May 1, 2012 4 Comments
(Ok this post is a new one I just couldn’t hold back – my gift to you! ;)
It’s bound to happen.
You’re in the car with at least one other Arab or Arab-American, maybe practicing your tabla (Middle Eastern drum) beat on the dashboard as you listen to the latest Haifa Wahby/Najwa Karam/Rami Ayyash, or maybe flexing your vocal cords to some serious Fairuz or Sabah Fakhry, or maybe even punctuating the air with explosive, pointy hand gestures as you shout out the words to the latest Arabic rap that you got from your cousin who just flew in from Amman.
Point is, you’re loud.
It’s ok, I understand. We can’t help it.
At one point along your journey, a pedestrian will start to cross the road at a walkway, and you automatically find yourself stopping and giving them the right of way.
0.0976 of a second passes by, then you and your companion(s) in the car erupt in an unstoppable barrage of words that sounds a little like this:
“HAH You know what would happen to that sucker back home
He’d be flattened in a split second if he tried to pull that stunt in the middle of a busy road
Who do you think would even SEE him
People don’t even stop for the traffic light
You know police officers get BEAT UP when they try to stop people
Oh but you haven’t seen DUBAI No no no have you even TRIED to drive in Damascus
ARE YOU KIDDING ME in Beirut people don’t even see the traffic lights anymore
SAY WHAT!!! Amman is like a zoo
But my cousin told me Saudi Arabia is even WORSE it’s like drivers are TRYING to kill pedestrians
Whatever The pedestrians are even worse than the drivers
I saw a woman one time crossing with her FIVE kids right in the middle of that big roundabout she almost got her whole family killed
People are so CRAZY
What is UP with that….”
The conversation starts to die down, then somebody asks the real question.
“What is it that makes people back home* have no respect whatsoever for rules, laws, or even their fellow human being? Why do we come here and feel (for the most part) respected, and why are people so much more willing to do the “right” thing, follow the rules, stand in line, take turns, stop for pedestrians?”
I’ve wondered about these very questions myself FOR YEARS.
The answer was always more of a justification than a real reason. A set of excuses, if you will, that explained away the phenomenon, but didn’t really explain it.
“People have no reason to believe in laws, rules, or even common decency. If you have a “waasta” (waasta roughly translates to having an “in”, either you know someone or are related to someone from the right family), then you don’t HAVE to follow the rules, and can get away with murder. So what’s the motivation for anyone else to follow the rules?”
And so on and so forth.
The other day, I had an epiphany.
The real reason is about a lot more than just losing faith in the judiciary system or in the ability to be treated equally regardless of who your uncle or father is.
The real reason is about not ever having had faith in yourself and in those around you.
It’s about not ever having been told, or ever having been led to believe that YOU, ME, each one of us individually, could actually make a difference.
That is a lousy way to live.
If you’ve lived a number of years in the United States, you’ve inevitably heard some variation of the following:
“YOU can make a difference.”
“YOU can make a change.”
“YOU can do it.”
Children are brought up with this mentality that even ONE person can make a change. They are taught that they each have the power to make the world a better place.
Conversely, at least in my experience, the message I’ve heard when I’ve been in the Middle East has been:
“Why would I even try? It’s not like I can change anything!”
“Who cares? Nothing I do is ever going to make a difference anyway.”
“Who am I to try and do things a different way? My father is minister of nothing!”
“Forget about it! Trying to change things is just a recipe for a headache.”
Defeatism at its best.
No, at its worst, because there’s NOTHING good that will ever come out of that kind of attitude.
I know things can change for us, they already are!
I just hope that in addition to evolving our political landscape and seeking out the types of leaders we want to represent us in the global arena, we also find the time to cultivate the leader in each of ourselves.
Because we can become a society that cares and does the right thing.
And hey, we get to do it while rocking out to some MAD tabla dance music.