On The Road: My Ignorance

May 7, 2014

Credit Skippy Mesirow

Durango – Puerto Vallarta

I recline lazily, the sun blessing my face and belly, the breeze kisses my shoulders. I look up from the Scientific American I’ve been immersed in and reintroduce myself to the world. I’m in the courtyard of my Hostel in Puerto Vallarta. I’ve been here for a day now, since my 450-mile journey form Durango. There is a smallish rectangular topaz colored pool at the courtyard’s center, the walls yellow with blocky white protrusions, a spindly iron archway intertwined with fragrant rose vines on the far end serves as the entrance. The sky above exposed in all its glory, dominated by its fiery red orb, delicate white paintbrush stroke clouds grace the periphery.  The heat penetrates but is pleasant. I reengage with my new friends, primarily Mexicans and Canadians myself the lone American, it feel like a mini NAFTA where the exchange is human capital. We swap tales, experiences, ideas.

I’ve enjoyed it here so far. Warm yet temperate, exciting yet serene, foreign yet familiar. The streets are cobblestone, the buildings colonial. It’s not what I remember from my childhood, it’s a city, a big one, reminiscent more of Miami than the sleepy beach town of my memory, yet its core is small, historic, charming. I rejoice in my new friendships, the slightly salinated warm costal air, the sweet smell of Al Pastor and Carnaza Tacos.

Credit Skippy Mesirow

Mexico has shown many faces since I began this trip. The desolate planes of the north, the alpine climate and pine trees of Madera, the towering walls of copper canyon, the ramshackle towns in Chihuahua, the modern big-box stores of Durango, and now, the tropical paradise of Puerto Vallarta. Diversity such as this is a foregone conclusion in a nation comprised of 31 states, at least 6 distinct climates and eco-systems, not to mention a rich history as part of both the Aztec and Mayan empires.

Yet somehow my conscious brain struggles to keep in check my subconscious ideas of “Mexicaness”. I see a Sears abutting a Home Depot abutting a McDonald’s as I roll into Durango, three lifted pickups pass by and I think, “That’s not Mexican at all”. My subconscious is telling me that this is Texas. That somehow Texas has ownership of such a scene and that the world in front of me clearly does not meet my standards of what Mexican is.  Rationally I know this to be ridiculous. That which is here necessarily determines what “Mexicaness” is and thus must inform my conception of the place, not the other way around. Yet I must fight my own mind to embrace this truth.  It’s analogous to Europeans hailing from the Alps who come to Aspen and proclaim, “This is so not American, this is Europe!” Their worldview, their Eurocentrism, gives them ownership of a milieu, of a style, of an idea. Aspen cannot be part of the American fabric, this is their environment. I then must explain to them that America is many things, Aspen being one of them, and from that divergence we derive our strength, our identity. Here for me, just as there for them, my Amerocentrism blinds me, it impairs me.

This is my ignorance, my prejudice, my bias. I say this not to incriminate myself, but rather to draw attention to a fundamental human failing. We all come to understand our world from where we find ourselves and find difficulty in meeting people where they are. We are filled with this Egocentrism. We all suffer from Confirmation Bias, the Empathy Gap, the Framing Affect, the Bias Blind Spot and so on. This has been the case since the dawn of time. The Geocentric universe, tribalism, racism, they are all derived in part from these ingrained cognitive processes, our inherent flaws. Yet, from the dawn of time we have, as a species, been working diligently to break free of this artifice. The move to Heliocentrism, the city-city state, globalization, each represent an instance when we climbed and clawed our way, against our nature, an orbital further out of our societal atom, releasing energy in the form of progress and love along the way. And each time we have been rewarded for our deed. Greater security, increased collaboration, broadened economic opportunity, the decline in violence.

Credit Skippy Mesirow

Because of this trend we live in one of the greatest nations on earth. Blessed with pluralism, diversity, opportunity, security, freedom and liberty. Yet comfort can often lull one into complacency, create a false sense of completion, the notion that all work is done. Yet, we are and always will be an imperfect nation, a collective of imperfect peoples. And so, we attempt to keep ourselves moving, progressing, learning.

It’s nighttime now. 8 new friends sit huddled around a round plastic table, back in the courtyard again. Each of us represents a different nation, history, and personal experience, just to look at us it’s as if we’ve been plucked from a “Crayola Skin Tones” crayon box, no duplicate exists. India, America, Canada, Finland, Mexico, Italy, it’s amazing, a veritable United Nations. A sense of oneness and camaraderie pervades, pulsing through all of us. We all see it in each other, we all embrace it with absolute ferocity and sheer glee. A margarita rests in front of each of us, heavy condensation forms a morning dew around each cup, dripping in the night’s lingering heat and forming perfect circles that polka dot the table. Conversation is expansive, from Israeli- Palestinian conflict, to social sciences and evolution, to the Kennedy assassination and beyond. Soft light illuminates a facial expression, hands gesticulate wildly, smiles, furrowed brows. Information flies through the ether as knowledge is openly exchanged. It’s as if you can feel the energy ripple through the air with each breath, touch the brilliance with your hands and bathe in it. Everyone has something to offer, enthusiasm and excitement seem to flow out of the courtyard blanketing Puerto Vallarta. The world is our oyster.  These are the nights when lifelong bonds are made, walls torn down, bridges built.

Credit Skippy Mesirow

None of us are perfect people, or come from perfect homelands or have all the answers. But we talk, we get to know each other, we grow as individuals and as a collective. For this we strive.  To better ourselves, our communities, our countries, our friendships. We must question our own intuitions, combat our deepest convictions, bring awareness to our cognitive roadblocks and incongruities. “Life is like a book, those who do not travel read only one page”, it says on the door to the Hostel. Travel happens not just in space and time, but in the confines of our own minds as well.

Let us all turn a page together.  

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Skippy Mesirow is Chair Next Generation Advisory Commission Aspen, CEO Real World Reporting, AVSC Big Mountain Coach, Enthusiastic Community Member and Friend.