Through the looking glass

Everyday there are constant reminders of the difference between how we are perceived and how we perceive ouselves, between one´s reputation and one´s self-image.

Yesterday I dropped into St. Gallen for a day of “Adam is good to himself today”.

Chatted with Starbuck´s colleagues, had a meal and a movie with my good friend Adrian, bought things I didn´t need with money I shouldn´t have spent.

Yep, not too shabby a day at all.

Three events within this day have got me thinking…

I spoke with Nathalie, my SB colleague.

Her brother Patrick is a genius in regards to turning electronic ugly ducklings into post-modern beautiful swans…

In other words, he creates on-line “images” that enable a person to present themselves in the best possible light.

This got me thinking:

How different are people´s ideas about me from the way I view myself?

Also at SBs I met, for the first time, my colleague Sonam´s friend Dawa, a very vivacious, intelligent, beautiful young woman.

She candidly gave me her first impressions of myself as being “funny” and “cool”.

This surprised me for my humor tends to be ironic and occasionally self-deprecating, while I always considered myself to be nerdy like the guys on the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory (minus their genius intellects) rather than “cool” like the Fonz on that very old sitcom Happy Days!

The third moment was seeing the movie Ted 2 at the Scala Kino.

It was my second movie in a cinema in the past two months (the other was Spy seen in Oxford).

Neither movie impresses one with great plot, intelligent dialogue or a positive image of Americans.

This morning, I crawled out of bed and looked at my unshaven, unshowered self and I pondered…

This is how I see myself.

What is it like on the other side of the looking glass?

Ute asked me this morning about last night´s movie.

Without thinking, I responded that it certainly gives a black eye to Americans’ image.

So I wonder…

Are movies like Spy and Ted 2 really how America sees itself or wants to be seen?

What follows is a paraphrase of Mark Hertsgaard’s The Eagle´s Shadow: Why America Fascinates and Infuriates the World

“For most people around the world, America is more a mental image than a real place.

America: a place that is very rich and shoots lots of guns –

It´s not the most sophisticated analysis, but it´s a fair shorthand for how the United States is seen by many people around the world.

Friend or foe, rich or poor, foreigners tend to fear America for its awesome military might even as they are dazzled by its shimmering wealth.

Americans see themselves as decent, hard-working people who wish the rest of the world well and do more than their share to help it.

They are proud of their freedom and prosperous way of life and they understand why others would want the same.

They would rather avoid foreign entanglement, but they will use force if necessary to oppose injustice and protect freedom for themselves and others.

They know they have their shortcomings like anyone else, but they believe they live in the greatest country in the world.

Foreigners aren´t always right about America, far from it, but neither are they just embittered fanatics, or jealous of American money, or resentful of US power, or animated by any of the other simple explanations that mainstream American pundits and politicians have advanced as substitutes for honest self-examination.

Most foreigners are sophisticated enough to see both the good and the bad about the United States.

Which is why Americans can learn from their perceptions, if they choose to.

Foreigners can see things about America that natives cannot.

If there ever was a time when Americans needed such perspective, it´s NOW.

To foreigners, there is no contradiction between criticizing the US one minute and praising it the next.

In fact, America´s dialectical qualities are part of what makes it so fascinating.

One way or another, foreigners can hardly avoid forming opinions about the US.

Wherever they look, America is in their face.

American movies, TV, music, fashion and food have captivated us, especially its most important export: its consumer lifestyle and the individualism it promotes.

The Internet, computers and other high-tech gadgets revolutionizing daily life all over the world either originated in the US or find their fullest development there.

America´s nuclear arsenal has held life and death power over humanity since the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

The US economy has been the world´s main engine of growth and innovation and it remains the “buyer of last resort” whose imports spell the difference between recession and prsoperity for rich and poor nations alike.

America receives a disproportate amount of coverage from news media around the world, reinforcing foreigners’ sense of living always in the eagle´s shadow.

Americans not only don´t know much about the rest of the world, they simply don´t care unless terrible events involving them force their attention.

Only 15% of Americans have passports.

Americans lack the sense, so common on other continents, that foreign peoples with different languages, cultures and beliefs live just over the next ridge or river.

Yes, the US shares borders with Mexico and Canada, but many Americans view their neighbours as honarary, junior Americans, welcome as long as they know their place.

(I grew up in French Canada and I rarely met an American tourist who attempted to speak a single word of French.

I remember having breakfast in a cafe in Quebec City and overhearing an American couple who when paying their bill asking the waiter:

“How much is that in REAL money?”.

For many Americans, money has only one colour: green.

For them, multi-coloured currency reminds them of the board game Monopoly.)

Americans have the franchise on pariochialism and self-centredness.

Problem is they are parochial and self-centred at the same time they are the mightest power in the world.

What their political, military, economic, cultural and scientific institutions do has a decisive influence on the lives of people everywhere on Earth, but “with great power comes great responsibility”.

Americans’ indifference to the world bothers me, because it seems wrong to have so much power over others and not care more about how it gets exercised or how this is perceived by the other six billion people who share the planet.

As a people forever fixated on the promise of a better tomorrow, Americans are barely familiar with their own history, much less anyone else´s.

If Americans want a healthy relationship with the rest of the world, they need to understand who these people are, how they live, what they think and why.

45% of humanity lives on less than $2.00 a day.

1 in every 5 human beings subsists on $1.00 a day, a level of poverty which makes hunger and illness frequent companions.

35,600 children die EVERY day from starvation.

With only 5% of the world’s population, Americans are responsible for over 25% of humanity’s environmental footprint.

1 in every 4 humans on the planet is Chinese.

Chinese outnumber Americans more than 5 to 1, but the average American consumes 53 times more goods and services.

In China, there is one car for every 500 people.

In America, there is one car for every two.

America may be protected by two oceans and the mightest military in the world, but as world events continually show they are not untouchable.”

More choices and challenges face us in a world that becomes more uncertain every day.

It is contradictory to be so powerful and yet remain so naive.

It is damaging to be ignorant of the rest of the world yet act in a certainty that you know what´s best for the world.

I am always so amazed when I think of my own travels in America how a country can be so open and generous yet have foreign policies that are so domineering.

Caring about the world is not charity.

It is in America’s self-interest.


One thought on “Through the looking glass

  1. I can t find an expression to describe how good your article is, indeed I got to agree, that you r right. The real power of America is n t thayer military might or thayer economical string it s actually more a psychological aspect they ve soled us quid a long time ago it is thayer brand and we bought it if we like it or not . The most powerful gun they ve got is Hollywood. Whiteout the movie industry America wouldn’t be what is today.
    There s just one huge differents between America and the rest of the world they buy theyer own poisen but the rest of the planet buys thayers …


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