Concluding Thoughts on Peru
I noticed immediately, the idiosyncracy that distinguishes the USA from Peru. It wasn't even difficult. All it took was a staple of our culture: semi-fast food.
I was at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, waiting for a signature. I'd come to expect that counter service at places like Cosi would be decent at best. Most of the folks that have taken my order there, at any location across the country, don't seem to take pride in what they're doing. The same goes at 4/5 similar establishments. The woman didn't look me in the eye and she stuck to the script.
This is worlds apart from Peru. The people in Peru don't stick to the script, they make mistakes. They look you in the eye, and they have sincerety in their voices when they speak with you. Of course, this might have been a product of necessity (since we were gringos and people could barely understand our spanish)...but I don't think it was. In Peru every meal was fresh and everyone seemed to take pride in their service. All places were slow serving and they had limited menus unless the establishments had obviously western influence. Often times the owner/proprietor would be sitting with guests and would come to check on us, greet us at the door and generally be visible.
The difference in food service between the countries indicates a lot. The difference indicates our priorities as cultures, I think.
Peruvians really seem to value relationships, quality and intimate person interaction. In the USA we seem to value choice, predictability and efficiency. Both campus are obviously legitimate, but different.
I think our cultures could stand to learn from eachother. Which is hard for us in America to do because of our status in the world. We lead many things in the world, so we don't always get to learn from the cultures we're influencing...but we must. We're certainly not perfect here, even though there's a tremendous amount of pragamatism and idealism in our culture.
But as much as we're not perfect, we are leaders who yield strong influence abroad. Our music, our language and our style is everywhere. Our instutiutions are ever-present: democracy, republican government, ESPN...whatever. The world is still watching us.
Because of that influence and leadership we still hold, at least in the cultural and political realm, even though we may hold less influence economically...we must use that influence and leadership for good. If we do something, the world will follow us. Because of that we have to live up to the idealized versions of our ideals. If we do not, the world will follow by not living up to high standards. If we do not, we won't be true to ourselves, either.
Though, I really feel we're having an identity crisis as a nation. We don't know what's important to us as a nation, which is scary. If we don't know who we are and what we want, how are we going to lead other, less prosperious or less established nations.
Here's what I think is most important. We need people to do an exercise like this...so we can figure out who we are. A lot of people (my parents included) have never really thought about these things. It's up to us now to figure it out.
Things that really matter - divided into 4 categories. I was kind of inspired by a comic strip in Neal Strauss's Emergency.
Sound Mind - This means education and lifelong learning. I think this also assumes that education and reflection can't happen when a war or violence is going on in once's vicinity. Finally, with a sound mind, engaging oneself in work that's challenging, meaningful and that profilerates the beauty in the world also applies.
Sound Body - This means treat your body well. Not throwing one's body into imminent unavoidable danger, exercising and having sex are all important here. It's making our physical surroundings habitable too...greenies, this matters to you.
Intact Spirit - Inner peace and making sense of God and his/her role in our spiritual and physical lives. Finally, trying to grasp our mortality. This obviously requires freedom of religion and an intense emphasis on fair, reasonable empathetic dialogue.
Meaningful Relationships - Having friends and family and spending time with them. Sharing life with other people. I think what also fits here is "befriending strangers" and helping people who need help.
To me, these things are what's most important...things that matter flow from these four things for the most part, I hope. I think Americans at-large probabaly share some of these ideas too. Regardless, I hope as a nation we can understand the things that are really important to us then govern ourselves in accordance with these aspirations, values and ideas.