I am currently in the midst of my second trip to Zimbabwe which does not make me an expert on the people of this country. However, I have consistently noticed two things.
First, these people have suffered more than I can fully comprehend. Every person has a horrific story of personal struggle, hardship and loss. Many lost loved ones during the war. Many have struggled with prejudice. Many lost status, businesses, homes, and other worldly possessions during hyperinflation. My host’s husband was murdered while being robbed. Her friend’s parents were murdered because they had the wrong political views. Listening to the personal stories of these people causes me to realize my life has been sheltered. I find myself struggling to understand how each person can endure so much. How does a nation rise out of so much pain?
The second thing that I notice is that the Christians are filled with joy. They love freely, they are working for reconciliation and justice, and their teasing makes me laugh. I don’t remember laughing as much in a few days as I have during the time that I have been in this country. Their pain is real, but they express joy. They pick on me because of my American idiosyncrasies in the most humorous ways. Their kidding increased greatly last evening after I got lost during a run through a large farm. I was still lost after darkness fell and had to borrow a phone from some local people to call for help. Immediately after my friends learned I was safe, they started hilariously re-crafting my adventure.
Sometimes I feel that my life is difficult. However, compared to almost every Zimbabwean, my life has been easy, protected from much of the trauma they have endured. I wonder about my joy? Am I as free as my friends here are? Do I lift people’s spirits the way these people lift mine? I hope so. I pray that people see Jesus in me in the same way I see him in my Zim friends.
As a society, Central Asians willingly give up freedom to gain security. They have been abused by one oppressor after another and they have learned to cope by keeping their heads down and complying with whoever currently holds power. Generally individuals don’t make waves. Even personal achievement is not aggressively pursued. They recognize that it is the tall blade of grass that gets cut. Conformity is more highly valued than independence. Security is better than freedom.
So, they silently accept the dictates of their authoritarian governments. It is better to be oppressed than dead.
Central Asian values are different than mine. However, as an open-minded student of culture, I accept their values as different, not wrong. I don’t feel it is my place to criticize or change other cultures. Cultural values are built over generations by complex and often painful experiences. Even if I did feel some obligation to change their culture, it would be useless to try. Culture tends to only change incrementally over time.
Periodically I wonder how I should respond to a shift that I believe is happening in my culture. During my lifetime I have observed a shift away from freedom being the unquestioned superior value. My grandfather and his peers were fiercely independent. They questioned and resisted any social or governmental restraints on their personal independence. They willingly sacrificed security for freedom. For them freedom was much better than security. My parents and their peers were more cautious in their defense of freedom. They believed that government could provide certain levels of safety for citizens. They incrementally traded bits of freedom for “safety nets.”
Now it seems that the exchange of freedom for the promise of security is gaining momentum. Take air travel as an example. When I first started flying, I was free to walk directly to the gate without any checks. To board the plane I only needed a ticket to prove I paid for the flight. How this process has changed! I am grateful for the security I feel, but I miss the freedom.
I wonder how much freedom my culture is willing to sacrifice for the sake of security? Obviously we don’t want authoritarian dictators ruling over us. However, every additional safety net is a step in that direction. My personal preference is to err on the side of freedom. It seems to me that we should not give up our independence too quickly.
What about you? Do you think our culture should prioritize the protection of us, the people? Or, should we stand for freedom which allows and/or causes more people to suffer the consequences of evil, poor decisions, and other dangers?