One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.
~ G.K. Chesterton
I want to share with you an event in my life that I believe has helped shape me into the person I am today. After being a somewhat indifferent person for many years over world events, the nationwide tragedy of September 11, 2001 helped me to discover the importance of staying connected to the world around me.
One year after the attacks on the World Trade Center, an Englishman very causally said these words to me, “Welcome to the world.” His remark came right after I had voiced my sorrow about the tragedy, and the fact that I use to live in New York City. I’ve had thoughts about whether or not I sat next to some of these people who died tragically on 9/11; the World Trade Center was one of the stops by train made on my way to work.
His words seemed cold and callous to me, delivered as they were by a foreigner. He could sense my apprehension by the delay of my response to his reply. After a short pause he proceeded to explain to me what it was like to live in Europe all your life, where terrorist attacks have been more common; especially the attacks of the Irish Republican Army on English targets. We were having dinner together, discussing a business venture and my relocation to England, a prospect I was very excited about.
After the reality of what the rest of the world had been enduring for some time was brought to my attention, I slowly realized that I had not been very global in my thinking all of my life. I had become accustomed to thinking only inside the parameters of the North American continent. My thinking was isolated geographically, and so was my awareness as to the rest of the world’s troubles.
For example, upon hearing that there was an earthquake somewhere, the thought would immediately send worry and fear into my consciousness. But upon hearing that the tragedy was somewhere in a remote part of the world I never heard of, a sense of relief and detachment would enter my mind. As if the tragedy was less a tragedy because it didn’t happen on American soil. Pondering it now, I can clearly see the callousness in my thinking.
A few months before my meeting with the Englishman, my company had informed me that they choose me over twenty-two other people to live in England for while they attempted to merge with a German company. The Englishman, Tony and I, were to attempt to sell our American and German hydraulic systems to the English manufacturing industry.
I moved to Manchester, England in January of 2003. This was at the time when our then President George Bush and the Prime Minister Tony Blair had been contemplating an invasion of Iraq. Talk of war was in the air everywhere I went, pubs, restaurants, museums, you name it! By March of that year the invasion was underway.
Being an American abroad at this time was somewhat challenging. I soon discovered that Americans are not so well liked in the world. On a trip to Venice, Italy for my birthday, I befriended some Canadian backpackers who told me point blank that if I wanted better treatment in Europe I should tell people that I was Canadian; they weren’t joking.
Upon my return to Manchester, I was nicely asked to leave a pub by a concerned patron who calmly explained that some of the other patrons are not fond of Americans here, and that in interest of my safety I should go elsewhere. On the whole, the English were very upset with Tony Blair’s siding in with George Bush. In fact, everywhere I went, after it was discovered that I was an American, the first thing they wanted to know was whether or not I was a supporter of George Bush and the war in Iraq. Luckily, for me I was not; this helped ease some of the tension.
Another thing I noticed while frequenting the many pubs in England, was how well informed the average Englishman is in regards to world politics. Everywhere I went, everyone one I talked too, from cab drivers, to constructions workers, to pub owners, I was continuously amazed and humbled by their grasp of world events. I on the other hand felt like the “ignorant American”.
Eventually my time in Europe came to a close and I was sent back home, but home now seemed somewhat different; actually I was different. Living in England was truly a humbling experience. Before I left for Europe, I was a lot less concerned for the cares of the world. I could very easily be described as the indifferent and self-centered American who just wanted my cable and big screen TV after a hard day’s work. I grew up during the 1980’s when that type of attitude was prevalent, especially among my generation. Upon my return home, I found myself paying closer attention to the BBC, as well as global news on CNN. I no longer shrugged my shoulders upon hearing of tragedy in foreign lands. I stopped feeling any sense of entitlement just because I was lucky enough to be born in the Land of the Free. Living in England made me feel part of the global village, a citizen of the world so to speak, where all human life was important and deserving of the highest consideration, no matter what barriers might have been artificially created either by me or anyone else.
~ John Andrew Dorsey