A major reason for doing this trip was to meet as many people – real Americans, living their day to day lives – as possible. And there’s something we’ve begun to notice.
It’s important to us that we get to know the country “from the ground” – through the eyes and experiences of people who don’t work in the media or aren’t celebrities or aren’t used to dealing with tourists on their turf.
You get a much bigger picture of life in the US.
We’ve also had our eyes opened to, and had the chance to think about, the patterns and characteristics of the people we meet. We’re meeting so many people every day, from all parts of the US, from all backgrounds and statuses and levels of education and opportunity, that you start to notice the similarities when they appear.
One thing in particular we’ve noticed, is that everyone we meet is trying to be better.
It’s something I had the opportunity to really reflect on and recognise when we had the pleasure of attending a Sunday Assembly in Berkeley (like going to church on a Sunday, except there’s no religion involved and they do talks on all things science and social…in between singing karaoke songs!) where the motto is “Live Better. Help Often. Wonder More.”
Live better. Live Better. Isn’t it strange that we all know what that means, yet it means something different to all of us?
Everyone has something different that they’re striving for in their life.
Some are trying to build better relationships, be a better parent, get a better car, better their education, be a better employee in order to have a better job, be a better boss in order to build a better company, be a better friend, teacher, lover…
Whatever it is that we identify as better, we’re all working towards the same end goal. To Live Better.
So if that’s the case, if we’re all working towards the same thing, then you can probably tell a fair amount about someone by the focus of that effort.
You can probably tell a lot about yourself if you sit back and identify what your ‘better’ state is. I think it’s easy – and I’m certainly guilty of it – for mistakenly focussing my efforts on feeling better instead of being better. Of buying a new organisational thing instead of just clearing out the clutter I don’t need. Of watching a semi-educational film rather than picking up a book. Of complaining that my brother never bothers to call me rather than calling him myself… (Sorry, Tom).
On this trip we’ve noticed that everyone is trying to be better in their own way, and that can often be projected on to us. We’ve repeatedly had to turn down offers of cash even after someone has given us a lift or a place to stay – they don’t feel like their involvement in our journey has been enough, so they try to do better. It’s unnecessary, especially given the nature of our trip and the fact they have already helped, and it’s humbling and incredible for people to be so generous, but it’s also an interesting instinct people have. I must do more.
It’s also interesting that this “Be Better” mentality is so often tied into money in our society.
We’ve had someone on our trip claim they felt “helpless” when we refused their offer of money, because they weren’t sure what else to offer and wanted to do something. on the other side of that, not having money has forced us to be resourceful in how we show our appreciation and gratitude for any help we receive – we can’t exactly go to the store to buy food to cook a meal when someone has hosted us, which is something I would otherwise love to do. Money is tied into a lot, and it takes a stretch of the imagination to think of other ways to be better, to do better, instead.
What do you think your ‘Be Better’ focus is at the moment? What do you recommend we do for our hosts or helpers when we can’t buy gifts or other items to show our gratitude for their help? We’d love to hear your thoughts…