Monday, November 10, 2008

BOB RIEL - Travel, Work and Politics

Sorry for being late in answering my own questions. Life got in the way this past week with extra child care duties and out-of-town visitors. But here we go ...

Can you describe a favorite travel memory? It doesn't have to be extraordinary - simple is good, too – but what is a memory of some travel experience that you treasure?

Like all of you who have traveled extensively, I find there are so many memories that I treasure. But one small moment that comes to mind took place in Ladakh, in northern India. Lisa and I got up before sunrise one day to head to a Buddhist monastery where we were able to watch some monks participate in their morning prayer ritual. We sat quietly on a cold stone floor in the back of the room as they chanted, banged drums, drank tea, and watched the sun come up over the Himalayas.

When it was over, we wandered around the monastery grounds and happened to be standing by a set of prayer wheels when an elderly monk shuffled over. He looked at us, smiled, spun a prayer wheel and softly chanted, "Om mani padme hum," which we later learned is an important Buddhist mantra that refers to the awakening of the spark of divinity within each person. He repeated the chant for us until we had learned it and were able to repeat it back to him satisfactorily. Then he smiled, spun a prayer wheel again, and ambled slowly away. A small moment, but unique to me because it took place between people who didn't speak one another's language and who had merely been swept together by fate for two or three minutes on a crisp Himalayan morning.

What is something you've learned from traveling - a lesson that you've tried to carry with you in the rest of your life?

I've often wondered about this during my travels. What, if anything, am I learning that applies not only to travel but also to life? One lesson that I've tried to carry with me is to not let fear be a reason for not doing something.

There have been so many instances when fear could have easily stopped me from doing something travel-related but in every instance I was always happy in the end to have taken the plunge. I've tried (mostly, but not always, successfully) to maintain that attitude even when not traveling. There can be very good reasons for weighing the risks and for not taking certain chances in travel or in life, but I try to not let fear be one of those reasons.

I've been doing a bit of reading about work and careers lately, and came across this quote: "Jump, and a net will appear." What does that say to you, if anything, and does it apply in any way to your own life?

I believe this is true (although sometimes one has to fall far before the net finally appears!). Strangely, though, as many times as this has proved true in my own life or in my friends' lives, I still find that every jump for me is just as difficult as the one before it. I suppose this is because of the way we've been conditioned by life and society to reach first for security - and not to trust that nets will appear. :-)

Here is another quote about work and life choices that I recently discovered: "I must simplify my life, and whittle down what I do to the things that I am absolutely the most passionate about, or else I risk being stuck in mediocrity." Similarly, what does that say to you, if anything, and does it apply to your own life?

This is something that I struggle with. I don't want to whittle down the interests that pervade my personal life, but I do find often in terms of work that my interests and options have sometimes been so broad that I end up doing a lot of things somewhat well but perhaps not excelling in any one thing.

This quote was part of a larger article by a woman who was trying to say yes to fewer projects and possibilities, and instead devote her work time to the one or two things she was passionate about above all else, even at the expense of turning down other work that interested her. I find myself also as a person who is liable to say "yes, let's try this" or "sure, I'll do that," only to wonder whether I should be focusing on one big thing rather than several smaller possibilities. It's something I don't have a perfect answer to, as I'm still working on finding the ideal balance in my own life.

The U.S presidential election is on Tuesday. By the time you have to answer this question, we'll know the outcome of the vote. How do you think the result of this election affects how the world views the U.S.? (Or, if you prefer, how you personally view the U.S., or how the U.S. might view itself?)

What an election that was last week! In the long term, of course, people both in the U.S. and abroad will find reason to be disappointed in specific Obama policies. Nevertheless, I think there will be a sea change in the broader perception of the U.S., both internally and externally.

When I saw Americans hugging perfect strangers in spontaneous public celebrations on election night, I saw a country having a cathartic moment, relieved to be moving forward and thrilled to know that we can still reinvent ourselves.

When I saw Africans dancing in the streets, students celebrating at Obama's old public school in Indonesia, and Russians being quoted as saying, "Ah, that's how democracy works," I realized that the U.S. can still be seen as a place where anything is possible. I feel as if on Jan 20, 2009, our country is going to be part of the world community once again.

And when I saw African Americans crying tears of joy and young children suddenly planning bigger futures for themselves, I was happy to know that our country had in an instant seemed to become more inclusive and more meritocratic. It has a long way to go and not everyone will benefit, but wow, what a change in perception. And what a change for the better.

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