Today, while walking home from the airport train, I remembered my mother soft and wise intonation saying this old and simple Romanian proverb: “the person gives value to the place”. She used to say that whenever she wanted to remind me that good people are good no matter the surroundings (time and place, task and context). And I mean “good” in the most extensive sense of the word – heart and soul, professionalism and dedication, commitment and perseverance, empathy and altruism. Goodness has as many faces as evil, because it is always “the other side” – good and evil cannot exist on their own, but as Siamese siblings.
Why do I tell you this? First of all because of the geographical dynamics my life has enjoyed lately. My job has sent me to places I wouldn’t even dream of seeing one year ago. From Budapest to Sofia, Vienna to Kiev, Bratislava to Moscow, Warsaw to Belgrade. And there are still many places to go and tasks to fulfill.
Many of the people do this nowadays. I am still amazed every day by the crowded airports and full planes. We got used to travelling so much that we don’t stop to wonder about the miracle of it all. We don’t rewind too often to remember that only 50 years ago the flights were expensive and reserved to a few privileged people. 100 years ago flying was attempted by a handful of courageous people, defying death every time they would step into a plane, just like the Romanian pioneer pilot Aurel Vlaicu, that died in 1913 when flying over Carpathian mountains – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aurel_Vlaicu). Not many people know when they land on International Airport in Bucharest that it bears the name of another renowned Romanian inventor, Henri Coanda ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Coanda ), that is credited by some (contested by others) with inventing the first jet plane.
Anyway, let’s come back to my travelling period. I am not on sabbatical (in case you wonder…). What happened is that I have recently taken on a job that involves getting to know a lot of different organizations in a lot of countries. I prefer to meet the people that I work with, on their ‘home fields’. It helps me in better understanding the local specific of their work and therefore set up my expectations on a reasonable level. It also helps me convince them that I am really interested in what happens in respective local environments. Because no matter how brilliant a person’s mind is, it can never comprehend reality unless it experiences it - if you have lived at the tropics your whole life, you will not be able to explain the feeling of snow under a naked feet.
Unfortunately I do not have enough time to visit all these exceptional places, because I go with work and I cannot stay long. Whenever I have the occasion, I link the business trips with 1 or 2 days during the weekend. Of course it is too short anyway. I cannot presume that I know either the people or their city after a few days. In order to achieve this, one needs to stay at least several months in one place and absorb a lot - places and (hi)stories, food and flavors, customs and social rules (or as I like to call them - “pride and prejudice” rules), even language and jokes if there is enough will and resources.
What I can tell after this short period of visiting is that everywhere I go, there are places that make me put on the agenda “go back on vacation”. Just by scratching the surface, a door to a new world was opened for me. I am however realistic and see that I will need to prioritize and get real – the world is so full of beautiful places, that is impossible in a lifetime to see everything there is to see, explore everything there is to explore. Perhaps this is exactly the beauty of it - the explorer’s thrill, “the call of the sea” (or “the call of the air” nowadays).
But then, like I said in the beginning, I walk home from one of these trips and hear my mother’s words – “the person gives value to the place”. And I realize that for the time being, just meeting all those people was the greatest reward of all. They are of course very different and I would never think about a comparison. But they have one common feature: they all give value to the places I have seen.
We are all part of the same big company, which has expanded all over these fascinating places in the last 20 years, after the communist regime was challenged. In Romania one old and experienced political man said in 1990 that at least 20 years will have to pass before the mentalities will change in the country. We are after 20 years now and we witness the biggest crisis after the communist period. It is not only economic, but also educational, cultural, political and social. Basic values are challenged and replaced with empty but shiny shells. Excellent people are leaving the country, many of them because of giving up the hope for a better future. There is a general sense of acceptance, even thou we should not forget what happened 20 years ago – still waters are deep and Romanians resourceful. Our history is full of unexpected surprises.
Coming back to the diversity I have witnessed in the past months. Eastern mentalities have indeed changed, but in unforeseeable ways, many people question nowadays how much of the change in mentality was for the better. We are still very different from the Western world and I strongly believe that the differences cannot be all categorized into good or bad. We are different, just like Americans are different from Mexicans, Brits from French, Italians from Dutch, Chinese from Koreans and so on. Just like Tirol is different from Styria or Naples from Rome – all within one country. Just like engineers are different from bankers, astronauts from lawyers and men from women. This is just the beauty of it.
What we all have in common however is that we are all people. We all laugh and cry, rejoice and suffer, admire and envy, love and hate. We should all realize, at a certain point in our lives, that our own value can only be judged by what we contribute to our surroundings, how we live with ourselves and with our actions. How we look into our eyes in the mirror in the morning, how we go to sleep with our conscience at night. No matter where the live is taking us, no matter what trials we go through.
We are the centre of the universe. I am not kidding and am not egocentric. I just see the “great” universe as an intersection of billions of small personal universes, which I imagine as spheres, with the centre in each one of us. I come back to my old post – about the power of perception. We are what we see and what we feel. I got a wonderful feed-back to that post, from one of the dearest teachers in my life – he referred this phrase to me: “You don't see things as THEY are - you see things as YOU are." (Google tells me it is Talmud).
For me, that means that I am both the start and the perception of my universe, but I AM NOT my universe. My universe is around me. I cannot be smart or good or wise or what else, only by myself and only for myself. As long as I do not share, do not irradiate this kindness out, onto my universe, I will be small and insignificant. However, if I am able to transmit this to the people around me, I make them part of my universe and I become part of their universe. Our universe then grows together. Or perhaps shrink in certain periods of our life, depending on the direction of other’s influence, depending on the perception of the actions and effects. It is dynamic and we should not try to control it too much and too often. Hopefully we will be able to guide the quality of our universe throughout most of our lives, but we should do that mostly by focusing on ourselves rather than on the others.
Most important thing is to reach that dimension and composition that makes us most comfortable within it. Expanding too much or too little can generate either exhaustion or frustration, and put us into a strange situation of conflict with our own universe. Just like this post – too long already for one’s universe, reason for which I will stop now.
May you all give value to the places you choose for your stay on this Earth!