Thursday, January 21, 2010

weakest link

There are many different angles through which one can investigate the history of a country. I had never thought about it before I took a class on Paris my senior year. In high school, we just studied the presidents, the battles, the important inventions. That's what history meant to me. But I actually always believed that an important part of a country or a culture's history is the art, the literature, the architecture. But another interesting way to study history is to look at the poor and the common people. Who were they? Which leads to questions like...Why were they poor? And what was the government doing to help them? In my Paris class, we took a break from talking about kings and generals to look at the common people. People flocked to Paris in hopes of jobs (as always is the case with moving to the city), and they couldn't find jobs. So they resorted to prostitution and that sort of thing.

It gets me thinking about that phrase "you're only as strong as your weakest link." What if that were true of a country? I mean you can experience a country's culture when you travel in a myriad of ways: the landmarks, the museums, the food, the everyday way of life. But what if you traveled around and did volunteer work at places like orphanages, soup kitchens, etc. instead of the usual sightseeing stuff? Your picture of that country would be quite different. I wonder what that kind of experience would be like in comparison to the norm. What if a country was only as strong as their weakest link? It's just interesting to think about.

Which reality counts more? The pride of a country's monuments, museums, and battlefields or the amount of people in their country who have no homes or can't provide meals for their family? I don't know. It makes me sad to think of someone visiting the US and looking at the people sleeping on the streets. Part of me would want to shelter the visitors from the poverty so that I could show them our capitol building and our battlefields where soldiers bravely fought for freedom because I am really proud of those things. Which portrayal is a more accurate reality?

Apparently, the countries in Scandanavia rank as the happiest in the world. Sweden, Finland, and the Netherlands are in the top ten. The number 1 happiest country, according to forbes.com, is Denmark. These countries tend to have high income tax (50% for a middle class worker in Denmark), but that means they have good health care, education systems (college is free in Denmark), and welfare benefits. Denmark has a 99% literacy rate, and supposedly, 95% of their population is Evangelical Lutheran. Well, I'm going off on a tangent because I'm finding Denmark to be so interesting, but my point is, it seems that the poor are definitely taken care of in Denmark. And the country is happier for it. (Although, I must note that the Danes are not known for being friendly, but remember, they descend from brutal vikings!)

All that to just offer a different perspective of viewing a country's history and culture: from the bottom. I think that we're all connected and that my freedom is tied to yours. That's why we're only as strong as our weakest link.

1 comment:

Theodora said...

you really do have some wonderful thoughts, Jess. I always enjoy reading your blog entries.