I am 58 years old today, which means I have used up almost half of my time. You see, I read a story long ago about a woman in Italy who was 120. I decided to live to be 120 and then to disappear in a magnificent ball of flame. That’s my plan and I’m sticking with it.
Does make me think, though, about what I should do with the remaining 120-58-1=61 years. (The minus one is because I have already decided to spend the last one in Maui paddling my outrigger canoe.) There is so much to do I don’t know where to start.
First of all, there is so much to learn. Ever since the Internet, I have been drinking from a firehose of information. The more I read, the more I find out I don’t know. The most valuable stuff I get is from friends. Then there is the usual crap (I apologize for the colorful language but, really, no other word quite captures it) in the government economics reports. (I just can’t understand why everyone stands around on pins and needles waiting for the new CPI report that tells you how much they paid for the stuff you bought last month; weren’t they paying attention?) I also get copies of newspapers from Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the UK, Japan, China, India, Russia, Dubai, and Israel delivered to my desktop every morning. I like to see the facts through different eyes, and the language practice doesn’t hurt either.
My basic philosophy is Chekhov’s Law.
In one of Anton Chekhov’s more than 200 short stories–I forget which one–a character says:
If you want to understand Bulgarians you have to go to Bulgaria. You can’t just read about them in the newspaper.
I have been going to Bulgaria since my 16th birthday when I left Winthrop Harbor, Illinois to hitchhike to California. After nearly 15 million air miles, I am sure Chekhov was right. The only way to get to know people in far-away places is to go there, have dinner with them and get to know their kids. When you do you find out that the differences among people are not as important as the similarities. That’s especially important today because people all over the world can see each other real-time on TV’s. It is too easy to blame far-away people when things don’t go well in our own lives.
Best recent example, the fighting in Lebanon. Everyone in America has a strong opinion, even though people have not spent time in either Lebanon or Israel. I have travelled to northern Africa about 100 times since my first visit in 1976. I have had the pleasure of spending time and knowing wonderful people in both places, which makes me very disturbed by the growing mob mentality in the US who have decided to hate and dehumanized “them” out of misplaced tribal fealty. When I watch the news reports all I see is people being hurt on both sides.
China is a second example. The newspapers, magazines, and TV are full of stories about China written by people with strong opinions but no direct knowledge of the country, its history, or its people. If you really want to know what is happening in China climb on the plane with me and see for yourself. What you will see is a country that is bigger than you could ever have imagined, going through massive change, driven by the energies of people who love their families, respect their history and culture, and work very hard. You will lose your firm opinions but increase your desire to understand this complex country because the evolving relationship between an awakened and growing China and the US is the biggest story of the 21st century.
Perhaps the biggest story of the 21st centry is the impact of global real-time communications networks on people’s behavior. Today, for the first time in the history of the world, the rich and poor people in the world can watch each other on TV in real time. The real question is how people adapt to living in a world of glass houses. Images of rich people can either create entrepreneurs or terrorists in poor countries. Images of poor people can either motivate people in rich countries to help others grow or to grab the remote to look for something less stressful.
We are going to use a lot of energy in the coming years dealing with the conflicts created by this story, which range from terrorism to high gasoline prices, to China’s trade surplus, to vicious politics, record corporate profits, and Wal-Mart’s labor practices. I hope we can manage our way through this with more passion and fewer lynch mobs. But it will ultimately deliver billions of people from poverty. That can’t be all bad.
Chekhov’s got me getitng on a plane again in a couple of days, first to a technology conference in Aspen, then to a series of conferences in Beijing concerning China’s opening capital markets. I’ll keep you posted on the ideas I run across on the road through the blog.