Listen. Such a simple word: People say it all the time. Generally preceded by "Shhhhh," people are always being told to listen--to announcements, to guest speakers, or to phone conversations. Listening is required so often, it becomes secondhand. As a result, most people resort to merely hearing what is being said. As an American, abroad and domestic, I've been plagued by those who only hear. And I wish they would listen.
We have all dealt with infinitesimal minds. Living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as an American was a tough job. In essence, it was a duty. Ethiopians regard our foreign policy as intrusive and destructive, and I was repeatedly privy to their beliefs. I was American--I was America. This marriage of citizen and country, I'm sure, is familiar to a lot of you. It is a closed-minded assumption, and I took it upon myself to shed a little grace on my nation--open their ears to the good side. I had longs talks with my friends about the United States. I had heated debates in history class about the Iraq bombings or UN dues. I did not display the closed ear "we're number one" attitude many assume is genetic. I listened. I understood where they were coming from. And I learned as a result.
However, my initial mission, to make people listen to me, and understand America, was in vain. Too many people were unwilling to listen and retorting so loudly they barely even heard my side--our side; reasons behind our actions. At the least, they could have gathered a stronger argument from points I made, that were uncannily American. But, no, my presence was a wall they slammed the same argument upon over and over, and it got old real quickly. All they heard was a tiny voice in the background. If they had listened, they would have understood more about the image they were fighting. My points were valid: that we are not all selfish, death-sentence advocates who want our culture to be world-dominant. Americans are people, with aspirations, not strategies. That our nation does good, just as France and Nepal do good. But they weren't listening.
In the United States, making people listen is just as arduous. I recently returned from Addis. Like all of us, I'm a Foreign Service kid and have grown accustomed to the "outside world." I know what it's like not to have water and to have power-shortages. It's life. Upon moving back, I realized that my experiences have shaped me. I couldn't go back to the mindset I had before, when I lived stateside. As an American middle school student, I used to only hear. Although I felt I was more worldly than most-- having lived my childhood in Haiti--I didn't really know what living abroad was about. That was my childhood. After returning from Ethiopia as a high school junior, I had become the world's teenager. And I felt it was imperative to let Americans know what that meant. I listened to my friends and family. They generalized, too. Every child had flies buzzing around their heads; roads abroad did not exist. White people? In Africa? The concept of parties--and good ones at that--could not be visualized. They needed to listen; to understand the world beyond their borders; to understand that it is vast and vibrant--and tangible! To make them see the marketplaces in covered alleyways, bargaining over silver and Nike surplus. To make them see my friends, who wore their Muslim garbs on holidays, and looked stunning. To make them see the true extent of what they have. To many Americans, the world beyond their nose doesn't concern them. To some it doesn't even shock them. Not to be amazed by the extent of all we have seen is just as ignorant as apathy. Many Americans do hear what I say. They are interested, but many of them have no point of reference to begin to comprehend. And it goes in one ear and out the other.
Listen: As Foreign Service teens, we should never stop sharing the world we know. Regardless of nationality or mindset, I guarantee you, someone, somewhere is listening. Uniquely, no single country has shaped us as teenagers. We have been molded by the world.