7. Success, Likes & Comments, and 3 Facts

I wasn’t thinking about this but it has just crossed my way and it has to do with cultural shock, maybe in a deeper way, since it has to do with a mix of emotions, perspectives, different realities and circumstances, failure and success and our notions about them.

Someone just posted a Lady Gaga’s phrase about perseverance and resilience, the importance of keep trying not matter what. Then followed by:
– 22.177 likes and hearts and happy faces
– 3 deeper reflections
– 1 person who noticed that Rocky IV had said exactly the same

What strikes me the most is 1 of these 3 deeper reflections. It says something like “I’m fed up with this First World piece of advice which doesn’t work at all in my underdeveloped country”. It sounds pretty resentful, and that’s not the best way to reach the “other half” (not real proportion, I know). But let’s not forget that resentment comes from somewhere, mostly from pain, and where there is pain there is something to be addressed. I have experienced myself and have seen others going through that feeling that says something like: ok, you are living such a different reality that you can not really get what our struggles are, the daily nuances and shades of feelings and small and huge frustrations they carry, the marks they keep eroding in our souls and bones. And I have also been on the other side, saying/feeling: I’m aware of my privileges, I’m trying to help, and this is not some kind of Suffering Contest, ’cause pain, loss, grief and struggling are common to any living creature, in any poor or rich country or position anyway.
Both are legit, and this is my 2 step cultural anti-shock way to bridge them:
1) So what?
2) Please, tell me more.

Step 1 means that, sure, we are all different, the world is not a smooth equity paradise, we can all have different perspectives and realities and circumstances that demand from us totally different doses of perseverance and resilience. So what? Should we just leave it that way? Do we need to fear or resent each other? What if we just listen, even when the other’s voice sounds resentful, or patronizing, or whatever. And here comes step 2: listen. Listen further. Deeper. Listen to more voices. Ask, think, re-think. And keep listening.

It has nothing to do with Lady Gaga or anybody who generously and openly share both their talents and struggles. It has nothing to do with perseverance itself, which is totally recommendable. But there are 2 tricky things about these partly true cliches:
Perseverance (read dreams, goals, motivation, mindset, will power, believing, etc) is super important. But it is not everything and it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is always combined with many other factors (both individual and beyond the individual) that weigh in both for failure or success. When people keep trying and trying and trying and it’s never enough, that signals a collective failure, where change is needed. And those people don’t need to be told to keep trying, neither to be sorry for, but their voices to be included in a deeper discussion about our collective failures. That is the other tricky thing: We are always listening to the same voices, the successful ones, accordingly to whatever we consider success at a given moment and place. And while many of them can be very good role models, and they may have very interesting and enriching perspectives, tips and experiences, there are still at least 3 simple facts:
1. There are other voices
2. Successful voices are not representative of the majority or the average, they are just more marketable and entertaining than statistics
3. The perseverant-still-not-successful voices are the ones that can point out where it hurts, where things are not working, where changes need to be made, maybe not where to get but where to start from.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like binary thinking, or that kind of zero sum games, as if things were black or white, or as if we needed to drop that in order to embrace this. I’m all for wider spectrums and richer combinations. And that’s what intercultural experiences are all about.
Let’s just listen to each other without any mutual resentments or prejudices, be happy for each other’s success, attentive to each other’s individual and collective failures, and let’s learn from all of it. That’s why I keep inviting you to visit, and specially to volunteer in my country, no matter if you are Elvis still alive or the worst failure on earth (impossible to measure, don’t worry).

The thing is that since success already gives you a platform from which to be heard, here I’m offering a platform to all the other voices: you are invited to share all your failure and struggling stories miguialoreta@gmail.com
We are listening. Thanks a lot.

3. Personal Space

In my 12 years working with international students, volunteers and interns, I found 4 major kind of “shocking” topics when visiting Argentina in this order of importance, beginning with the most shocking and mentioned:
  1. Personal space. Both physical and emotional
  2. Rules
  3. Ways of saying things. Speech and body language, timing, loudness and nicknames.
  4. Schedules

Lets start with number 1, Personal space. 
We are pretty physical and we tend to get closer, in many ways, than people from most cultures would: we kiss almost everybody for saying hi and goodbye, we get close to talk and when waiting in lines, some people even grab your arm while telling you something that doesn’t require that much attention, we stare at others on the street a lot, we share mate (local infusion) sipping from the same bombilla (kind of metallic straw), we ask personal questions to people we’ve just met, we tell anybody if we think they’ve lost or gained weight as if it was our business, some couples kiss in extremely noisy and enthusiastic ways as if “Get a room!” hasn’t ever been said on earth. But of course we avoid conversation and even eye contact on (in? at?) elevators, that’s global, isn’t it?

On the other hand, we can be pretty friendly, lively, warm and nice, open to talk and share and give info, we can joke and laugh about anything, our bonding is not yet that policed by political correctness, so you can feel mostly relaxed and refresh, when not invaded or harassed. You can always draw the line where it feels reasonable for you. It’s all about balance.
Let me tell you a story. The first time I received a foreign student in my apartment I asked her everything that came to my mind while sharing my proudly and happily homemade dinner. Like: where exactly are you from? do you like it there? why? how old are you? what are you studying and where? how is campus? do you have both parents? are they together? and siblings? how do you get along with them? do you have a special one? do you like animals? what do you think about your country’s foreign policy?
And then she asked me the only question I never thought about: “May I ask you a very personal question?”
LOL! I really laughed out loud when I realized what I’d just been doing and I found her even nicer when I discovered how gracefully she had been navigating these differences and how open she was when answering and how she kept her standards when asking. What a beautiful person she is. We shared one semester. I learned a lot from her: to be way more environmentally aware, to have a richer breakfast and having nuts for snacks, to cook carrot pies and make all kinds of huge salads. She introduced me to her lovely family when they visited, and also to an amazing volunteering opportunity and a nice wine bar in my own town. I started running because of her, out of curiosity after watching her returning home all red, sweaty and happy after her runs, saying “Hey! I have no idea why people here stare at me so much when running… But what beautiful parks you’ve got round here!”
A few years later I visited her and her husband in San Francisco. Then they visited me. And I still hope she will run for president some day.