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Recent Thoughts about the US

The following is a lightly edited version of an essay I wrote a while ago. Due to length limits, I had to keep these thoughts brief, but needless to say, there were are more thoughts here than I had the time to express (and you would have the patience to read). I was going to keep this private, but recent events made me reconsider.

I think it is often outsiders that truly recognize the unique aspects of a system, society, and country. Perhaps this isn’t too surprising. In “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind”, there’s a beautiful section where Shunryu Suzuki writes —

I heard the various sounds of practice — the bells and the monks reciting the sutra — and I had a deep feeling. There were tears flowing out of my eyes, nose, and mouth! It is the people who are outside of the monastery who feel its atmosphere. Those who are practicing actually do not feel anything. I think this is true for everything. When we hear the sound of the pine trees on a windy day, perhaps the wind is just blowing, and the pine tree is just standing in the wind. That is all that they are doing. But the people who listen to the wind in the tree will write a poem, or will feel something unusual. That is, I think, the way everything is.

I thought it’d be good to keep this up as a reminder for what the US represents to so many people around the world.


“You’re fortunate to have the opportunity to experience living outside of the US”. These were amongst the last words I heard while moving from my home of over a decade in California to India. Living in the US it’s easy to take so many of the opportunities that are available in society here for granted. Access to a great education, the presence of leading research institutions, individuals from a diverse mixture of backgrounds, and the free flow of capital to translate innovation into real-world impact, to name a few. Though American society has its fair share of problems1, the ideals which this country continually aspires to are highly inspiring.

As part of US history in elementary school, I remember learning about the Declaration of Independence, and its message of every human having the unalienable rights of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. I could feel the importance of these words when I first heard them, but I wasn’t mature enough to understand and fully appreciate what they meant. After spending close to a decade in India, I think I’ve come closer to understanding what these words truly mean.

I’ve seen firsthand how people often don’t have access to a good education. How people often don’t have the privilege of good infrastructure with clean living and sanitary conditions. How people often can’t pursue their version of happiness due to external constraints that limit hope, ideas, and striving for a better life. Since India is much better off than many other parts of the world (and rapidly improving!), I can only imagine the nature of the problems that people in other countries might be facing.

To so many people around the world, America still serves as a beacon of hope. It serves as a shining example of the miracles that can result from relentless optimism, a spirit of experimentation, and the continuous striving towards ambitious ideals.

I’ve always found it fascinating how the US can integrate individuals from such diverse backgrounds. Having lived in and traveled through different societies, I’ve seen how natural it is to view “outsiders” with caution, often resulting in a fear of the “other”. All of my experiences with past friends, teachers, and mentors were influenced by themes of a genuine curiosity to learn about other cultures. Themes of trying to emulate the best of what other cultures from around the world have to offer, and to infuse them within the context of American society. I know of no other country that is as welcoming, takes pride in the strengths of, and encourages the cultural infusion of individuals from such different walks of life.

The experiences of the US that I’ve articulated in this essay are, I believe, a common theme among many immigrants. The systems which enable them, however, did not appear out of thin air. They were built by the continued struggles of individuals over many decades. The economic wonders these systems enable are a testament to their magic and are a strength that Americans should cherish. However, systems are fragile and must be protected to ensure their continued survival. This I believe is worth fighting for.

Footnotes


  1. Every society has its fair share of problems. Personally, I think we should refrain from using the distinction between “developing” and “developed” countries. In a certain sense, every country is “developing” (e.g. towards the ideals it holds dear). It is this continuous movement towards progress that is magical. I’d honestly be worried if a country ever declares that it is “developed”. [return]

Written January 9, 2021. Send feedback to @bhaprayan.

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