The strangest things happen to writers. This morning, I woke up with an essay in my head:
I gave a talk to a bunch of eighteen and nineteen year-old students at the University of Washington earlier this week. None of them were old enough to remember a pre 9/11 world. They have never traveled without being stripped of their shoes and have never been able to blithely carry their green-apple scented shampoo onto a plane in their purse, or to bring on their own little bottles of alcohol and slip a whisky into their coke. They have always known we were at war somewhere. They have almost surely developed small uncertainties about the Muslim world even while they hold almost no issues about sexual preference or black skin. They know a world with more fear, war and mistrust than the one I grew up in.
I remember what it felt like to expect a better future. Not to fight an uphill battle by saying you expect one and trying like hell to be positive because it’s so much more useful than being negative, but to actually be positive and hopeful.
I’m traveling in Canberra, Australia right now. In January, I went to Bangkok, Thailand, and met people from many Asian countries at a conference about future technology in government. Although in slightly different ways, both Bangkok and Australia feel more “American” than we do now.
Almost all of the people I met in Asia live in rising economies. I’m pretty sure most of us would give our right arm to have the Aussie economy, which is booming with raw materials, rich in arts, and where the biggest problem seems to be the strong rise of the Aussie dollar.
In both places, the people I met seem happy and hopeful. They’re friendly in ways America really isn’t any more. Not blindly trusting, but I could leave my shoes on going through security and didn’t have to leave my firstborn to rent a bicycle yesterday. I could wonder around the Parliament building unescorted ,with very little security, and so could everyone else regardless of the color of their skin.
People in both places appear to believe in education, new forms of energy, conservation, science in general, and that the world of tomorrow will be better than the world of today.
If we don’t mange to make this shift, these other places I’ve been recently will be able to take advantage of a new and shiny future that we’re not going to participate in. They’ll be actors on the world stage working to solve climate issues and we’ll be sitting behind our lobbyists and chanting about drilling oil as if we were two year olds.
I’m not naïve enough to think these countries are perfect, nor blind enough to think the US is completely broken. They aren’t and we aren’t. But a difference in attitude makes a big difference in results.
I want America to feel more like we did before 9/11. Less fearful. More curious. More hopeful. More courageous. More educated.
Maybe we should all take a vow to take a class, to do one or two things to moderate our energy consumption, and to find even one way each to make our jobs or our schools or our kids stronger this year. The attitude shift we need isn’t 180 degrees. It’s maybe twenty degrees to the positive. We can do it.