Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Coming from a Nation of Spectators

One difference you immediately become aware of when you come to Asia is that people participate in whatever is going on around them on a level that we do not. People sing, people dance, they do plenty of jobs or activities that they are not "qualified" for.

In the U.S we suffer greatly from a syndrome of "experts" for every thing. While it is not said out loud, there is this perception that pervades our society that we are not good enough to be doing or even thinking about certain things. After all who wants to listen to you sing when we can listen to someone who has devoted their entire life to it, you're not good enough. Who are you to have an opinion on this topic or that, after all you don't have a degree in that field, nor do you sit on some board or belong to some group that supposedly deals with such issues; you're not good enough. This activity is dangerous, best to leave it to the pros, watch how they do it; you're not good enough. This mentality has in many ways stolen the essence of living from us, it has turned us into a nation of spectators that live vicariously through professional athletes, entertainers, explorers, op-ed writers, etc. I remember bringing my brother out to very good restaurant one time and asking him how the lamb was, and he replied; "I'm not sure how good lamb is supposed to taste." It wasn't about whether he was enjoying the experience, he wasn't sure what the critics had deemed "good". In one way we are blessed to have people that are experts in their fields to the degree that they devote their entire lives to a single activity and become very good at what they do. Though through mass media the effect it has on society at large is one that in many ways hampers the average persons self expression.

Nepal, and Asia at large in my experience, does not suffer from this mentality yet. Having a lack of expertise in certain fields can certainly be a hindrance, and watching a bunch of Nepali guys excavating some area drainage and try to piece it together is a reminder of this. Regardless of this, watching average people in their average ways break out into song and dance on occasion is kind of refreshing. There is a sense that everyone participates, they engage life in a way that does not just leave it to those "qualified" to preform such tasks. Nepali's love to talk, and they all have their opinions. They don't let food critics or music critics try and tell them how good things should taste or sound, they have their own opinions and the experts can be damned. In fact all Nepali people I think consider themselves experts on the proper preparation of mangoes, or rice...and almost all seem to have different theories. Nepali people seem to be perfectly willing to get out there and participate in life, they don't watch from the sidelines. That is in all fields aside from politics, where they seem to leave that  job to the same incompetent politicians and then be dismayed at their continual failure...but maybe this is another post entirely.

Coming from a nation of spectators this is a refreshing environment. I remember when I stayed at a small guest house in Langtang and I watched a father singing to his kids and what I assumed was his wife, and the family kind of clapped along. Sure maybe he wasn't the best singer in the world, but there is something there to be envied. No fear or intent to judge, just honest participation in the life that goes on around you.


  1. Great article, actually I felt the same about people's approach to life, their confidence and the joy they find in simple things. Very inspiring!

    I really enjoy reading your blog, great observations, writing and pictures! So nice to feel close to whats going on in Kathmandu, now that I'm back in Germany and miss Nepal.

    Hope you and Kim are doing well!!

    All the best

  2. I have enjoyed reading these however I have to ask; when one asks "How's the lamb" doesn't it insinuate that you must have had "lamb" at some time in order to have an opinion. Had you asked how his meal was I'm sure that your brother would have had an opinion. It is sometimes hard for me to respond to a question when I have no frame of reference. Just a thought.


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