Learning about other people often teaches us about ourselves. If our values and ways of life are never challenged, we will never learn why we believe in them. Learning about Kichwa culture has given me several insights into American values and way of life, and I think we can and should make some improvements.
#1 We are very individualistic
The American Dream lies at the heart of what defines America as a country. Most Americans believe in the American Dream, in which a hard working individual can create their own business, save their money, buy a nice house and be able to support a family. In the American Dream, you are the hero of your story. Lately, it has become clear that most Americans can’t do it on their own. The American Dream is getting harder and harder to attain. Jobs are changing and those who lost their jobs are not equipped to take the new ones. Furthermore, our country has become more divided because we see ourselves as different from one another. But as we realize that there are other countries and communities in the world, I think it will be easier to see ourselves as a team. I believe that now is the time for America to either let go of or modify the American Dream. We as a country need to start seeing ourselves as a community. In the Kichwa culture, there is an understanding that a favor asked is a favor offered in return. The new American Dream should be based on this notion of mutual respect and care.
#2 Money isn't everything
Ecuador is a country with a lot of corruption, and money can still go a long way, but in everyday life, money was not a central theme. More specifically, money wasn’t the holy grail everyone was clamoring to find. I think that in America, we put too much faith in money. We believe that money will make us happy. We believe that success means making money. Back to the American Dream, it is all about money, about having a house, a retirement fund, and a white picket fence. Perhaps worst of all, we teach our children to aspire to money making jobs. Instead of telling our children to be teachers or social workers, we tell them to be doctors and lawyers, or financial advisors once they know what that is. And as a society, we don’t respect and reward our teachers and social workers with recognition or good wages. We all hope that our children will have better lives than us, but better does not always mean richer.
#3 Stranger Danger is limiting
Don’t talk to strangers is good advice for a child, but for an adult, it limits interactions and opportunities to learn. One of my biggest regrets after being abroad for so long is that I didn’t feel comfortable talking to strangers. After doing a couple interviews for the magazine I was working for, I realized how much I could learn from having conversations with anyone on the street. In Ecuador, talking to strangers was a lot less intimidating than in America. Shopkeepers liked to talk about their lives, and it wasn’t uncomfortable to hang out with someone you just met. In America, this discomfort with talking to people we don’t know is a common feeling. People can live in the same city for years and not understand anything about what the other's life is like. If we could let go of our fear of discomfort, we would be a lot more knowledgeable about the world and about ourselves as a country. You don’t have to become best friends with a stranger, or even have more than one conversation with them, but what better way to learn about new things than to talk to someone who has a life completely different from your own?
Thanks for listening guys! Part 3 will be part self-reflection and part existential crisis. If you’d like to hear more about Kichwa culture, or share your thoughts on my thoughts, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.