Sitting on a beach in Hoi An on a beautiful sunny day. In between the abundance of tourists are dotted Vietnamese ladies of various ages hawking souvenirs. I’m thinking it sucks for these ladies that their daily life essentially involves trying to sell crap made in some factory somewhere to comparatively rich tourists in order to make ends meet. It’s not as if this is their own hand made stuff and they’re proud artesans doing their trade. You get those, for sure, and they’re better off financially and emotionally I bet. In general people who don’t own a shop or stall are relatively poor. And as I’m looking at these ladies walking back and forth approaching everyone in hope of a sale, I can see a few Western tourists playing carefree in the sea. Worlds apart in terms of their lives. And because neither speak each other’s language they can’t even talk to each other about their own lives. What’s more, tourists don’t all want to or care to know – after all they’re here to relax. And the ladies just want to make some money and probably don’t have the time to chit chat. So there remains a gulf where both people cohabit the same space without really understanding each other.
I start thinking about my own life. Both my parents came from poor families. And both were responsible for providing for their families once they were old enough. Through hard work and a bit of luck they’ve now got a comparatively comfortable life in the West. They’re not wealthy but its a far cry from their origins. But it could easily have been different and I could have been selling crap on a beach right now. Or I might not even have been born! Who knows. I’m very lucky to be here with so much choice in how I want to live my life.
Another traveller yesterday was telling me that she felt that her holiday her was good but not quite awesome because she couldn’t speak the language and was thus unable to converse with the locals and mingle with them in the way she had done in other places. I don’t miss those interactions the way she does but her point made me reflect that just about all of my interactions with the locals is wrapped in a seller-buyer context. Mainly because most of the locals I see or meet are there trying to sell something. The ones who aren’t at least give me a smile back. This sort of interaction probably isn’t going to change when I ge to Cambodia or Laos. But I’m feeling now that it would be good to get involved with volunteering somewhere to change this dynamic. I don’t want to always be relating to people just as a tourist or consumer.
Which brings me to a deeper thought about relating to people. I’m midway through reading the Moneyless Manifesto. In it the author argues that living without money has brought him closer (on a physical, emotional and spiritual level) to the people he interacts with. Because he doesn’t use money everything he gives to someone or does for someone is as a gift. And everything he receives is a gift. If you wanted to live without money in a community of like-minded people either you would have to barter (in which case there is still a transaction involved in your relationship) or gift each other whatever was needed out of a desire to purely give and trust that you will have enough coming back to you. The latter way is what would really develop the love and interdependency between people within community.
When reading this I realised that this is the kind of connection I want to have with the people I interact with in this world. But I’m not ready to start living moneyless-ly any time soon. So I try to be more open, show more kindness, infuse love and oneness into my ideas, my words and my actions. A smile here and there, a gracious thank you elsewhere. Small ways in which to deepen the bonds we humans have with the people in our immediate vicinity. But I know I can do better than this. What I create in this world and what I express to the world can help to encourage other people to bond with each other too. The way in which a book, a song or a movie could. For instance, if I decided to live moneyless-ly then I am helping to nurture such bonds between people in my immediate vicinity. But if I then communicate my ideas of living moneyless-ly to the wider world I am helping anyone and everyone who gets touched by these ideas to develop such deep bonds too. Thus my own work and the output of my work can have such an impact, especially given that I can channel my endeavours through the internet to as many people as possible.
For instance, I could build a computer game which involves being a military badass who has to kill enemy soldiers or I can build one which involves trying to run a democratic government to teach people how challenging it really is. I could work for a company which profits from war between people or for one which brings people together through communication technology whilst respecting their privacy. None of these examples are black and white. Everyone and everything has parts which contribute to oneness and parts which detract from it. Many institutions which start off with good intentions end up being self-serving. In some ways, as a Taoist philosopher might say, it’s not so much what you do but the way you do it and your intention behind it. Thus we have the example of the honourable soldier, trained to kill yet able to follow remain true to his conscience in crunch time. But even a soldier is subject to forces outside of his control, such as jingoistic commanders. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be a soldier, just that soldiers don’t really get to choose which wars they fight in and usually end up fighting a lot of needless, stupid wars. So inevitably they will either abstain from taking part or will consider it their duty to do what they’re told regardless of how they feel about it.
Looking at the world today I think that most people don’t think about how they’re expressing themselves in the wider world and what kind of ideas they’re expressing. Most people go for a job which helps them satisfy their goals and desires. This could be lots of money, a stable income to support themselves and their families, or even just for social status. Some people end up doing what they love, e.g. professional sports players and artists. Doing what you love is closer to expressing truth and beauty than doing something in order to gain status in other people’s eyes. But when you do something you love you again have a choice in terms of how you do it. You could cheat your way to the top with drugs or do it honestly.
How I relate to people is also to do with how my mind works. When I see someone black certain thoughts immediately pop into my head. When I see an Indian person different thoughts pop into my head. My view of other people I haven’t even met face to face is already coloured by my preconceptions, beliefs and life experiences. So if I really want to connect with someone I have to meet them without prejudice and simply be open. As if I’d just landed on the planet and had no preconceived notions to project onto the mental image my mind creates of them. This is hard to do because it first requires one to be aware of one’s thoughts about other people. And to have this awareness in real-time, i.e. in the moment when the meeting is happening. When I was meditating regularly last year I found myself able to be aware my thoughts with far more ease as my mind would be quiet for most of the day – this is one reason I intend to start meditating again.