Pride, Dignity, and Humility
Spending time in Mexico has offered an enlightening view of our own nation and people in juxtaposition. Oaxaca is not a wealthy state, but it is rich, particularly in cultural heritage, natural beauty, and human goodwill. I have come to love a lot of things about this place and people, but the first is the respect the Mexican people have for each other, demonstrated dozens, if not hundreds of times a day in the way they greet one another. On the street, in shops, in the subways and buses, strangers as well as neighbors say (translated), “Good day, how do you do?” The response is usually, “Very well, thank you.”
I stayed at a modest hotel on the Pacific coast in a small village that caters to an even mix of tourists and nationals. The hotel, like almost everyone I met, was not only lovely, but humble.
Humble is a dirty word in the USA, often equated with poor. Mexican humility can be best described as unpretentious. I enjoyed many conversations about the recent and regrettable political developments between our countries, and found that taxi drivers, bellhops, shopkeepers, and gardeners have not only a good understanding of our politics (“Your electoral college does not seem to serve the people’s will, or do its job correctly; why don’t you abolish it?”), but demonstrated a surprising lack of judgment about our choices. They were surprised at our sudden willingness to send all the migrant farm workers, maids, nannies, and landscapers home, and, presumably, pull the plug on our kids’ Playstations and give them the jobs that until now we considered beneath us, but they did express some hope that honest hard work might help our people regain a certain sense of dignity and pride.
Pride is not a dirty word in the USA, only we have a self-inflated understanding of its meaning. We are proud of our affluence, proud of our military might, and, presumably, proud of being the greatest country in the world. The problem is, affluence is meaningless without generosity and charity, military might is moot in a world rocked by the chaos of terrorism in it many forms, and we are not even close to being the greatest country in the world. We are something like 30th in the world in infant mortality, and 20th in education, although we spend more per capita than any other nation on healthcare and college tuition. It’s hard to be proud of those numbers, and hints at why we are number one in per capita use of painkillers.
The pride I am talking about is more personal. It is the pride of doing an honest day’s work, of paying our debts, of producing something beautiful; pride in your community, and how clean your town’s streets are; pride in your family, and how lovingly and respectfully they treat one another. When one has enough of this kind of pride in life, one lives with dignity.
When we live with dignity, however humble our circumstances, we can finally be satisfied with the size of our automobiles, televisions, and egos. The real measure of humility is in our ability to listen to another’s point of view without judgment, and respect that person, even if their views differ greatly from our own. Recent developments in our nation have forced me to admit to my own shortcomings there.
Our new President has fired numerous ill-considered potshots across our southern border, but he has not been able to tarnish the remarkable pride, dignity, and humility of the Mexican people. All he has done is damage our own, which were already in short supply. While we seem to be headed in the wrong direction, riding the coattails of the most megalomaniac leader since Napoleon, they seem to have struck the perfect balance of these essential human qualities.
If you are fortunate enough to travel to Mexico, keep your heart and mind open. We have a lot to learn from those proud, humble, and dignified people.