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During my career as a software developer I have done a bit of traveling. I have been to several countries in Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific. The one thing I have learned in twenty-five years of trips outside of the United States is that the stereotypes given to people are generally wrong.
I wrote an article about the friendship that I found with the men and women of UK’s Royal Navy. They are great people but it wasn’t only them. I found friends in the UK citizenry; people from different walks of life that want no more out of life than peace and happiness.
When I was in Spain I spent a day at the beach with a fellow from the Spanish Navy and his friends. We had a good time in spite of the language barrier. I remember a young girl running up and jumping into a lady’s lap. The lady tickled her and then they bantered; the girl saying she was ugly and the lady saying she was beautiful. When the girl left I asked the lady, with some difficulty, what relation she was to the girl. She told me that she was her teacher. That was a pleasant surprise and probably not a scene that would be repeated in the United States. These were real people enjoying a beautiful day with no thought of international differences.
In Italy I was able to travel around the country a bit. I wrote an article about visiting my ancestral home in the town of Maida in southern Calabria. In my travels I was helped with translation by my friend Rich McNamara. It was quite funny at times. Here I am a very Italian looking fellow and we would go into a restaurant and the server would naturally start talking to me in Italian. I would just stare not knowing what to do and Rich would jump in and explain that I didn’t understand Italian. Here was this very Irish looking guy explaining in fluent Italian why the Italian looking guy didn’t understand a word he or she said. It usually brought some good laughs from everyone.
In Sicily we would go to this seafood restaurant called Dodo’s. Dodo was a big jolly fellow who served a wide variety of seafood including a steamed octopus that looked alive on the plate. I’m not big on venturing too far out of my food variety so I was shying away from the offerings. Dodo asked what was wrong and I had Rich explain that I just didn’t eat most of the things served. Dodo went in the back and whipped up a plate of pasta for me. He was another wonderful fellow that I met in my travels.
In the Middle East I must confess I didn’t reach out quite as easily. I did go to the markets and I wasn’t met with angry looks for the most part. I talked with people when I could. Yes there was tension and mistrust but it was equal on both sides. It was more fear than anger, but when you look at a person, and it is one on one, most people are human. I believe that in time we can get past are problems. We have to realize that both sides need to change
When I was wondering around Tokyo some high school age kids asked me if I needed help getting around. It turns out that they wanted to practice their English and thought we could help each other. They actually got on the subway with me and didn’t leave me until I got to the museums I was looking for. They were great kids.
The world is full of good honest people. There are some differences that are very difficult to overcome but we must realize it is the differences we have our problems with and not the people. We have different ways of thinking and we have different belief systems. We must understand different does not mean better or worse
Humanity has an “Us versus Them” attitude built into it; it is part of the instinct to band together for protection. There cannot be an “us” without a “them.” There cannot be pride in “us” without thinking we are better than “them.” These are the notions that keep us apart. These are the notions we must outgrow. You can be uplifted without keeping someone else down. You can be proud of your way of life without thinking it is better than another way of life. You can worship in your own way without insisting that others worship exactly the same way.