Travelling With Respect
Travelling with men from different cultures and beliefs
Talking to a stranger in taxi in New York and Toronto. Talking to few more strangers on ferry across the great Lake
I jumped in a taxi to catch my plane to Canada when a stranger already sitting there asked me a strange question: "Ma'm do you plan?"
I laughed: "Not really otherwise I would not be late for my plane right now."
He mused and continued: "No seriously, I am just writing a book about randomness and what happens in our lives and how we react, can I share something from my notes with you?"
I nodded and listened to his enthusiastic expressive reading concentrating hard.
'Looking back on roaring 80s when the Eastern Block started to crumble and crazy 90s when Berlin Wall came down and the East-West propaganda lost its purpose we come to our millennium and beyond. Now the Middle East replaced the communist Eastern Europe and the propaganda Middle East-West continue in new form. Something has changed, the newspaper and media are still equally toxic, filling us with inelegant, dull, greedy, boring and selfish business news mostly. Financial stresses are just like wars. The executives of the most important companies just like leaders of powerful countries waging wars do not know too much except arrogance. They make their plans on average probable conclusions and yet future is random, improbable and almost impossible to predict in every sense.'
I nodded and he closed his notes and explained to me: 'You see, I have a good friend who works in economical analysis searching for improbable (quants) using mathematics, engineering and statistics and he is paid handsomely for trying to predict future randomness to predict the future financial distress for the most powerful financial institutions in New York. He knows the best that even in their field they guess more than anything. Randomness is so hard to predict and to distinguish probable from incidental.
He told me, history runs forward and backward and only with hindsight we are able to distinguish accidents from the planned human input. Ninety percent out of hundred what our forebearers planned and what truly happened does not match. So why do we plan?'
I shrugged my shoulders: "Good question, can I share something different with you?' He nodded and I continued: "We simplify the world around us consciously and we try to identify what lies outside the information set and what lies inside the information set and then we make prediction. We make prediction, false it can be to reduce our uncertainty and we need to plan yes, again to reduce our uncertainty."
He mused and added: "Our memory is dynamic not static we reinvent our own past and the past generally to suit our narrative. We perceive flowing time from the past to future in our intuitive ways sometimes ending up with hundreds of interpretations but still we have not touched the truth what truly happened. We just reconstruct the past to suit our explanation and our time.Historians feel they have to give REASON. We feel we need to know REASON. Media need to have some reason, readers do not like abstract. Readers swallow any information. The journalists and politicians know very well any conceivable explanations will do. In the absence of concrete facts about person or place or culture we fall on any thread. The background of the person and their national identity will decide their guild at any time.In today world all you need to know about person is their SEX, SOCIAL POSITION AND MONEY THEY OWN. Everything else has become irrelevant. And that is why I want to write my book about it all."
I smiled and complimented him on his effort while sharing something personal: "I remember bringing my teenager daughter to visit my friend in Lebanon from Australia where she grew up and was preparing for her final exams studying Middle East conflicts for the past four years and she could not wait to interview my friend who lived through it and in it. She was frustrated and disappointed that her learnt perception of the event did not match with his experiences. He just patted her hand patiently and said: “My child what you understand now or what the country you are living in teaches you about that war is not what happened to us but it matters not. It is the reason you see it and you need to see it the way you do. What truly happened is irrelevant in your time and your place it seems to me.”
My daughter was frustrated with it and she kept repeating she wants to know the truth and there is only one truth. Is the truth what happened to the individual person at that time and what they remember and how they explain it to themselves or is it the truth the simplistic overview of the event the certain country interprets to their students the way it suits them? Where is the truth lost?
The never ending war in Lebanon was from the start supported from outside, the west supported the Lebanese Christians and the east meaning communists supported Lebanese Muslims who become freedom fighters. Funny enough in the war in Afghanistan it was opposite way. For civilians in Lebanon or Afghanistan or now in Syria or Yemen it means nothing who support who or why, they have been bared naked and starved and killed for one reason only. For living in the area that is in the middle of someone’s conflict. Living in the crossroads of many different interests, different people and different countries claim they have! Simple as that.
“We are wired of redemption and guilt,” my Lebanese friend used to say when people around him asked the soldiers or freedom fighters why they are killing civilians and destroying whole towns. Their explanation always becomes a consequential distortion of reality depending who you are talking to and why. They explain to themselves in narrative that things were bound to happen and were out of their control.
My Lebanese friend’s partying words to my daughter were these “The history is the history of winners and they hold the key to tell us who was right and who was wrong from history point of view.’"
My stranger in the tax smiled when getting off: "It was so good to meet you, I will include it in my book."
I waved to him answering: "Don't forget to call it the book about the Respect please."
After few hours I hopped in a taxi on Toronto to drive me to Scarborough where I was visiting a local school. The accommodation I booked there was very cheap on last minute and I had no idea what to expect. The bottle was thrown on our taxi when we arrived. It looked deserted until one drunk teenager appeared saying his mum runs this place but I can make myself until she arrives. The taxi driver refused to let me out and told me he takes me somewhere safe on his own expense. He drove me to a nice motel he knew the owner. The next day he came to pick me up to drive me to the next destination and he was happy I was safe. After I paid my fare this time he gave me a present wrapped nicely with departing words: "I know you told me you are not religious person and this is not a religious gift, just a reminder for you to stay safe on your travels and go in peace."
I thanked him and when he was gone I unwrapped the book, it was a tiny version of Koran with a tiny message scribbled on the inside with his old hand, we are peace loving people, please share it wherever you and go in peace.
At that time I realised I didn't know he was a Muslim, would I be more scared if I knew he was?
Later that day I was about to meet my friend and two strangers crossing Lake Huron and continue to explore what 'respect' means to them. My notes in my travelling journal remind me of that encounter:
On the ferry I meet an American man and a man from Iceland. I am from Australia and my friend from Canada. A nice bunch of people to ask what respect means to each of them. An American man tells us he is the member of the 'Proud Boys' from Texas. The members of his solely male group feel that male masculinity is threatened in America and so his group encourages males to be aggressive and show women their place. He is angry at feminists who wants to change the traditional order of working men and housewives undermining men and their role in society. He also disagrees with equal pay for women and men. The man from Iceland listens him patiently and then he remarks that Iceland is famous for the highest equality between men and women in the world and it does not damage his masculinity one bit. He is home dad looking after kids while his wife works. He remembers growing up with dad on their farm and his mum was also working to support the farm. His children visit kindergarten where they are unlearning the gender stereotypes. His girls are learning wood work and express themselves in Viking war games and his boys are playing dress ups and learn to cook and then they swap roles again. He has written a book about the respect of all genders in Iceland and now he is on tour with it. My Canadian friend talks about his Newfoundland upbringing where traditional roles of men and women are set in stones. He doesn't agree with the 'Proud Boys' agenda but also feels threatened by the modern gender swaps the Icelander mentioned. He wants to stay somewhere in the middle explaining that males have their roles and females have their roles and the both genders should be equally acknowledged for their roles without shaking up the balance. I talk last being a woman, smile I leave the boys to have their say:) I mention my own Australian politics who are overwhelmingly represented by angry white old men, the men of wealth and power who feel it is their right to rule and have their last say. Liberals or Labour Party, both proved to be corrupted and unstable. There are few women in leading positions and equal pay is not something politicians want to spend time to discuss. Apparently the 'Proud Boys' are coming to Australia too, my American traveller warns me so your Australian men are not happy either. I look at my fellow travellers and think about RESPECT. DID WE TRULY TALK ABOUT RESPECT? The departing words of our fellow Icelander proves me that we did: 'I am happy to live in Iceland knowing that is the happiest place for women to be, it makes me feel good as a man and it does not threaten me a bit. I am a proud man. I don't need to belong to the 'Proud Boys' group to prove it because RESPECT IS NOT SOLELY ABOUT ME. RESPECT IS ABOUT US NO?'
One day and three places and five strangers all different in their attitudes and place of birth. In that one day I have found more about the respect than I will probably discover in my lifetime.