Airplane Thoughts

When I flew back to the U.S. last week (a casual 26-hour trip) I watched two films that were drastically different and yet exactly the same in their messages. One film was called Human Flow by Ai Weiwei and the other was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, directed by Martin McDonagh. After I watched the first one, I cried a lot. And then I watched the second one and cried a lot too. And after I finished crying a lot, I thought a lot. 

What if we were raised in a culture of acceptance instead of in a world where “good” and “bad” and “right” and “wrong” are defined differently among people to the point where disagreement becomes disrespectful? 

I asked myself what it means to me to feel home in a place that was not always my home. I came to the U.S. seventeen years ago with my family, as an immigrant, and when I think about what that was like, and then I think about refugee families today and what it must be like for them, I feel so much pain. 

My wish would be for everyone who arrives in this country to find safety and feel home, but I know that not all do. I know that fear drives people to choose actions that are easily mistaken for reactions based on hate or judgement. But I also know that we, as humans, are inherently good, and that we are so capable of loving each other no matter where we come from. I know the latter is a stronger and better know, because that is the know that I lived. 

I arrived here at ten years old, and I felt accepted. I went to school and was approached politely by children wanting to be friends, despite the fact that my skin was darker and my eyes smaller. My teachers saw potential in me and guided and supported me genuinely. Strangers smiled at me and showed me kindness. Neighbors treated me as an equal neighbor. And it didn’t take long to feel home.

In Weiwei’s film I didn’t see much of my own story. I saw the version of mine that is a nightmare for me but a reality for others today. And no one deserves a reality like that. I don’t know the solution to the refugee crisis around the world, but I know what I can do and what I am willing to do. And it matters; small actions matter because in the end it is not about the action, but about the exchange between people.

After watching Three Billboards, I realized something that allowed for a new level of awareness in me: We need to get a head start in understanding and internalizing the idea that we are supposed to be in this together. That really is how simple it is. 

Both Three Billboards and Human Flow are talking about the same issue but framing it in different stories. In Three Billboards, the fighting parties come from the same place and are separated only by how they were raised and the roads between them. In Human Flow, they are separated by oceans and wars and cultures. Both are trying to tell us that we are separating ourselves from each other and it’s killing us. We’re nourishing hatred and bigotry and racism and ignorance and differences and we are choosing enemies in the people we share this Earth with. That’s not fair, and we have to fix it.

There is a quote in Human Flow that is important for the world to hear: “It’s going to be a big challenge to recognize that the world is shrinking, and people from different religions, different cultures, are going to have to learn to live with each other.” It shouldn’t be a challenge to meet our neighbors in the middle. It should be natural to our humanity.

In Three Billboards, Woody Harrelson says,Through love comes calm and through calm comes thought.” Love should be our first language as people. Love should be at the center of our existence, as individuals and as a species.

We are better than what we are doing to each other right now. We have to put it together, and we have to take it seriously. We need to choose love, and we need to choose it more often. 

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Meaning in Money

Last week in my pop culture class, we watched a documentary about production workers in China who made bead necklaces for Mardi Gras. It was called Mardi Gras: Made in China.

Basically, it exposed the working conditions of Chinese factory workers and their stories. Girls who did not get an education but instead go to find work in factories to send money back home to their families. Color-dyed hands and arms, burnt fingers, and other work-related injuries. Fast-paced and of high expectations in production, the work that is done to make Mardi Gras beads goes unnoticed.

The filmmaker would ask people at Mardi Gras where the beads come from, and most of them don’t know, but that is hardly the problem. The problem is that we–America as a whole–live in a culture where we spend money on and buy things that we use for a significantly short period of time. Meanwhile, workers in China work fifteen hour days of manual labor to make the Mardi Gras beads that get left behind on the streets of New Orleans every year, easily wasted and trashed.

They make $62 per month, doing the same thing every single day, 6 days a week, and get just a few days a year off to go home and see their families. During the film, my professor said that the factory reminds him of prison camps–small sleeping quarters, lines and formations, strict rules, silence.

At the end of the film, I made a decision to be even more conscious of my spending habits.

Let the things you buy mean something to you for more than a short moment. Let it last.

Don’t buy Mardi Gras beads to wear for the night, and then throw them away. Buy something that will last a little longer.

When the factory workers saw that people in America got beads by taking their tops off at Mardi Gras, they were mortified. They had no idea that that is what their full-time work boils down to: drunk people throwing beads at each other.

So next time–actually, every time–you make a purchase, ask yourself where this product/service came from. Ask yourself if it is meaningful and most importantly, how long it will be meaningful for.

I’m already a conscious consumer. I reuse until I can’t reuse anymore. I rarely purchase water bottles or one-time use products. But after seeing this documentary, I’m an even stronger believer in a conscious consumer culture. We need to be smarter about money. Save some, share some.

Late night gratitude

I don’t know about you, but most nights when I’m laying in bed trying to fall asleep, I think about a lot of things.

My current problems, what I have to do tomorrow, what the worst case scenario would be if my alarm didn’t go off and I showed up a few hours late to work, when I’m going to find time to catch up with an old firend over some lunch, etc.  All of those things and more.

Last night, a few of my girlfriends and I were watching TV in the basement when we stumbled across an MSNBC special about sex trafficking in Texas.  If you’re interested, you can find more information here.  I don’t feel that I need to explain what the show was about but let me just say that it was so real and moving enough to change my sleeping habits.

Well, when I was trying to sleep last night, I was having a lot of trouble because I couldn’t help but feel terrible for the girls I saw on that show–girls who were addicted to drugs and simply couldn’t find a way out of their situation, girls being forced and threatened to sleep with men for money, and girls are so desperate that $50 to sleep with a man is their idea of a living.

Instead of thinking about myself, I thought about them.  Imagine having to cry yourself to sleep every night because you’re trapped in a life you didn’t even know could be so terrible.  I really couldn’t help but think that there are young girls out there, just like me, who go to sleep dreading tomorrow.  I fall asleep every night in a queen sized bed surrounded by at least six pillows with the air conditioner running; there is a girl out there who falls asleep on the floor or a bed with no mattress surrounded by nothing but other girls in the same situation, all too afraid to run.

These thoughts literally brought me to tears, and after a little while, I came to believe even more just how lucky I am–and how lucky you are too.  I know that it seems as though our problems are life or death sometimes, but guess what?  Breaking up with someone, fighting with a friend, or not having enough money for that cool new Apple gadget that everyone else has are all such small prices to pay compared to living the nightmare that someone out there is currently stuck in.

Every night from now on, I refuse to think about my problems while trying to sleep.  Starting last night, I just thought about how lucky I am.  I thought about the beautiful day I spent by the pool with my friends, and how my biggest worry at the moment is that the remote for my stereo is out of batteries.

I woke up this morning feeling happier and luckier than usual–and I do believe that I have this new sleeping strategy to thank.  I urge you to do the same.  Skip counting sheep, and ditch your worries, forget your problems, and just remind yourself every night before you go to bed how lucky you are, whether it’s because of something as simple as being alive, or having a computer to blog on.

Life really is this simple: