Sunday, June 2, 2013

"That's just the way things are." and other cultural traps.

My college buddy just cancelled hanging out with me because it was going to be after 8pm and he didn't want to go out that late because he was worried about crime. He didn't excuse himself for feeling this way, or explain why being worried about crime would be an issue, he just texted me:
Ok. Puerto Rico. Crime. A reality. I'd rather reschedule. Sorry to be an old man 8(
And we're the same age! (By the way, as a close friend I understand what he means. He's got a young daughter and would rather stay at home with her than leave her alone.)

I've been encountering this over and over. "That's just the way things are here." Or the much worse: "It's like that everywhere." (The Japanese got "shikata ga nai", "it's no use.") 

I'm still not sure why people don't see the huge trap going around like that is. Let me make a parallel.

This morning I was watching a TED video from Lisa Bu, who talks about her parents during the Chinese Cultura Revolution and how for them happiness was a good job, didn't matter if you liked the job, just that you had it. That is a job deprived of meaning for you. And this reminded me of my childhood. And it was because of the attitude.

I call it in my book How Environmentalism can Succeed, the poverty of the mind. It's like a desiccation of the psyche, an inability to see the seed grow. I just recently read about this in a book talking about the importance of meaningful work:

Every time people in the company do something new that was formerly thought impossible, they contribute significantly to the company’s culture, and to the sense that much will be possible in the future.
Stanley, Vincent; Yvon Chouinard (2012-05-05). The Responsible Company: What We’ve Learned From Patagonia’s First 40 Years (Kindle Locations 567-568). Patagonia Books. Kindle Edition. (emphasis mine)
This expectation of increasing possibility is huge driver in the economy. Yet here in Puerto Rico the emphasis is on a kind of Cultural Revolution Devolution where the perpetuating of an unworkable reality is cemented by acceptance and resignation to it.

That thinking is dangerous. It's like finding a fork in the road and seeing neither of the bifurcating paths leads where you want to. Then bowing your head and giving up on your destination, resigning yourself to what what Lisa Bu calls "second class happiness" on her Ted talk. Let's not do that. Let's realize that "la voluntad abre caminos" ("where there is a will there is a way/path") and lets go off-road. And if the way is fraught with mountains. Then "pa' encima", "onward and upwards." These are not empty slogans. If they available paths don't lead where you want to, it is not the fault of the destination but of the path maker. How do you know that you must not then set out on a path of your own?

When my friend then texted:
How quickly we grow old.
 However hard it maybe to keep a fertile mind in a sea of desserts, and somedays I loose it too, I will remain fertile and see much possible in the future (or die trying).

I replied:
Speak for yourself.    :P


  1. Excellent post!

    Personally I like to keep the following attitude: When George Mallory was asked "Why do you want to climb Mt. Everest?" he calmly replied "Because it is there".

  2. Loved it! Most average Puertorricans suffers not from pessimism but from defeatism. This is pointing the finger at the root of the problem.