How to Polish Up America's Image Abroad

When I was a child, living in Tokyo after the war as part of the American occupation army, we took every opportunity to visit Japanese shrines, gardens, and teahouses, to learn to play Japanese games, sing their songs, speak their language, to watch traditional kabuki plays and join in national celebrations such as Boys Day, cherry-blossom viewing, and fireworks on New Year’s Eve.


Despite the fact that we were no doubt perceived as representatives of a conquering nation by everyday Japanese folk, who must have seen us as responsible for their currently grave economic depression, the destruction of their cities, and the humbling of their leaders, nevertheless, our family’s irrepressible enthusiasm, respect for and interest in Japanese culture was gradually reciprocated by our neighbors’ gentle curiosity about our own “odd” customs—our funny Indian-and-Pilgrim Thanksgiving celebrations, our ghost-and-scarecrow Halloweens, our mysteriously compulsive habit of singing off-key Christmas carols at the tops of our lungs all over our neighborhood at Christmastime….


America’s best chance for gaining international respect and understanding will be to increase our own respect and understanding for all other cultures—for their histories, values, traditions, customs, styles, religions, concerns and problems, and their political and economic approaches and ways of life—through more extensive teaching of all forms of acceptance at all levels of schooling—and through more Americans (perhaps our most  influential cultural leaders, such as Limbaugh, Robertson, and Cheney?) traveling to other countries, living with ordinary folk, listening, learning, asking questions, opening their hearts, and marching in solidarity with them at their own sad national commemorations of tragic losses stemming from political violence of all kinds, whether terrorism, assassinations, espionage, or war.


Furthermore, since we already direct a lot of tax money toward other countries (but always for U.S. goals) why don't we find out from global citizens (not governments) what's uniquely most important to their countries (projects, problems, goals…) and give generously toward those projects?


Only when we’re willing to polish up both our image and our reality as a country that is respectful, appreciative and generously supportive of the unique cultures, values and concerns of other nations, then (and only then) will we have some hope for an image abroad as an informed, compassionate nation worthy of the interest, compassion and support of others.


Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Treat others as you want them to treat you. This golden rule is the only basis for any relationship—whether personal or international—that ever works.

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