Where are you from originally? Like every “visible minority” I’m often asked this rather ambiguous, and perhaps completely meaningless question. The reality is I’m not really “originally” from anywhere in particular. I had the very good fortune of being born to parents from opposite ends of the world, with distinct and almost completely different cultural backgrounds. One parent born in South America, another in Asia, both of whom moved to Europe when they were relatively young, and have now spent the vast majority of their lives in North America. My own cultural background is clearly a mix of things, but for all practical purposes – and as far as I’m concerned – I’m “originally” from Canada. But all that being said – who cares?
A wise friend of mine once told me he doesn’t believe in nationality or religion – that these were just completely arbitrary divisions created by man to divide people who would otherwise be completely equal human beings. While we are taught from a young age that everyone is equal and all people the same – the reality is that very few people ever have a chance to see this firsthand. Myself personally, as a child of parents from completely different backgrounds, I was never brainwashed to believe in one particular religion because everyone around me did, or that one culture was superior to another – because I was able to see first hand the benefits of different ones. Unfortunately most people in the world world do not grow up with the perspective this affords.
What you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am by myself. -Ludwig van Beethoven
A few years ago I happened to be in Las Vegas for the 4th of July, and like everything else in Las Vegas, the fireworks show celebrating America’s independence day was a spectacle to be seen. When it was all over, a woman beside me, caught up in the hype of the moment, shouted out “I’m so proud to be an American!”. Hardly an atypical thing to hear from an American – particularly on their Independence day – but what exactly did she mean by this?
Webster’s Dictionary defines “proud” as very happy and pleased because of something you have done, something you own, someone you know or are related to, etc. This is not a surprising definition and likely the context in which we almost always use the word “proud”. We’re proud we studied hard for a test and passed it, proud to have worked hard at the gym to lose 10 kilos, or proud to have helped raise money for a worthwhile charity. These are all accomplishments worth being proud of. Taking pride in your nationality however, or that of your parents, is like taking pride in buying a wining lottery ticket – it was simply dumb luck and you had absolutely nothing to do with it.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my travels over the years, it’s that while there are many exceptional people in the world, there is still an overwhelming majority of very average people – and I’m guessing the woman beside me in Las Vegas fell in to the latter category. When people have no other worthwhile accomplishments in life, they take “pride” in things that were arbitrarily thrust upon them – ie “pride” their nationality or religion.
Five minutes after your birth, they will decide your name, your nationality, your religion and your sect. You will spend your entire life stupidly defending things that your never chose. – Ziad Al-Rahbani
In the next few weeks I’ll pass my first million dollars in revenue for a company I started working on seriously about 3 years ago (a topic which will be the focus of my next blog post). Considering the growth pattern seems to be exponential, and that I work barely an hour a day, I can very confidently say my life has turned out better than I could ever have imagined. How fortunate was it that I was born in the western world – to have had such opportunities afforded to me?
Or was it? We are constantly brainwashed to believe – whether you are from Canada, the US, or anywhere else in the western world – that we are very privileged to have been brought up here. That we owe everything we have in life to the opportunities that were handed to us, as opposed to the ones we created ourselves. When people are not “originally” from the western world, a label is often attached to them to show the supposed handicap they had to overcome before reaping the benefits of the the western world – ie the first “Chinese-American governor” or first “Mexican-America” astronaut.
The reality is my own life drastically improved after I left North America. Engineering a lifestyle where you work 3 hours a week (take that Tim Ferris) is almost pointless when you live in a society where everyone works at least 40. Indeed I may have got to where I am in life in spite of being born in North America rather than because of it. Or more realistically, the country I am from may have had nothing to do with it at all – it may have been entirely to do with my own abilities and skills as a individual person. And yet we as a society continue to focus on where people are “from”.
Google Inc. is at the moment the most valuable company on the planet. Their current CEO – Sundar Pichai – was born in Tamil Nadu, India. A country that has a GDP per capita more than 30x lower than that of the US. How did this happen? Are our western values and culture not superior to theirs? Does this mean he overcame strife and insurmountable odds to accomplish what he did? Or perhaps we are not so fortunate as we are led to believe. Perhaps the fact that he wasn’t from a “privileged” western country is actually completely irrelevant and he was just a capable and accomplished individual. Maybe where people are from doesn’t actually determine their abilities and what they are capable of?
A friend of mine recently returned from a tour of North Korea and – although expected – was still amazed at how brainwashed North Koreans actually are. They are convinced they are the only “pure race” – that North Korea is the pinnacle of human society and that they are light years ahead of the western world technologically. They regard their “supreme leader” Kim Jong Un as a downright divine human being – single-handedly responsible for every industry in their country.
We laugh at, or downright pity these people for being so brainwashed. Meanwhile we ourselves share every article on Facebook that ranks Canada as one of the greatest countries in the world to live in, or Toronto one of the greatest cities. Is this behavior really that different? Perhaps people with no other worthwhile accomplishments in life – be they from North Korea or Canada or the US – need to feel like they live in the greatest place in the world to extract any value from their otherwise mundane lives.
We are so proud in fact, that we literally cannot wrap our heads around the fact that people would not want to come here. According to a recent Gallup poll quoted by the Washington Post, 6% of Syrians who were contemplating leaving their country chose the US or Canada as their desired destination. Six percent. 54% would rather not leave their country at all even if given the opportunity. This is a country that has been embroiled in a civil war for the last 5 years – one that has displaced over ten million people.
Only 6% would choose the US or Canada? How can this be? The Americas – particularly the US and Canada – are the lands of opportunities – the ones we’ve been brainwashed from birth to believe we should kiss the very soil we walk on just for having the good fortune to be living there. Surely we are the greatest countries on earth and everyone wants to come here? Is this not what we’re so proud of? How could these people not want to come here?
The sad truth is that the western world does not have a monopoly on pride. Virtually everyone in the world is (stupidly) proud of where they are from – including Syrians. The only difference between them and us is that we are so self-delusional that the fact that people did not want to come to the US and Canada was shocking enough to us to make major news headlines. I think even North Koreans would laugh at that level of brainwashing.
According to a new Gallup poll, a tiny fraction of would-be Syrian refugees say their desired home lies in the United States or Canada. The survey, which was conducted in January through face-to-face interviews, found that only 6 percent of Syrians who said they were contemplating leaving their country imagined North America as their chosen destination. –Washington Post
I had the opportunity to spend several weeks in Stockholm last year. By virtually every metric that we measure a society (particularly in Canada) Sweden seemed to be doing better than us – and this genuinely shocked me. Significantly higher minimum wages, lower crime rates, free post-secondary education, longer lifespans, ostensibly more open to foreigners and more tolerant in general. What shocked me wasn’t that Sweden had such a well functioning society – this is well known of all Scandinavian countries. What shocked me rather was how much this surprised me – how could there be a place that was better than Canada in so many ways?
But of course there were going to be societies in the world that function better than ours in Canada – we are only one country among dozens of other developed countries. It was at that point that I realized that as much as I might laugh at an American or North Korean for being brainwashed enough to think they are from the greatest country on earth, I actually was brainwashed to feel the same about my own.
I’m by no means trying to say Sweden is a superior country to Canada or the US. But they undoubtedly have aspects of their society that are simply functioning better than ours do. If we put aside our pride and and acknowledged this – that it is possible for other societies and countries to function better in many ways compared to our own – perhaps this would help us improve our own societies. Perhaps if the entire world did this – put aside their pride in their cultures, religions, and nationalities – and took the time to recognize the benefits of others, the world would be a much better place.
We are all human beings, and our nationality is simply an accident of birth. -Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan
Ultimately I don’t care what your nationality is, what your ancestry is, what your culture is, or what your religion is. These things are all meaningless to me. If one or all of these things are your main sources of pride – if these are the main things that define you as a person – all that means is you’ve actually accomplished nothing else in your life worth being proud of. Don’t ask me where I’m from, where I’m “originally” from, or where my parents are from. I am a human being, and my accomplishments stand on their own as a result of my own doing.
I don’t give credit to any culture, religion, or nation for my own successes or failures. When I do a good deed, I don’t do it to be a good Canadian, or a good Christian or Hindu or Muslim or whatever nonsensical religious beliefs you happen to have – I do it simply because I think it is the right thing to do as a fellow human being. My values come from my own life experiences – what I and I alone think is right and wrong – and not what I have been brainwashed to believe.
Appreciate the good fortune you had to have been born in a country without poverty and without famine. The sheer luck that you never had to experience war, or were never forced to migrate thousands of kilometers to escape persecution or even death. Be proud of your own individual achievements and the person that you are. But stop being proud of where you’re from – you’ve done nothing to accomplish it, and it makes you better than no one.