the U.S. While every place and every culture has its own issues, my home country presents notoriously difficult situations for children and teens, as compared to more traditional societies and locations. My friend and his wife made the decision for their kids to grown up in a place that provides the values and structure that they want to pass on to the next generation. 

Over the course of my lifetime, that concept is one that has largely slipped out of our national discourse here in the U.S. No wonder we have a shortage of skilled laborers and a dearth of tradesmen. No wonder no one wants the bedrock jobs that lend stability to society. And no wonder our current national vision is generally fractured and perhaps universally stuck someplace between navel-gazing and underwater basket-weaving.

Here's the thing. The U.S. is only the center of the world on our own maps and our own TV screens. We, as individuals, are only the stars in the stories we tell ourselves. As a result, those stories are as good or as bad as we make them.

So, what happens if I stop focusing on how things affect me and start focusing on how they affect you? Or how they affect my friend? Or his family, far away and across borders?

How might my perspective change about:

  • Nuclear brinksmanship and grandstanding?
  • The rights of women to escape and seek security from systemic domestic violence?
  • The intentions of indigenous people to worship in the places they consider sacred? 
  • Respect and healing between members of the human race who wear different skin tones?
  • The relationship between consumerism, greed, poverty, and the dignity of humankind?

How anyone thinks politics and protests are the answer to any of these questions is beyond me. Addressing issues like these starts way down at the ground level, deliberately changing the people with whom we spend time, the way we form friendships, the way we listen without preconceived ideas about whether someone is "right" or "wrong," and the way we stand firm in respecting one another's realities, especially if they're not our own.

Do children in America still learn the quote attributed to Voltaire, Patrick Henry, and a variety of other names: "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"?

Do we still picture the steadfastness of Cheyenne Dog Soldiers standing their selected patch of ground in the heat of battle?

Do we still learn the poem, The New Colossus? Do we know what it means? 

What do we, as a people, stand for? Not you. Not me. We. 

Perhaps it's time we stop seeking truth and love in the dust. Perhaps it's time to look outward and see what we find.