January 1, 2019

Last June I went to Malawi for vacation. Naturally, I figured in 2.5 weeks I could probably solve Africa’s problems along the way. That’s not exactly the way things turned out.

I got some wonderful responses to this!

From Danny Cohen:  

I’d take it in this direction – taking off the perspective of Nonviolent Communication, I’d say those labels are telling more about what’s going on inside us than about the other person, and specifically about some unmet need which is asking for a place at the table in that context.

…let’s say you have the thought ‘this place is a real shithole,’ then it could be that you’re wanting (have a need for) comfort. If you think derogatively ‘religious’ then maybe you’re valuing freedom of choice, acceptance in your ways, and space for you to live life according to your own integrity (and seeing religious as not making space for that), ‘crazy’ could mean that you’re wanting more of a shared reality, competence, or connection…

From Cathy Deng, two really really great links I recommend reading both:

Relevant: feminists have criticized GDP as a metric because it leaves out unpaid labor at home that mostly falls onto women

…also regarding the arrogance of Americans volunteering abroad, I think about this often

I wrote back to Cathy and wanted to share here as well:

And regarding women – yeah that is a gaping hole in my power of observations as a guy traveler. My interactions with Malawian women who were not traveling for commerce/trading or working in hospitality was much less than my interactions with men. That makes sense because I’m a 1) man 2) foreign tourist 3) in a rural society where women do a lot of the farming work. One chance I had was I met female volunteers, doctors, nutritionists, and researchers that were there longer term and stayed in villages but didn’t dive into women’s issues with them. 

Adam Bossy-Mendoza shared another great, humbling link to read (with some faaaantastic tinder screenshots):

This is only loosely related to your story, but this article really changed my views on folks from wealthy countries doing aid work in less wealthy countries: 

It’s got concepts that I mentally refer back to on a regular basis when I think about meaningful work and my role in doing meaningful work in my community and in the world. 

On the topic of GDP metric, Pranav Deshpande recommends a book:

Completely agree that GDP alone is an imperfect measure of prosperity. It’s at best a measure of material wealth, at worst a vanity metric that obfuscates objective income inequality and fuzzier things like ‘happiness’. Would highly recommend Tyler Cowen’s new book Stubborn Attachments if you want to dig into this more. it’s quite deep and philosophical, but I think he does a good job of arguing in favor of maximizing a certain type of GDP growth.

Here’s the book, and an interview where he talks about it as well.  

Finally, Tom Dehnel shared an incredible story – to make the point that it’s surprising experiences that jolt us to think differently:

We know new experiences are valuable but it seems to be important that they take us by surprise. Here’s an example from my life:

I used to vomit when I would brush my teeth in the morning. I figured there was something wrong with my stomach so I went to see the doctor. I had just moved to Tampa and didn’t have a regular doctor so I found a well-reviewed one through my insurance company’s website. When I got to his office it seemed like the exam room was just sort of slapped together at the last minute. Turns out that was because he was a sports physician and not used to seeing regular patients. On the insurance company website he was mistakenly listed under general practitioners. But I was there and he was still a doctor so he examined me and talked to me and asked “what kinds of things are you eating?” I told him the truth. “I see, and are you exercising?” Again, I told him the truth.

“Well look,” he said. “You could go and see a regular doctor and they will probably refer you to a GI doc who will do some tests and prescribe you some kind of antacid like Nexium or whatever. But what I’d recommend is that you eat a little better and get some exercise.”

I was expecting him to tell me what was wrong with my stomach. Instead, he suggested that I had a problem with my lifestyle. It made such a strong impression on me (I think because it caught me by surprise) that it sent me down a path of taking care of myself that has continued over 5 years later. I eat much healthier now, and I go for a run and do body weight exercises every other day. At 35 I’m in the best shape of my life. And I owe it to that unexpected encounter that I never would have had if the “sports medicine” doctor had been labeled “correctly.”

Candid feedback and thoughtful responses keeps me motivated. What sucked? What should I keep doing? What does this make you think about? Send me a note at tal at talraviv org

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