Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lost in Translation...or maybe not.

I was at the head of the table, but out of the conversation.  It was in rapid Castilian Spanish, but I was picking a lot of it up, on about a 5-second delay.  I was keeping up enough to know that the conversation had now turned to the crisis in the Ukraine.  My host, who perhaps interpreted my mask of studied ambivalence (mixed with a bit of tiredness) as simply a lack of an opening for me to contribute, asked brightly, "Do you know what they are talking about?"  "Yes."  I blinked and added, "You know, I find more and more, in my old age, that I care less about world events outside of the country I am in."

(This was true.  It was my second day and I had been asking about the strength of Pajoy's center-right government and about the even louder noises about independence coming from Catalonia.  The editorial pages in El Paìs had been full of commentary on these matters.)

My host heard me, laughed, and translated for the elderly ladies who seemed interested in what the foreigner had to say.  As I saw their faces register slight surprise I realized just how stupid I must have sounded.  I wasn't sure how to rectify it, so I just chalked it up to a "loss in translation."  But was it?

Late that afternoon as I was attempting, somewhat successfully, to cut my own slices of heaven, from that culinary delight known as Iberian jamón, I asked my host about it.  She laughed.  "I must have sounded so stupid!" I exclaimed.  "But listen, I can't take it back.  I really don't care."

I get my news, as does most of my generation, from the social networks.  Facebook knows and has the news, from dozens of sources, before people start to chat about it.  I've spoken before of my dislike for listed articles, despite my profession which sometimes requires such work of me, but the summit (or perhaps the nadir) of this phenomenon was reached in articles like "Five things you need to know about the Ukrainian Crisis."  In rebuttal, here are my own five things I learned from that week:

1)  Most people, including most of my very educated friends, know next to nothing about Eastern Europe.
2)  Despite the fact that countries like Italy and Germany only came into existence after the War Between the States, people think of countries and borders as fixed and immovable when the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall have shown us that they are clearly anything but.
3)  There are still people, who despite the total disasters that were Iraq and Afghanistan, still think that the role of the US is to play world policeman.
4)  Whatever happens in the Ukraine will not affect my daily life one iota, unless I live in Russia, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, or Moldova (which I don't).
5)  The very fact that you are trying to "educate yourself" about "events" like the Ukranian crisis shows that you've bought into the bread and circuses of the 24 news media, which thrive on blood such as was so plentifully provided in this sitzkreig.

We spend the vast majority of our lives living under local laws.  But none of those local issues are particularly charismatic.  In the United States it might be a school bond here or a water board election there.  A sales tax increase.  None of these are exciting, but they are issues where you can make the biggest difference.

I lamented at the time of the 2010 Haiti disaster that it was ill-advised to donate to disaster relief.  Many articles at that time and more recently agreed.  Such an "indifference" stems from my desire to be effective in my daily life by focusing on what matters.  Before "informing" yourself so that you can have an "opinion" on the latest "crisis" based in a country you might not be able to find on a map, why don't you turn your attention to the things that affect you - and more importantly, that you can make a difference in.  If the whole world had that attitude, we might well see our countries regenerate.

Focus on what matters and what you can affect.  Ignore - or at least filter - everything else.  It's baggage you don't need and can't help with, and which ultimately doesn't matter.  They say you can't change the world, but if you focus on the morality of your everyday life, however mundane it might be, you just might.

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