My work in Uruguay, South America, often took me to the home of the Benaventi family. I thought it a little peculiar that when Mr. Benaventi came home from work each day he would get out of his suit and tie, put on his pajamas, occupy a comfortable chair on the sidewalk in front of his house and leisurely sip his mate tea as he watched the world go by. It wasn’t until several years later that I began to understand Mr. Benaventi’s unusual behavior.
While teaching a college sociology course dealing with cultural differences, Professor DeHoyos explained that Americans tend to thrive on conspicuous consumption. That is, we gain status among our peers by showing off our big houses, swimming pools, expensive cars and boats, titanium golf clubs and other expensive and flashy trinkets.
On the other hand, people in some parts of the world thrive on conspicuous leisure. Unable to afford being big consumers of goods and services in a stagnant economy, there is a tendency to show the neighbors that they are in a position to have time on their hands. Hence, sit in front of the house in one’s pajamas and seemingly do nothing. This behavior is not a result of being lazy or unmotivated, but is born of the need for the status that conspicuous leisure brings to an individual in that particular society.
There were two professors DeHoyos when I was in college—they were man and wife and both taught in the Sociology Department. (We called them the “pair a docs”) Mrs. DeHoyos told us about the first time she came to the United States from her native Mexico. “I found fault with everything,” she said. “Everything was better in my native country. Americans and the food they ate were bland and un-inspiring. Hamburgers were over-rated. Clothing and buildings lacked color and style. The English language lacked charm and was not romantic at all.” And so she went on.
“After living and studying here for more than a year,” she continued, “We returned to Mexico. Without really realizing it, the culture of the United States had seduced me. I could no longer tolerate the social divide in my country where who or what you were granted or denied certain privileges and freedoms. The well dressed person did not have to stand in a line at the bank; the poor would often sit for hours in an emergency room while the better dressed or those with higher social status would be tended to quickly. I found that I could no longer tolerate the ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ mentality.
“When we returned here to work,” she said, “I no longer berated the culture. Instead I embraced it with enthusiasm and I have never looked back. I am quite content to be here and to bask in the freedoms and benefits that the American culture has to offer.”
Ethnocentrism is the term applied to the concept that “my ways are better then your ways.” To some degree or another we all possess a little of it. “My family customs are better than your family customs. My child is smarter than your child. My football team can beat your football team, etc., etc., etc.”
Just because something is different doesn’t necessarily make it better or worse. Instead of constantly making comparisons and finding fault with each others’ perceived peculiarities and shortcomings we might be better served to take a look at ourselves and strive to be the best that we can be.
“…For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall more be required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask more.” (Luke 12:28)
Alice in Wonderland asked the Cheshire Cat which road she should take. The Cat asked her where she wanted to go. She wasn’t sure. The Cat then told her that if she didn’t know where she was going, it didn’t really matter which road she took.
Earl Nightingale said that the man who succeeds above his fellows is the one who early in life clearly discerns his object, and towards that object habitually directs his power. Hanna More (1745-1833) said “obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.”
Great quarterbacks and running backs never take their eyes off that goal-line. Coach John Heisman told his players that “it’s better to have died as a young boy than to fumble this football!”
So, whether we are sitting in our P.J.’s on the front porch or riding around in the Lexus, hopefully we are all pursuing some great over-riding goal in life. It was John Wooden who said, “There is a choice you have to make in everything you do. So keep in mind that in the end, the choice you make, makes you.”