11.10.2011 75 °F
Recall the phrase, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Though now a painfully overused apology employed in situations where “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” and “Sleep when you die” also work, it carries relevance to my current exploration. Without putting too fine a point on it, it’s clear that I’m enacting the phrase literally. However, I’m more interesting in illustrating how it is that Americans (and particularly American students – considering my vantage point) exercise the phrase’s ideals.
In fact the most fitting form of the saying in this case is, “When in Rome, do as the Romans did.” The Roman Empire perfected the practice of entering foreign lands and supplanting its cultural beliefs and practices on its conquests with egocentric flair. Americans, generally fancying themselves members of the contemporary global colossus, are prone to the same behavior. Even when transplanted into the majestic foreign setting of Italy, it is difficult for Americans (myself included) to let go of our over-fed desire for instant gratification. Public transportation is not easily accessible and efficiently run, shops and businesses do not keep regular hours, the internet is only ever spotty at best (gasp!); “how do people live so barbarically?!” the Americans are asking each other.
What we tend to fail to recognize is that we hail from one of the most technologically advanced societies on the planet. Even more so, we are culturally adapted to a way of life that by global standards is rather fast and furious. And, while here in Italy, we remain in an environment that is relatively quite advanced – it is a European nation, after all. Yet we have difficulty coming down from the high of unlimited options and constant entertainment, even if the step is a small one. We might well be better off if we took more time for life’s truly important aspects - family, relationships, living reasonably - as the Italians do. Perhaps it sometimes takes being cajoled into changing our habits in order to see the error of our ways.
I have observed that some my peers on this trip seem unable or unwilling to shift their perspective to fit this environment. During counseling for our travels abroad, American students hear repeatedly how we must now consider ourselves guests in our foreign homes, rather than try to impose our way of life onto our circumstances. Though such a switch in mindset is difficult for any person to adopt fully, it is essential to the process of appreciating differing cultural values and exploring alternate ways of life. Through this process we are afforded a genuine possibility for examination of our own practices and values, an exercise that in turn grows regeneration and progress. Both are key ingredients for adult maturation and societal advancement. (After all the Romans, even so great an Empire as they were, did fall.)
I buy into the philosophy that the world is shrinking. We are becoming ever more so connected to even the most remote corners of the world through various means, both physical and digital. Each and every individual is constantly accruing more responsibility as a global citizen. My ambitions for my generation encompass a deepened sense of both local and global civic responsibility, as well as a fuller respect for the precious diversity that our world sustains. I would that we might foster growth and renewal in our world without forsaking the value of tradition.