Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Year Resolution - Part 1

This New Year’s day I was invited to a brunch where I didn’t know too many people (Champagne brunching followed by some passing out drunk on the beach is quite the holiday tradition ‘round these parts, especially for us ‘Holiday orphans’, that is, expats who can’t go home and have to contend with each others’ company on the island for the festive season).

Anyway, I had absolutely no intention of opening my mouth and causing a stir (as opening my mouth inevitable does). I just wanted to talk weather and enjoy my mimosas in peace and goodwill. Alas, the Universe had other plans.

I’d just finished reading The Wal-Mart Effect (as you faithful blog readers know), and, with the most innocent of intentions, I started telling my (one) acquaintance at the table about it since we like to talk non-fiction books. My friend is a successful business entrepreneur, quasi venture capitalist, and free market theory is God to him, so he had an opinion on the book I’d just read. As part of some good-natured brunch banter, I opined back, and then a few other people joined in, and before I knew it, Middle East politics were dragged into the fray and “just out of curiosity, where are you from?” popped up.


There were two running jokes at the table, the first, that I consciously tried to hold my tongue under the pretext that my new year’s resolution is to stop shouting politics/economics at people during civilized gatherings (but it was hard to quell the steam rising out of my ears), and two, I kept referring to this one guy arguing with me ‘sir’ which someone else at the table finally called me out on: that my ‘sir’ was disguising some seething contempt. Humph. In my defense, A) I’d never met the guy before in my life, and B) He looked like he had children my age (okay, okay, small children. I still have to remind myself I’m not fifteen anymore). I thought ‘sir’ was appropriate (and maybe just a teeny little bit contemptful… whatever).

Anyway, the point to all this is that it was brought up in this discussion, as with most others I’ve had, that people feel like I know a whole lot more (and am biased, but that’s a whole other post) on some topics that they do, some even admit that you can never know a whole lot just by watching CNN or Fox News, and that molding miscellaneous factoids into an argument that makes sense is either a talent or a product of the mystical “knowing a whole lot”.

It’s really not all that complicated. Maybe I am n fact biased here, because I am, first and foremost, a reader. I think to read is to be curious about life, people, everything around you. And whether you like it or not, you’ll learn something. True, knowledge without wisdom can be dangerous, but lots of reading = lots of knowledge + time = some wisdom, a little bit at a time.

There are no absolute answers in life, people (as in, Is Wal-Mart evil?) but there are connectors in our brains, and the more we read (it’s hard for TV to do this unless you are watching a documentary, because TV tends to give you sound bites without the necessary context), the more we can connect the dots, and eventually (hopefully) form better, more well-rounded arguments.

Case in point: remember in my last post when I mentioned reading Ines of My Soul, and The Wal-Mart Effect? Two completely and totally unrelated books. And yet, while one covers (briefly) the enslavement (mainly to work in gold and silver mines) of the native peoples of Chile, The Wal-Mart Effect explains, using as an example the impoverished of Chile, how Wal-Mart makes everything cheap. And I was able to use all that in my argument. I wish all the things I learned at school were as easy to remember (and understand!) as all the knowledge I get from books.

So let’s all resolve to read lots more in 2007!

Epilogue: ‘Sir’ and I walked away from the brunch table friends.

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