When the Dealing’s Done
“When you fall into a pit, either die or get out.” –Chinese Proverb
As I write this post following several months of consciously avoiding expressing what has been on my mind, a government shutdown looms in America which may result in the furlough of approximately 800,000 federal employees and the closing of national parks, museums and offices providing valuable public services. The social and economic toll of this shutdown will be widely felt. Tens of thousands of federal workers and service providers may not receive their paychecks during this time. Popular destinations like the Grand Canyon and the Smithsonian will be empty at the height of the tourist season. And, if you tally up the federal workers and private sector employees who will be directly impacted, we’re talking about a million lives- and salaries- being put on hold indefinitely. Simultaneous to this fiasco, the U.S. is spending $4 million a day on the war in Libya- add that to the more than $1 trillion in military spending in Iraq and Afghanistan. And yes, America may be closed but the wars will still go on.
If you are an American or you read the news, I do not have to tell you how bad the situation has become. You probably already know that nearly 25 percent of children in the US today live below the poverty line. And, I’m sure you realize that the jobs data isn’t quite right and that actually, one in six Americans are under- or unemployed. You’re likely aware that homelessness is rising at an alarming rate, that millions can no longer afford a roof over their heads and that massive numbers of students are graduating college with tens of thousands of dollars in debt and no job prospects in sight. It’s all extremely depressing news, particularly since there are few solutions on the table and the federal government doesn’t seem to give a damn. After all, they’re too busy bickering with each other while entertaining their deep-pocketed friends on the golf course. Perhaps you feel that I’m being cynical but I’d say it’s a pretty fair assessment.
Since I launched this blog, I’ve tried to highlight positive aspects, ideas and solutions in the majority of my posts. And, I’ll forever encourage people to seek out new experiences, learn new languages, experience different cultures, and see the world. After all, that’s why I began writing here in the first place- to share my insights as an adult “trans-culture kid” who has spent a chunk of the last decade living in and learning about East Asia. However, I am first and foremost an American with deeply-rooted sentiments about my homeland, due in part to the political and military narratives in my own family tree and the persistent childhood dream that I would one day be President (as well as a poet, veterinarian and hairdresser). Therefore, I am keenly aware that the bonds I have to the land of the free and home of the brave (right?) are, in many ways, unbreakable. With that stated, I’m going to offer a little advice to those of you who are in a tough transitional period that seems like it does not have an ending in a country that is being decimated by incompetence, greed, petty politics and the resulting apathy. As I type this, I am specifically thinking of many young people who cannot afford higher education in America or who cannot find a job in their field or who are about to lose the roof over their heads. So, here’s my actionable two cents: either become a REAL catalyst of change and devote yourself to helping your homeland and its citizens OR leave for a while. Get out. For many, this situation is kind of like being confronted by the bully on the playground all over again. You can fight, or you can walk away.
So, you can move to another country. Learn a new language. If you have a degree or a valuable skill that’s going to waste, find a place that could use your expertise. If you can’t afford college in the U.S., look at some of the great programs abroad in countries like Singapore or Australia or, heck, China. Go teach English somewhere. Lawyer or M.A. out of work? Many companies overseas would be happy to have you. Volunteer for a year or two with an NGO. Entrepreneurial? Find out which countries are entrepreneur-friendly and in need of your type of business. Or, just load up a backpack and travel. You can trek the world for next to nothing if you’re willing to get your hands dirty along the way. I recently met a guy from New York in Singapore en route to Poland by land who was doing just this. Incredible. Life-altering. While you’re abroad, you’ll have the rare and precious opportunity to show new friends that Americans aren’t all reality television stars or Wall St. crooks or gun-toting gangsters. You may even be able, in a very small but meaningful way, to repair some of the damage caused by endless, brutal wars. If this sounds like the option for you- learning and living in another land for a while- there is always a way. However, if you’d prefer or need to stick things out at home, the best thing you could possibly do is fully embrace the power of voice and choice that comprises the unique American spirit. After all, it is your country.
“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”
– Thomas Jefferson