The Gift of Perspective

This is my fourth post for the Your Turn Challenge.

Status of my goals:

  • Marathon: Back on track. I completed yesterday’s run this morning.
  • Two Square Yards of Earth: Behind schedule. No change since yesterday.
  • 100 Posts: Behind schedule. This is my sixth post for the year, of eight planned by the end of this week.

I took a cab home from the airport this afternoon, and I had the good fortune to ride with a chatty gentleman from Ethiopia. During a ride of almost thirty miles, he and I talked about a number of subjects, most touching on his home, and I learned a few things about him:

  • His home is near the border with Somalia, but Somali terrorists don’t come into Ethiopia because Ethiopians are armed.
  • His sister is a champion runner, and wealthy because of it; apparently, one of the reasons Ethiopia produces good runners is because it rewards them richly for success.
  • He is an accountant, but has been in Dallas for a little more than four years; I don’t know whether he’s been driving a cab the whole time.

My favorite exchange with him, though, was the brief time we talked about politics. I don’t normally enjoy talking about politics; most of the folks I have occasion to talk with are either on the far right or the far left, and unwilling to consider that a point of view different from their own might be just that rather than wrongheaded or crazy or stupid or corrupt. I find such conversations tedious and unproductive, and avoid them where I can.

My conversation with my cab driver, though, was different because he provided me with a perspective I don’t often hear.

He talked about people protesting when President Obama came to town, and about a heckler interrupting one of his speeches. He told me the president of Ethiopia is a multi-billionaire, and explained in his broken English that protesting against or heckling the president in Ethiopia could get you shot.

“You have real democracy here,” he explained to me.

Now, we can debate whether that statement is true. We can talk about whether our government is corrupt, or out of touch with most of us, or uncaring, or beholden to big business and special interests. But very few people in this country would take it as a matter of course that protesting or heckling an official–any official, up to and including the president–would get them summarily shot.

Because for all our flaws (and we have many), we haven’t given up on the idea that we can be better. From top to bottom, the overwhelming majority of our people still believe a two-hundred-plus-year-old document is more important than any of us, and we’re not afraid to demand our leaders act accordingly.

We disagree, and we don’t kill each other over it. We oppose each other, and no one gets hurt. We change our head of state every four to eight years without a shot fired.

It’s easy to forget how unusual that is in the world when it’s the reality we live every day. This man gave me the gift of perspective to help me see what I already knew.

I choose to be grateful for the reminder.

I've been a soldier, a dreamer, a working stiff, a leader. A husband, father, example (good and otherwise), and now a survivor. I write about courage, because courage is what enables us to accomplish the impossible. If you draw breath, I love you. If you love in whatever way seems best to you and want others to love in whatever way seems best to them, I am your ally. If you believe someone is less than you because they do not love the way you do, I oppose you. If you see someone as a threat to be abused or destroyed merely because they do not look like you, or love like you, or worship like you, I am your enemy. I am a joyful and courageous man. And I stand with you who love.
  • Thanks for the reminder of the incredible freedom we enjoy – so easy to take it for granted.