Humans live well in tribes. In tribal societies, the individual is less important than the tribe. There was a Guatemalan native woman, Rigoberta Menchu, who won the Pulitzer prize for her book about how the inhabitants of her village were massacred by the army. Someone pointed out that she should return the prize money because not all the events in the narrative could have happened to her. She replied “no, they happened to my sisters, brothers, uncles, cousins and neighbors.” The Pulitzer committee let her keep the money.
We would probably be a lot happier if we felt a part of something bigger than ourselves. Families are fragmented and small these days. Many people have wandered far from home and have lost track of their family connections. I currently live as far away from my Missouri home as I could get. Thailand is 12 time zones away. My community here is a group of expats who have settled her for a variety of reasons. The main thing we have in common is that we are strangers in a strange land, a distinct minority who cluster together to avoid loneliness and to encourage each other.
Thailand makes no bones about not being in the market to turn immigrants into citizens. We are “farang” a Thai word that comes from the French, and refers to anyone who is not Asian. Few of us speak fluent Thai. No one expects that of us. Most visitors only stay for a few months each year, returning back where they came from when winter leaves. Others of us are here for the long run, and have no home to return to.
The happiest of us have found some more meaningful and permanent connections to the Thai people, other than simply availing themselves of services provided for cash. I know a man who volunteered to teach English at a village school and won the affection of the town that he would make his home for the next twenty years. He has his tribe, even though his job here in Thailand would be best described as “foreign retiree.”
Nothing online is making me any money or giving me any real feedback. I feel like I’m talking into a microphone asking “is anybody there? Anybody at all?” Occasionally I can decipher a voice buried in static, or a short phrase in response, but nothing that would equal a face-to-face conversation with anyone about anything at all.
I post photos, links to blogs, videos, links to videos…and none of it gets me anywhere. I’d be better off writing messages on paper, folding the papers into airplanes and tossing them out the window. People are constantly trying to sell me things online, and sometimes I cave and buy, but mostly I’m playing the role of amateur broadcaster, hoping there’s a professional gig down the road as soon as my talent gets “discovered.” As soon as I “go viral.” Hah!
So why do I do it? Because I don’t know what else to do. I could write and print it out, then store it in a box under my bed. I could do the same with photos and videotapes. Come to think of it, I did plenty of that twenty and thirty years ago. It not only didn’t get me anywhere, it got left behind when I moved across the world with two suitcases.
Reality is that which when you stop believing in it, still exists.” – Philip K. Dick
We put a lot of stock in our beliefs nowadays, because we’ve concluded that Science is too hard. The rigors of scientific proof take too long, and often don’t appeal directly to the emotions. We have been taught to prize our emotional state above all else.
Advertisers encourage that. Feelings trump facts. Life is short, the world is complex, so you might as well follow your gut. Our current president puts of a lot of stock in following his gut, which seems to be increasing in size even as we speak. His gut tells him to build a wall.
The rest of us are free to imagine a world bigger than our digestive promptings, with powerful forces at play that might surpass our understanding, but which could work in our favor if we remain teachable.