Unsettling Times: A Troubling Transition

These are unsettling times. In an optimistic light, we are merely in the midst of a transitional period in which the old ways of doing things are being disrupted and rejected. From a more pessimistic outlook, we are sliding into decline as a great nation, we are saddled with a huge national debt, and the future belongs to China. Yet the path forward is still in an amorphous state.

01 CBS News

CBS News

Before envisioning future scenarios, it is important to look over our shoulders at the past and examine why the traditional ways are being so soundly rejected.

Since its birth, the national narrative of America has been firmly planted in the traditions of the European Enlightenment. The principles of an open society, democracy, freedom of speech and religion, individual rights and dignity, fairness and justice, checks and balances on governments’ authority, scientific reasoning, and a free-market economy have been entrenched in the psyche of the American citizenry. A civil war was fought partially over these principles, and the U.S. and its allies struggled against totalitarian fascism on the battlefield during World War II. Although imperfectly realized, these principles have been the backbone of American society. The struggle was to perfect the principles, rather than reject them wholesale. 02 American Progress, John Gast.jpg

Often called Liberalism (not associated with the Democratic Party), Enlightenment principles have frequently clashed with religious conservatives’ beliefs. This uneasy tension has flared up at different times in U.S. history, but generally the Enlightenment narrative has held, as most people have prospered under its banner.

But the Enlightenment narrative, or Liberalism, has been attacked from multiple sides in recent years, and it seems to be splintering more and more each day. Many factors have caused this disruption; I will highlight a few in this blog.

Reasons for the Splintering of the Enlightenment Narrative

1) The government’s guiding of the economy, put in place during the Great Depression and World War II, promoted fairness and opportunity for many Americans. This government policy has been steadily lifted. Now government policy promotes a neoliberal economic model. In this model, policy favors large corporations and the wealthy, while ordinary workers have experienced stagnant wages and fewer benefits. 03

2) The government has pushed economic globalization, in which American workers compete with workers around the world, and companies have outsourced jobs to lower-wage countries. Although about 20% of Americans have profited from this move and the 1% at the top of the wealth scale have done exceedingly well, the remaining 80% of Americans have lagged behind.

3) Sweeping technological changes have disrupted traditional workplaces and companies, again resulting in skewed income distribution to the top earners. Many workers have not kept up with the changing skills needed in a highly sophisticated technological world. 04

4) Differing social values have frayed the nation. For example, at some universities, angry students have denied speakers with different political beliefs from giving speeches. Protesters have shouted down those with whom they disagree. The Enlightenment principles of free speech and rational discourse—the cornerstones of universities—are being challenged. These principles have been under assault by some people at universities for a couple of decades, as some believe they reinforce white privilege and existing power. 05 (1)

5) Highly partisan media outlets have given voice to angry citizens, whose rantings have created a spiral of anger, disenchantment, and demand for change. Conspiracy theories go uncontested on national media platforms and are believed to be true by gullible followers. In many venues, the Enlightenment ideals of reasonable inquiry, civil discourse, and the hearing of all sides of issues have been eroded and replaced with “alternative facts” and outright lies.

6) Disquieting social changes have left many people alienated, depressed, and prone to addictive and destructive behaviors. The social fabrics of American life that have given people stability and order—churches, extended and nuclear families, neighbors, civic organizations, and workplace connections—have frayed, with disastrous results. The epidemics of opioid addiction and depression are a visible reminder of a tattered social fabric. 06 (1)

7) The consumer culture implicitly promises to bring happiness and fulfillment to those consumers who willingly participate in the ritual of shopping. Yet after decades of these promises, and after much consumption, most Americans are not happier. Since the American economy runs on consumerism, this is a paradox that is not easily reconciled.

All of these factors, plus many more not mentioned, have contributed to the uncertainty that is sweeping America, along with other countries around the world. Most politicians seem to be clueless about where we are headed, let alone how they should guide us in this time of uncertainty. 07 Fall of Berlin Wall, 1989

The giddy times after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, signaling the end of Communism in the former Soviet bloc, have resulted in disillusionment. The promises of a neoliberal economic order and democracy, which would improve the lives of Americans and people around the world, have given way to increased authoritarianism and disappointment. Instead of euphoria at having more consumer and entertainment choices, many citizens feel alienated, frustrated, and betrayed by their leaders.

Toward a New National Narrative

The Liberal or Enlightenment narrative has been rejected by many people and has evoked lukewarm support from others. Universities, the former bastions of Enlightenment ideals, have been tepid in supporting this narrative.  Stepping into the national narrative void is populism—on both the right and left of the political spectrum. During the 2016 presidential election, there was a loud rejection of the path the country was taking. Many people called for a political revolution, or they wanted to “shake things up.” Never mind that it was uncertain what things would look like after they were shaken up, or after the revolution took place.

Can populism become our national narrative? What would the narrative be on the political right and left? Would there be any compromises? What would bind Americans together?

This is the first article in a series of three dedicated to America’s national narrative. The next blog article will look at populism as the new national narrative—on the right and on the left. In the final article, I will offer my suggestions for what I think will be a more sustainable, reasonable, and pragmatic national narrative.

questions-to-consider

Questions to Consider

  1. Do you see evidence in your own life to suggest that Enlightenment ideals are being eroded?
  2. Do you think this is a good or bad development?

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator and president of the nonprofit Center for Global Awareness. The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

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Seeing Diverse Perspectives

The 2016 presidential primaries and general election in the United States were a showcase for seeing events, issues, and people very differently. Not only did the candidates see things differently, but the electorate did as well. The mudslinging, vicious attacks, shouting, pronouncements of greatness, inappropriate behaviors, and clever manipulation of facts that took place reflect something deeper than a candidate trying to win an election. They reflect diverse ways of understanding and interpreting reality.

There were very few words of wisdom uttered to reassure the electorate and make people feel connected as Americans, let alone connected to the global community. If this raw wound is left open without some kind of treatment, these misunderstandings can cause irreparable damage to our democracy, and to open society.

The earth-shattering event of the 2016 U.S. election—as well as many other recent events—has inspired us at the Center for Global Awareness to channel our decades of educational experience into encouraging greater understanding of the differing viewpoints around the world. The program we have created, Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, is a conversation and study program of self-organizing groups of concerned citizens. This program uses a holistic approach called SEEK—See, Evolve, Engage, and Know—to study and talk about issues. Participants go beyond learning information to seeing different perspectives, evolving compassionate attitudes, and actively engaging in creating positive change.

I will explain the See Dimension in this blog article. 06

We define the See Dimension as the skill to view a concept, situation, person, or group from diverse points of view. We see global topics from a wide range of perspectives. The limitations of an individual viewpoint become clear when events seem incomprehensible. Why, for example, are many countries in Europe lurching to the political ultra-right, or why is the Middle East in a cauldron of discontent and uncertainty?

The See Dimension is about understanding that each one of us filters events, issues, and people through particular lenses or perspectives, which shape our interpretation. We would need to understand over seven billion different lenses to accurately comprehend how each person sees the world—an impossibility, to be sure. Added to the complexity is the fact that each person has multiple lenses that act as filters to reality, creating even more confusion and misunderstanding. It’s a wonder that we can get along at all! 07

CGA encourages us to take a big-picture look at the See Dimension. We will have to be comfortable with many generalizations in order to communicate about this vital-but-slippery concept. But we must also realize that below the generalizations are real people facing real anxiety and uncertainty. As a nation, we seem to be missing the point of what unites us. We have elevated the tools and techniques for dividing, condemning, differentiating, and attacking each other, but our toolkit for understanding, compassion, and empathy is at an elementary level. It is far easier to attack and belittle than it is to support and nourish. It is far easier to dismiss the opinions, hopes, and fears of others than to reach out to understand them and relate to their situations, or feel for their plights. The art of negotiation and compromise has given way to standing for our principles in a stoic way, without acknowledging that compromise is crucial in every moment of our lives. 08

We think it is essential to include the See Dimension in our Gather program for an adult audience. Adults have more varied life experiences and will be able to quickly grasp the concepts and appreciate the benefits of integrating it. The See Dimension has been developed to try to make some sense of the multiple perspectives that are expressed by each person. Although the different “modes of seeing” we explore in the See Dimension will not give a complete picture of reality, as this is impossible anyway, its purpose is to give an overview of several different lenses through which reality is perceived.

09 The notion that we are rational creatures who objectively analyze information to arrive at the “best” solution has given way to the reality that we are complex humans with hundreds, if not thousands, of different lenses through which we perceive reality. I believe there is an urgency to connect with our fellow citizens locally, nationally, and globally in order to further a more democratic, equitable, and peaceful world. We believe that understanding and practicing the See Dimension in the Gather program can contribute to realizing this goal.

questions-to-consider

Questions to Consider

  1. Have you ever encountered a person with a different perspective from you on an important issue? How did you handle it?

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator and president of the nonprofit Center for Global Awareness. The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

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The Great Cultural Divide: Bridging Differences

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

The presidential election of 2016 may seem like a distant memory. But it was instrumental in exposing simmering cultural, social, and political divides that have been bubbling underneath the surface of American society for some time. I found that I too, like the majority of Americans, had been living in a bubble, and I really didn’t understand the other sides of America. 01

During the long election cycle, I was fixated on learning more about what I call the “cultural divide.” By this I simply mean the ways in which different segments of the American population see the world very differently. It is as if different groups of people each wear glasses with different lenses. If a person were to share her glasses with a person in an opposing group, that person would have a blurry, unfocused vision of the world.

This division is tearing the U.S. apart and has dire consequences for our fragile democracy.

The divisive 2016 election confirmed my intention to start a new program, Gather, the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, at our nonprofit organization, the Center for Global Awareness. The purpose of the program is to provide books and resources to encourage participants to see different perspectives, know about pressing global issues, evolve compassionate attitudes, and engage with others to create positive change. I believe that an answer to our incivility is to support small groups of concerned citizens who gather together to help remedy deep cultural divides. Perhaps that is a lofty goal, but it is, I feel, a worthwhile one.

Effective communication, understanding, and empathy are essential to healing the cultural divide. For many years, I have done work in promoting cross-cultural understanding among different cultural, ethnic, and national groups around the world. I now feel that these cross-cultural skills are desperately needed to better understand our fellow citizens and heal divisions in the United States.

I find that some of the most intense divisions today are cultural divides between the citizenry of rural/urban, college-educated/non-college-educated, and white/people of color. President Trump was able to speak to the white, rural, and non-college-educated voter in ways the college-educated, elite media were unable to understand. Instead, they wrote off his message as ignorant, racist, misogynist, and homophobic, among other judgmental attacks that fed into more divisiveness. 02 Trump Campaign 2016

Part of our Gather program involves telling our own stories and seeing different perspectives. In keeping with this goal, I thought I would share a story with you of how I imagine my extended family may have seen the election of 2016. Perhaps you have relatives or friends who are members of a different political party from you, and you will find a resonance in this story. Here goes….

During the presidential campaigns leading up to the 2016 election, the fierce political divisions in this country were being played out in my extended family as well as across the nation. As a lifelong Democrat, I had an inkling of possible trouble for Democrats during a conversation with my cousin in Rockford, Illinois. Her two sisters, my cousins, were voting for Donald Trump. I was perplexed. They had always been committed Democrats, part of the large swath of blue-collar working-class men and women in the Midwest who had been hard hit by economic globalization and technological change. Why were they switching to this untested candidate?

03 Rockford, Illinois

Rockford, Illinois

My extended family in Rockford, where I grew up, was typical of the movement of people to large industrial cities in the Midwest after World War II. Almost all of my family moved from the bogs of central Wisconsin around Tomah to Rockford, to work in the mass-assembly factories that desperately needed unskilled workers. My father was among them. I grew up in a world of the working class; my father and extended family firmly held working-class cultural values. My working-class roots are still with me at a deep level.

04 Rockford factory

Factory in Rockford

Our family’s cultural values were a mix of tribal affiliations, reliance on one’s own intuitions, and fierce pride. “Book learnin’,” as my father described it, wasn’t all that useful. “Your gut” would tell you the best way to make decisions, and it was best to follow it. During his campaign, Trump said he followed his gut; he didn’t rely on experts or data to drive his decisions. Clinton, on the other hand, had a squad of experts and data crunchers. Trump’s gut instincts seemed to win him the admiration of the working-class people who processed information the same way.

An article in The Atlantic by Salena Zito resonated with me: “When he makes claims like this [on unemployment figures], the press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” My family communicated with each other through story, hyperbole, and humor. We told long stories, often repeated, with vivid descriptions of long-ago events or relatives living and departed. Our stories were laced with exaggerations—even outright lies—but we didn’t take them literally. I remember once correcting my father, who was the master of clever tales, on a particular part of his story. I was told, “You just read too many books.”

Trump’s exaggerations and vivid symbols, such as building the wall, would resonate with my family.

My friends, colleagues, and I were appalled at Trump’s scandals and treatment of women. But in my family, scandal was part of the colorful stories we told. Since so many of us had made mistakes and exhibited scandalous or inappropriate behaviors at one time or another, that was largely considered part of life. We didn’t judge these behaviors to be reasons for rejection from the family. I was not surprised that Trump’s scandals were condemned by the voters, but did not preclude their voting for him.

Our extended family had many of the characteristics of a tribe. We stuck together, helped each other, and were leery of outsiders. My grandmother had few friends outside her family. When I was a youngster, my friends were my cousins, and I didn’t venture outside that cocoon until high school. Trump was able to create a visual family, with his bright-red baseball caps and assorted paraphernalia, which proclaimed allegiance to his tribe and membership in the Trump family.  05

Many pundits were perplexed about why Trump, who was a New York billionaire, resonated with white working-class people. My family admired family members who made lots of money but were still “one of them.” One of my cousins is a multimillionaire but still comes to funerals and family reunions. This act is always greeted with words of appreciation and comments such as, “See, he’s still family.” Trump wore expensive suits, but his signature accessory was a baseball cap. He still fit in. Even though his language and demeanor had an air of superiority, he still resonated with his supporters. It was a validation that they were part of his community: one of wealth, glamour, prestige, and accomplishment. They were part of “Trumpland.”

I find these cultural differences fascinating and a key to better understanding a shocking phenomenon: So many working-class people disregarded the “hard, factual data” showing that Trump’s policies would not only not help them but would actually make them worse off economically. And yet they voted for him.

If we are to connect with people outside our inner circle of identity politics, we need to be able to reach out and understand “the other.” For years, the college-educated, myself included, have wanted mainstream white America to understand “the other,” those from other cultures and minorities. Perhaps it is now time to reverse the roles, and for the college-educated, the media, and other “elites” to be the students and learn that white working-class America is not monolithic. It does not uniformly share cultural norms and values. Their culture is different, varied, and worth learning more about. If we are to get past throwing disparaging accusations of racism and misogyny at groups of people, and if we are to more deeply understand who they are, then we will have a better chance of advancing an agenda of greater economic justice, peace, sustainability, and inclusiveness that translates into a greater political stability.

The progressive Democratic left often boils down the cultural divide to economic issues. Jobs are the answer to all divisions. The 1% are causing all problems. I don’t dispute the fact that economic dislocation is a huge factor in swinging the Rust Belt to Trump, but I also think that cultural factors are at work in this disconnect.

Until we are able to more effectively communicate with and understand each other, distrust, hatred, and further divisions will continue and intensify.

questions-to-consider

Questions to Consider

  1. Have you experienced the “cultural divide”?  If so, what is your story?

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator and president of the nonprofit Center for Global Awareness. The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

 

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Selling in a Globalized World: Observations during Travels to Puerto Vallarta

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Marketing companies have not been blind to the attachment people have to getting a good deal. They have devised an untold number of gimmicks to attract susceptible people to their marketing matrix. Marketing was in full display during a trip I took to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with my son, daughter-in-law, her mother, and a friend. 11

Upon exiting the airplane at the airport, I saw that we would be the object of intense marketing efforts. Swarms of people descended upon us. “Swarms” is not a very nice term to describe the marketers, since they were trying to feed their families and make a living in a globalized economy dedicated to the highly competitive tourism industry. But it was hard to see each person as an individual with unique wants and needs, when all I wanted was to be left alone.

After we escaped the crush of salespeople at the airport, the marketer groups seemed to re-form at the hotel before we could even get checked in. Before I knew it, my son and daughter-in-law were sitting on a couch in the lounge with a person selling discounted prices for massages and a “romantic dinner.” All we had to do was attend an hour-long presentation the next morning about saving money on resort vacations, and a highly discounted massage package would be ours. None of us could resist the temptation, so we signed up for an 8:30 a.m. presentation.  12

Once we had finally checked into our rooms, safe from the crowd of marketers, we decided to take a walk along the inviting beach stretching out before us. After passing by booths of hawkers plying our sensibilities, offering tours to exotic locales and death-defying adventures, we finally reached the glistening ocean. A soft breeze lured us to walk along its shore. But to my surprise, the marketers were lining the beach with horseback-riding treks, trinkets galore, and excursions in watercraft ranging from expensive sailboats to boats that were barely seaworthy. No peace. 13

Puerto Vallarta marketers have refined the art of selling. Since tourism makes up 70% of the town’s economy, and many of the jobs require training, skills, and a rudimentary knowledge of English, those with little education or technical skills must compete with each other for the tourist crumbs. So those at the low socioeconomic level have few options other than to develop their marketing skills, attempting to snare customers who succumb to their persistent tactics.

I find it particularly troubling that many people have to be reduced to survival marketing. Eking out a living at the lowest end of the marketing food chain hardly makes for a viable way of life. It appears to me to be degrading, frustrating, and unsustainable. The way the globalized economy is structured, many people are reduced to such a status. I question whether moving from the countryside to the city is an improvement in the migrant’s way of life. Although farming is a back-breaking occupation, it still gives the farmer dignity and productiveness.  14

When I felt annoyed by the marketers I encountered, I decided to step back and turn my annoyance toward not the individual marketers but the bigger picture. Our modern, globalized society is built upon consumerism as the engine that fuels growth and the continuation of the economy. Consumerism is primary and built in. Thus, at every level of society, marketers are on the loose. From Carlos Slim Helú, the sixth richest man in the world, making money selling cell towers in Mexico, to the gentleman trying to sell us discounts on resort vacations around the world, to the women trying to sell trinkets on the beach, to the man with a stall of Mexican handicrafts, all are participants in the marketing game.  15

Truth be told, I am a marketer too. I am trying to sell the Gather program to adult learners and students and educators. I am using this blog as a forum to show my expertise about global issues, with a goal of persuading people to sign up for Gather and buy a book. Although I may think my aims are more virtuous than those of the guy selling trinkets on the beach, others might not agree.

Nevertheless, I hope that by reflecting deeply about the structure of our economy and how it holistically ties in with the rest of society and who we are as a people, we will pause to consider the type of society we want to forge in the future. Do we really want the whole world to be one big marketplace, each of us reduced to selling our own “product”?

As I walked along the beach in Puerto Vallarta and admired the natural beauty of the ocean, beaches, and wide-open sky, I was comforted by nature’s enchantment. The marketers seemed far out of sight and mind as the waves lapped against my ankles. Then I turned the corner, and I only smiled as a marketer said to me in broken English, “Lady, you want to buy some jewelry? Only $1.”

Indeed, marketing is never far away.

questions-to-consider

Questions to Consider

  1. In what ways are you a marketer?
  2. Do you want the world to be one big marketplace, all of us selling our own “products”?

For more on the global economy, see Dr. Ames’s book The Global Economy: Connecting the Roots of a Holistic System. The global economy will also be one of Gather’s conversation topics, starting January 2018.

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator and president of the nonprofit Center for Global Awareness. The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

Posted in Global Community, globalization, travel, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What Happens When You Meet a Whale?

By Nancy Harmon

Last spring, I made my fifth trip to play with grey whales in San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja California, 500 miles south of San Diego. In previous blog articles, I wrote about the thrill of making contact there with the giant grey whales and their calves, the unique ecology of the area, and the awesome example of eco-tourism at the eco-resort Kuyima, where life is basic and simple, resources are used thoughtfully, and the footprint left behind almost seems to disappear in the sand. Over the years, one of the best parts of the trip for me has been watching how people react to this incredible experience. IMG_0083

My husband always says that when I returned from my first trip with a friend, I was “glowing.” Whatever that means, I know I was awed and humbled by watching as these great creatures approached our small boat full of humans and hovered playfully, mothers in the background and calves swimming up to us and frolicking, close enough to even be touched. I wanted to share the experience with everyone I knew.

Humans had brutally hunted these creatures until 1947, and fewer than 70 years later, they were approaching us and wanting to connect, for reasons we could only guess. At one point this year, we had three mamas and three babies surrounding our boat. The water was churning with tails and fins and huge submerged bodies, and yet we weren’t frightened. It is still a miracle to me. IMG_0082

When you look at the faces of people as they first encounter the whales, you can see without a doubt that, at least momentarily, it is a kind of transformational experience. Some gasp in amazement at the first sighting, some sit in silent awe, some have tears in their eyes, some send up a silent prayer of thanks. By the time the boat heads back, everyone is grinning and babbling like a five-year-old. No one is sheepish about having spent the last couple of hours trying to attract the whales by singing the first verse of every song they can remember, leaning over the side of the boat and madly splashing water or calling in baby-talk voices, “Come see us, sweet baby.” We’ve all done it, and we’ll do the same thing the next day. IMG_9930

We have now traveled down to this lagoon over five years with more than 60 fellow travelers as part of my husband Roger’s Worldviews 2000 travel business. Each time, we have experienced a sense of peace and wonder after contact with the whales. The experience runs deep for most people, and over the years we have heard many responses.

One year at Kuyima, we met Oscar, a Spaniard who had found Kuyima by chance while traveling. He was now employed at the resort. Oscar had been working for a large company, planning development in the Arabian Gulf region for seven years. After discovering time and again that his carefully laid plans for thoughtful, sustainable development had been ignored in favor of huge profits for multinational corporations, he realized his were just token efforts, and he had pretty much wasted those seven years. Still, quitting a job with a good, steady paycheck was a tough decision, and he left feeling discouraged, hopeless, and scared. He set out on a journey to find himself and his future, and he stumbled upon this lovely part of Baja. We met him at the end of his two-month adventure at San Ignacio, looking happy and healthy and eager to return home. Even though he hadn’t figured out the rest of his life yet, he said the whales had taught him that his next job would have to be something that supported all of life on our fragile planet, even if it meant less money. IMG_0366

Another year, we traveled with a couple who had just become grandparents for the first time. Pamela said that trying to explain the experience with the whales was like explaining what it was like to hold her baby grandson for the first time. Later on in the trip, she dreamed that she had placed that baby in the mouth of a mother whale, who received the child gently.

My friend Amy traveled to the lagoon with us last year. One evening during the trip, we were discussing the Islamophobia surrounding us today. She described it as a fear of the “other,” strangers who are different from us and whom we have yet to meet. But, she said, when you’ve looked into the eye of a whale with such a huge, intelligent brain and marveled at how they bring their babies to meet us even after being hunted almost to extinction, you realize what we have to learn from them: that in order to make peace with the others we fear, we need to approach and meet them with open hearts and hands, offering what we have.

My favorite lagoon legend is about the time in the 1980s when Mitsubishi wanted to expand its salt-processing plant in the nearby town of Guerrero Negro into the salt flats near San Ignacio Lagoon. Local fishermen feared that silt from the process would pollute the lagoon and eventually block the whales’ entrance from the Pacific, and they were very against the development. They invited the president of Mexico at the time to bring his wife and children down for a trip out to see the whales. They were out on the lagoon for several hours. Upon returning to land, the president assured the fishermen that there would be no expansion of the salt plant. IMG_9943

I often wonder what a trip to meet the whales would do for some of our politicians in Washington who want to take away environmental regulations and get rid of the EPA. All who have visited the lagoon with us have returned home with renewed awe and reverence for the diversity of life and the beauty of our planet. Richard Louv writes in his book Last Child in the Woods about how in the 21st century, our children (and probably most adults) suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder”: too much time in front of screens, too little time out in nature, where we experience the wonder of this precious planet and are moved to work to protect it. These whales are the best cure for Nature Deficit Disorder that I can think of.

questions-to-consider

Questions to Consider

  1. Have you ever experienced eco-tourism? If so, how would you define it, and how is it different from other kinds of tourism? If you haven’t experienced it, look it up on the Internet, and discuss with your classmates how it seems to differ from traditional tourism.
  2. How much time did you spend exploring natural places outside when you were a child? Are things different for children today? Do you agree with Richard Louv that time in nature is important for children? Why or why not?

The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

Posted in Global Community, Nature, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Meaning of “All-Inclusive”: Reflections on a Trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

By Dr. Denise R. Ames

What does “all-inclusive” mean to you? To me, all-inclusive means embracing diversity in cultures, people, and thought, but that definition changed when I went on a long-weekend vacation with my son, daughter-in-law, and friends to a resort in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It was an all-inclusive-package vacation. I had never been on this type of vacation before, so I was eager to find out more about it. 06

Because I would not be constrained by my pocketbook, would I feel compelled to drink to excess in order to get my money’s worth? Would I feel obligated to try every desert on the menu? I felt a little uneasy about this abundance, since I do better with known limitations. For instance, if I don’t overeat, then there will be more food available to feed the world’s hungry population. (It works only sometimes.)

All-inclusive is, indeed, an all-you-can-eat-and-drink extravaganza. Thankfully, I was able to restrain myself. It helped that my daughter-in-law proclaimed that she and my son were not going to take too much and leave food on their plates. (My son sullenly agreed to this limitation.) But did other people feel less constrained, and did the tendency for humans to engage in gluttony prevail at this all-inclusive resort? Would my optimistic view of humankind be permanently distorted? 7

Actually, I was pleasantly surprised that the excesses seemed minimal. Sure, there were drinks left untouched by the poolside, and plates with leftovers after the buffet was over, but they were not as extreme as I had expected. Although Mexico now ranks as the second most obese country in the world—after guess who?—at least Puerto Vallarta has a ways to go before catching up to the USA in this category.

This encounter with excess and all-inclusiveness leads me to a bigger point. Excess has become part of our globalized culture and society. Excess is profitable: It can be commodified and transformed into profits for all those in the economic maze, such as corporate bundlers who slice and dice travel experiences into neat packages and products to sell to an eager public. My family and I were the affluent global citizens who were bombarded with images of pleasure-consuming excesses, such as a buffet laden with a cornucopia of food delights. 8

“All-inclusive resort” is code for indulge, satisfy every whim, and we were given permission to do just that because we were on vacation. A vacation is a time to get away from the everyday work world. After all, the messaging from marketers is that “we earned it,” which actually is another clever way to get us to consume more.

I probably sound judgmental in making this proclamation. I often think I am a hypocrite for participating in the globalized mass consumer culture while also critiquing it. Although there are other options, such as ecotourism, they are more difficult and expensive to procure than the globalized mass consumer culture, which is readily available and mass-marketed. It is hard to compete with the slick brochures and carefully honed messages of sheer pleasure that lure tourists to consume globalized products and experiences. 9

As I write this blog, I reflect on my experience at the all-inclusive resort. Of course, I had a wonderful time with my family. But the good experience was not that of indulging in every excess of food and drink. Rather, it was being with family and friends, and sharing with them the experience of enjoying nature’s beauty and splendor.

I remember that as a child growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, many of my vacations consisted of going to a cabin somewhere in the woods, surrounding a lake with a host of extended family members. I am sure my grandmother organized the trips; she was the queen of keeping the extended family together. One of the more exotic trips I took with my extended family was to Canada. A native guide took us all out, from the elders to the toddlers, in a flotilla of small boats to fish. It was so exciting to catch our own fish, which our guide cleaned and cooked for us. I still remember how delicious it was. In the evening, my dad would make a campfire, and we would sit around it, telling stories and roasting marshmallows. The accommodations were always very basic—there was an outhouse, not indoor plumbing. The women brought homemade food or cooked on the open fire. Although it may sound rather idyllic, and I know there were frictions among family members, it certainly made a favorable impression on me as a young child. 10

But many of us have lost touch with constructing experiences with family and friends that don’t ravage the environment and cost bundles of money. Perhaps as some of us shift to a transformative worldview, we can transform the word “all-inclusive” from the mass-marketing of consumer excesses in a confined setting to an experience that includes positive human sensibilities, such as connecting with family and friends and communing with nature in a less consumerist way. 11Our family relations and the environment would welcome this change.

 

questions-to-consider

Questions to Consider

  1. Think about your favorite vacation. What made it special?

Find out more about the transformative worldview in the book Five Worldviews: The Way We See the World, by Dr. Denise Ames.


Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator and president of the nonprofit Center for Global Awareness. The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

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A Good Deal in Resort Land: A Family Vacation in Mexico

By Dr. Denise R. Ames

I want a good deal! That’s a mantra that many Americans live by. I have to confess, I am one of those people too. Sales always get my attention, special deals catch my eye, and something for nothing piques my interest. My husband always points out when I am in the getting-a-good-deal mode, and I always reply, “Oh no, I’m just being frugal.” It sort of irritates me that he can see a certain behavior in me that I want to disguise as something else.

A game show called Let’s Make a Deal has had a long television run, since 1963, and captures the human attraction to the spirit of deal-making. The US president, Donald Trump, prides himself on what he considers his deal-making skills. Deal-making is truly a popular behavior, and it is needed for the globalized economy and society to function. But I am making the case that we have been conned by the whole notion of deals and sales pitches. We need to step back and evaluate that experience.

On a trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with my family to celebrate my son and daughter-in-law’s tenth wedding anniversary, I really zoned in on what the true meaning of sales and deals is. The resort business in the region has captured the American penchant for sales, turning getting a good deal into an alluring art form. 1

The salespeople have to present a carefully honed image of the commodity they want to sell. Once the image has been determined, tactics are judiciously used to convince the buyer to purchase the commodity. A slipup either way—that is, being too aggressive or too passive—will result in a lost sale.

Since Americans are stuffed to the gills with material objects such as jewelry and clothes, personal experiences are emerging as something new to add to the cornucopia of saleable delights.

Americans love to be pampered and made to feel special. At a resort, the spa is the perfect encapsulation of the marketing of pampering. Spa packages are promoted at every turn, with a relaxed (usually beautiful) woman enjoying spa-going bliss. In fact, the spa concept is so enticing that a resort can be built around this image alone. Needless to say, we all indulged in a luxury spa package. I have to admit, it was delightful.

Another great deal that the resort we visited promoted was the discount resort vacation. Whole groups of salespeople were on hand to sell the concept of purchasing discounted travel packages for resorts around the world, especially the Caribbean and Mexican regions. Getting a good deal on the package was at the forefront of the sales pitch. Even before we checked into the hotel, a friendly salesperson approached us with refreshments and told us about his product. A few of us decided to see what he was offering. We ended up getting a good deal on a city tour and spa package.  2

One of the ways in which a different, and also very nice, travel-package salesperson worked to entice us was by comparing our accommodations with those of the more upscale hotel adjoining ours. My daughter-in-law, ever frugal, had purchased the low-end resort package. Touring the more upscale accommodations showed us that, indeed, our hotel and its services were subpar in comparison. Suddenly we were pointing out the miniscule defects in our hotel and its services. We wanted, at least, a better view of the ocean and faster drink service. We even noted that the people in the upscale hotel looked more relaxed and happier than the people in our hotel! 3

Although we never had any intention of purchasing the travel package, we found ourselves swept along by the sales pitch. Finally, the head of sales joined us at our table, which was laden with tropical drinks to get us to agree and sign on the bottom line. I wondered how we’d gotten this far.

When the costs and terms were finally presented, they were so complicated and opaque that we knew who was going to get the good deal after all. We all politely declined the offer and stumbled off to our inferior hotel accommodations. But we had, in our happy little hands, prized vouchers for a discounted city tour, a spa package, and a romantic dinner by the ocean for the anniversary celebrants.

4

Afterward, when our brains’ “getting-something-for-nothing mechanisms” finally cooled down, we reflected a bit on the sales pitch we had just endured. Our accommodations were fine; we had just been tricked by our own delusions into making comparisons that didn’t really matter. We’d been pulled in by the prospect of a deal. Marketing firms design ways to prey upon our fragile egos, with the goal of getting us to gladly part with our hard-earned money—all for the illusion of seemingly worthwhile products and experiences.

I would like to share with you the lesson I learned. Making a seemingly good deal is so entrenched in the inner workings of the modern globalized economy that we need to be ever vigilant about falling into an enticing trap. 5The resort experience, with its endless food and drink and spa indulgences, can feel very shallow after a few days. I was happy that I was there with my family to make the experience one of meaning and enjoyment.

As I was walking along the beach outside our hotel, I noticed a large Mexican family having a picnic on the beach. They had endless stacks of coolers and picnic tables covered with food. 6Children played in the sand, while the adults laughed heartily. They didn’t have to participate in the globalized economy or buy a discount resort package in order to enjoy their family, the day, and the beauty of nature stretched out before them. Truly, it’s a lesson to remember!

 

 

 

questions-to-consider

Questions to Consider

  1. What “good deals” have you had lately?

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator and president of the nonprofit Center for Global Awareness. The Center for Global Awareness develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for adult learners and educators. In January 2018, the CGA will launch the Global Awareness Adult Conversation and Study Program, or Gather. In this unique program, adult learners form small study groups to launch conversations about pressing global issues, seeing different perspectives, transcending deep political and cultural divides, and engaging with others to create positive change. Please email info@global-awareness.org or visit www.global-awareness.org for more information.

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