A Lesson on Looking

Michael Stivers - Brazil


October 18, 2010

Amid this plethora of new cultural nuances I have had to reach out, grab, and make my own, language has been the most difficult. Although I saw this coming, it’s still not something that can be prepared for…not even with Rosetta Stone. Most times this is beyond frustrating. To not be able to convey a thought, an opinion, or just to crack a joke takes away a huge part of an identity. So instead of exhibiting who I am through my words I’m forced to observe what’s around me and do so quietly. It has actually been quite the refreshing experience.

As a mere human tendency we are very fond of sharing what’s on our mind. In the words of U.S. Training Institute guest speaker Gavin White, “we talk so that others will listen.” Unfortunately a byproduct of this is that we forget how much we stand to gain by just shutting up. Knowing I had no method of verbal communication I had to resort to
mere observation. In order to understand this dynamic culture, I had to recognize its actions rather than hear the words of its people.

So what have I learned so far? Well there is a stunning gap in the distribution of wealth, the education system is seriously underdeveloped, and the American definition of poverty is wildly different than that of Brazil’s, to name a selective few. Now if you’re thinking that I could have read all of this information in the New York Times or seen it on CNN, well you’re probably right. I don’t know if I would have truly understood it though. To see an elderly man sleeping on cardboard, right outside the entrance to million dollar ocean-front apartments speaks for itself. To have the outstretched arm of a hungry child inches from my face makes me realize something; how can we expect starving children to attend school five days a week?
When I used to hear the word “poverty” I would think food stamps, welfare checks, and long hours at minimum-wage jobs. Now when I hear this word I envision that disheveled man I saw outside those apartments or that skinny child with clothes two sizes too big for him. Now I’m not only thinking about the substance of what I’m learning but the methods in which it’s being transmitted.

All too often in the society of creative learning when we hit a road block we revert back to our traditional view. We assume that intelligence comes from textbooks, research papers, and lecture halls commanded by highly accredited professors.  We don’t realize the real world that goes on around us, a world that we might come to understand
just a little bit better if we would well…look at it.

Michael Stivers