Saturday, July 22, 2006

Back From Louisiana

We have this fountain at church.

(This isn't a non sequitur - wait for it.)

One of the ideas around this fountain is that congregants are encouraged to bring water back with them from their travels to add to the water already there; sort of a symbol of universality since, once added, the water can no longer be separated out.

My business in Louisiana took me to Grand Isle - about 50 miles South of New Orleans (as the crow flies) sitting on the Northern edge of the Gulf of Mexico - and I decided to fetch some 'Gulf of Mexico' water to add to the fountain. I parked my rental car close to the beach, took an empty water bottle with me, and walked to the waterline but the water was too shallow within arm's reach. I was just contemplating the logistics of removing my dress shoes and socks, rolling up my pant legs and wading out without benefit of a towel when a man with a Texas accent who was enjoying the beach with his family saw my predicament and offered to fetch some water for me. Nice man.

I explained why I wanted the water but either he couldn't understand my Canadian accent or didn't get the concept because he handed the bottle of water to me with an admonition: "Don't drink this now or it'll kill ya."

I love Americans. That's not sarcasm - I really do.

Sure, you could read a certain arrogance behind the assumption that I needed to be told not to drink salt water; but that's not what I focus on. The fact is that he volunteered to help me and, having done so, felt a responsibility toward my welfare.

At the risk of thinking in stereotypes, I do think that is typical of Americans and I think it often gets misunderstood. In their position of power (and hey, they are the most powerful nation on Earth) they have helped virtually every other country and it causes them to feel a sense of responsibility that may be mistaken for arrogance or even condescension. Really it isn't; it's genuine caring.

But when it is mistaken for arrogance or condescension, I suspect that many Americans feel unappreciated for the truly massive amounts of money, effort and time they expend for the sake of other nations. And they really do expend a great deal for others; I don't have hard numbers to quote but it is obvious that America expends more money, time and effort for other countries than any five other countries combined - no matter how you want to measure it.

We in the rest of the world often accuse America of failing to look at things from our point of view and there may be some truth behind that accusation. But if the rest of the world could just occasionally try to look at things from the American point of view maybe we would begin to realize that America is neither arrogant nor condescending but deeply caring.

It is a cultural characteristic of Americans that they care. And because they care, they help. And when they help, they feel responsible.

Maybe it's time we in the rest of the world tried to be a little bit sensitive to America's culture since we are always demanding that they be sensitive to ours.

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