Tagged: Nicaragua

Meaningful lives: José Angel – a seventeen-year-old with a dream

What are you going to do when you grow up, I asked the 17 years old José Angel in the remote countryside village of Lagartillo in Northern Nicaragua. What I got for an answer was an enthusiastically delivered two-hour long lecture about the revolutionary history of Nicaragua and how radios played a central role in this process. He wanted to join this historical chain and study media communications to become a host of his own political radio show in the future. His performance left me energized and thinking how enormous impact such young people with a calling can have for the future of a country.

José Angel

In his book The Path to Purpose, William Damon argues that the best thing that can happen to a young person is to find her or his calling: ”This clarity of purpose generates in them a prodigious amount of extra positive energy, which not only motivates them to pursue their goals passionately but also to acquire the skills and knowledge they need for this task. In the process, they become very good learners; and they develop a practical effectiveness unusual for people their age.”

Here I was listening to a living example of Damon’s argument. A young person whose life was not revolving around himself and his immediate gratifications. Unlike most western 17-year-olds – the past me included – whose long-term visions meant asking where is the party next Saturday this guy was carried forward with a passion to make a difference. This didn’t mean that he would turn a blind eye to the delights of the youth either – from his tales I understood that his enthusiasm was well received by many girls – but simply that his life had a purpose that reached beyond simple hedonistic pleasures.

Even the language barrier couldn’t stop him from delivering his lecture. He told how his grandparents – along with the majority of the population – had been illiterate and how his grandfather had listened to a clandestino radio station during the Somoza dictatorship. He told how these revolutionary radio stations had delivered education to the villages, told news that the dictator tried to hide, mobilized people to counter the regime and encouraged their spirits by playing revolutionary songs. He told how the revolution finally succeeded, but also about the problems that his country encountered during the following years. Nevertheless, he had great faith in the current government. With a zest he told what good things the government had brought to this village during the last few years, most important being 24 hour electricity and a secondary school.

José Angel and family

For him it was clear that if his home country wanted to carry this torch of development into the future, the engagement of young people into the local and nation-wide politics was the key. They must be educated to understand the importance of the political process in making the world a better place. He didn’t want his fellow youngsters to turn into passive and selfish idlers for whom the high-point of life is winning the NHL tournament on PlayStation and whose horizon is narrowed to include only me, myself and I. He wanted to make a difference by helping young people in his home-country to find a cause beyond themselves.

As said his own recipe for contributing to this development was radio. He wanted to study media communications in the university and after that host a radio show of his own in which he educates people about the political matters and plays Nicaraguan songs that promote the revolution. His own grandfathers liberation from ignorance started from listening to radio. He wanted to offer the same opportunity for the generations to come.

Throughout his tale I kept coming back to wondering how dramatically different his appearance was compared to an average seventeen-year-old in my youth. We were not interested in great causes, we were interested in who could buy us the alcohol for the weekends party and if some specific girls were coming there. Future meant for us studying and building a successful career. Pleasures in the short term, success in the long term, those were our goals. In other words, our lives revolved around ourselves and the satisfaction of our personal needs. He had found something better.

Naturally, there will be many people who will tell him that his dream is not worth fighting for. They will tell him that radio is a media of the past, nowadays TV is the only media that matters. They will tell him that his ideals and his understanding of the Nicaraguan politics are naïve. When he enters the university he will surely encounter many objections against his political ideals and his ideas of fulfilling them. These objections and the acquired knowledge will surely more or less redirect his calling into new directions. So it might very well be that he never realizes his vision as it stands today.

What I am sure about, however, is that these encounters will not take away the wave of positive energy that carries him forward. And wherever such a great concentration of willpower is heading at, there will be those who want to support him and there will be significant results. His goals might change along the way but I am sure that the new ones will be as filled with meaning as the present one. He is heading towards a meaningful existence – a life that is dedicated to making the world a better place through the means that he finds most fitting for himself. What greater blessing could a young person have?

José Angel playing the guitarWhat are you going to do when you grow up, I asked the 17 years old José Angel in the remote countryside village of Lagartillo in Northern Nicaragua. What I got for an answer was an enthusiastically delivered two-hour long lecture about the revolutionary history of Nicaragua and how radios played a central role in this process. He wanted to join this historical chain and study media communications to become a host of his own political radio show in the future. His performance left me energized and thinking how enormous impact such young people with a calling can have for the future of a country.

José Angel

In his book The Path to Purpose, William Damon argues that the best thing that can happen to a young person is to find her or his calling: ”This clarity of purpose generates in them a prodigious amount of extra positive energy, which not only motivates them to pursue their goals passionately but also to acquire the skills and knowledge they need for this task. In the process, they become very good learners; and they develop a practical effectiveness unusual for people their age.”

Here I was listening to a living example of Damon’s argument. A young person whose life was not revolving around himself and his immediate gratifications. Unlike most western 17-year-olds – the past me included – whose long-term visions meant asking where is the party next Saturday this guy was carried forward with a passion to make a difference. This didn’t mean that he would turn a blind eye to the delights of the youth either – from his tales I understood that his enthusiasm was well received by many girls – but simply that his life had a purpose that reached beyond simple hedonistic pleasures.

Even the language barrier couldn’t stop him from delivering his lecture. He told how his grandparents – along with the majority of the population – had been illiterate and how his grandfather had listened to a clandestino radio station during the Somoza dictatorship. He told how these revolutionary radio stations had delivered education to the villages, told news that the dictator tried to hide, mobilized people to counter the regime and encouraged their spirits by playing revolutionary songs. He told how the revolution finally succeeded, but also about the problems that his country encountered during the following years. Nevertheless, he had great faith in the current government. With a zest he told what good things the government had brought to this village during the last few years, most important being 24 hour electricity and a secondary school.

José Angel and family

For him it was clear that if his home country wanted to carry this torch of development into the future, the engagement of young people into the local and nation-wide politics was the key. They must be educated to understand the importance of the political process in making the world a better place. He didn’t want his fellow youngsters to turn into passive and selfish idlers for whom the high-point of life is winning the NHL tournament on PlayStation and whose horizon is narrowed to include only me, myself and I. He wanted to make a difference by helping young people in his home-country to find a cause beyond themselves.

As said his own recipe for contributing to this development was radio. He wanted to study media communications in the university and after that host a radio show of his own in which he educates people about the political matters and plays Nicaraguan songs that promote the revolution. His own grandfathers liberation from ignorance started from listening to radio. He wanted to offer the same opportunity for the generations to come.

Throughout his tale I kept coming back to wondering how dramatically different his appearance was compared to an average seventeen-year-old in my youth. We were not interested in great causes, we were interested in who could buy us the alcohol for the weekends party and if some specific girls were coming there. Future meant for us studying and building a successful career. Pleasures in the short term, success in the long term, those were our goals. In other words, our lives revolved around ourselves and the satisfaction of our personal needs. He had found something better.

Naturally, there will be many people who will tell him that his dream is not worth fighting for. They will tell him that radio is a media of the past, nowadays TV is the only media that matters. They will tell him that his ideals and his understanding of the Nicaraguan politics are naïve. When he enters the university he will surely encounter many objections against his political ideals and his ideas of fulfilling them. These objections and the acquired knowledge will surely more or less redirect his calling into new directions. So it might very well be that he never realizes his vision as it stands today.

What I am sure about, however, is that these encounters will not take away the wave of positive energy that carries him forward. And wherever such a great concentration of willpower is heading at, there will be those who want to support him and there will be significant results. His goals might change along the way but I am sure that the new ones will be as filled with meaning as the present one. He is heading towards a meaningful existence – a life that is dedicated to making the world a better place through the means that he finds most fitting for himself. What greater blessing could a young person have?

José Angel playing the guitar

Meaningful lives: Gioconda Belli – a poet, a revolutionary, a lover and a mother

At twenty she was a bourgeois upperclass girl, married and with one child, living just the kind of ordinary life that was expected of her. At twenty-four she had published an award-winning book of poetry that shocked with its erotic imagery – and was tailed by secret police because she had joined Sandinistas, a rebellious underground organization working to overthrow the dictatorship. In her autobiography she describes intimate conversations with poets and political leaders such as Fidel Castro, who took an interest in her, – and intimate love affairs with guerrilla warriors cut short by death. The Nicaraguan Gioconda Belli (born 1949) has lived quite an extraordinary life. It almost seems that she has lived a few separate lives and in fact that was what she herself felt from time to time.

Hers is a life of opposites: Combining undercover revolutionary activities and love affairs with guerrillas with motherly responsibilities of taking care of small children is a hard task. But she couldn’t help to notice how irresistible a strong man with a mission and with death written on his forehead can be. At one point she tells about how she made love to a guerrilla warrior called Marcos – who was gunned down in the backseat of a car a few years after – and how before lovemaking on the cold, hard floor of his hideout he ”placed the gun and the case with the hand grenade against the wall”. Marcos wants her to stay the night but she refuses because she has to tend her daughters. And half an hour after this passionate and secret love scene she is again the bourgeois mother cuddling with her daughters.

Gioconda Belli

Reading her autobiography it becomes clear that what made all the difference to her life was the fact that Gioconda Belli is that relatively rare kind of person who thrives strongly on meaningfulness. In her twenties she realized that her desire for meaningful existence is so overwhelming that she is willing to jeopardize everything she has – her family life and even her own life – in her pursuit for it. When she is about to join the clandestine Sandinista movement she backs up a few times because of being afraid of the very real consequences. But then, ”all of a sudden, I realized I was on the verge of closing a door that was my only way into a more meaningful existence.” She gathers her courage and takes a step out of the bourgeois life, into the life-threatening world of a revolutionary movement within a dictatorship.

Because of her bourgeois public image she becomes the courier who passes important messages from one part of the organization into another. The life of a rebel is hard, many were the companions that suddenly were killed and whom she had to grief in secret in order to not reveal herself. And these losses hurt:

”At some point I fell apart, and began weeping in despair. The intensity of the pain startled me – it was as if one of my own brothers had died, someone close that I loved and not a person I barely knew. That was when I understood how strong the bond between those of us who were in the struggle was: we were a team, a unit.”

This was when she learned about the killing of Ricardo Morales Avilés and Oscar Turcios, persons she had only met briefly a few times. Later on she would loose a man she passionately loved. That pain stayed with her for years.

Despite its dangers, the rewards this lifestyle gave made it impossible to stop. The bond with the organization was so strong, participation in the revolution filled one’s existence with such a insurmountable sense of purpose, direction and meaningfulness that it justified all the sacrifices. At some points even she herself was baffled by how deeply she had connected her faith and identity with the revolutionary cause:

”Were we all mad? What mystery in human genes accounted for the fact that men and women could override their personal survival instincts when the fate of the tribe or the collective was at stake? What was it that enabled people to give their lives for an idea, for the freedom of others? Why was the heroic impulse so strong? What I found most bewildering and extraordinary was the real happiness and fulfillment that came along with commitment. Life acquired unequivocal meaning, purpose, and direction. It was a sensation of complete, utter complicity, a visceral, emotional bond with hundreds anonymous faces, an intimacy of multitudes in which any feeling of loneliness or isolation simply evaporated. In the struggle for everyone’s happiness, the first happiness one found was one’s own.”

There are many ways to go through the human existence. Martin Seligman separates between three forms of happy life: The pleasant life, where one chases after pleasures and happy emotions; a life of engagement where one’s existence is filled with some activities into which one is absorbed; and a meaningful life where one has a sense of working towards goals that transcend oneself. Of these three, the last-mentioned provides most solid forms of happiness according to Seligman. And if one wants to learn what this meaningful existence is all about, I can’t think of a much better book than Gioconda Belli’s autobiography ’The Country Under My Skin – A Memoir of Love and War’. In her life the innate search for meaningful existence is combined with a unique historical situation provided by the revolutionary movement to follow those instincts to the max – and an ability to carefully reflect the psychological landscapes in which these desires for purpose dwelled.

SandinistaVictory

What we learn from Belli is that if you have a change to find a purpose you could believe in, a cause you can strongly identify with, values you are willing to sacrifice your life for, then be prepared: Chasing them can lead to unimaginable forms of fulfillment and happiness. The highpoint of Belli’s life as a revolutionary is encountered in 1979 when the freedom fighters had taken control of the capital and the dictator had fled. After living in exile for four years and using her time to handle press relations and gather international support for the Sandinistas, Gioconda Belli was finally able to return to her beloved home country, to the streets of Managua:

”And so we began yelling out ’Freedom’ as loud as we could … People responded ’or death’ completing the Sandinista war cry they were all so familiar with. … That cry was now a symbol of victory, of the courage that had brought about that hot day when freedom finally showed its face in the streets of my city for the first time in half a century … I will never forget the eagerness, the hope, the joyous optimism of those faces. All the grief, tears, everything I had lived through had been worthwhile if only to live through this moment. What more could I ask than to bear witness to so much happiness? What had been the goal of all our efforts, if not these smiles? Whatever existential doubts one had disappeared right here. This was our life’s purpose: to see others smile, to take human joy to its full potential.”
At twenty she was a bourgeois upperclass girl, married and with one child, living just the kind of ordinary life that was expected of her. At twenty-four she had published an award-winning book of poetry that shocked with its erotic imagery – and was tailed by secret police because she had joined Sandinistas, a rebellious underground organization working to overthrow the dictatorship. In her autobiography she describes intimate conversations with poets and political leaders such as Fidel Castro, who took an interest in her, – and intimate love affairs with guerrilla warriors cut short by death. The Nicaraguan Gioconda Belli (born 1949) has lived quite an extraordinary life. It almost seems that she has lived a few separate lives and in fact that was what she herself felt from time to time.

Hers is a life of opposites: Combining undercover revolutionary activities and love affairs with guerrillas with motherly responsibilities of taking care of small children is a hard task. But she couldn’t help to notice how irresistible a strong man with a mission and with death written on his forehead can be. At one point she tells about how she made love to a guerrilla warrior called Marcos – who was gunned down in the backseat of a car a few years after – and how before lovemaking on the cold, hard floor of his hideout he ”placed the gun and the case with the hand grenade against the wall”. Marcos wants her to stay the night but she refuses because she has to tend her daughters. And half an hour after this passionate and secret love scene she is again the bourgeois mother cuddling with her daughters.

Gioconda Belli

Reading her autobiography it becomes clear that what made all the difference to her life was the fact that Gioconda Belli is that relatively rare kind of person who thrives strongly on meaningfulness. In her twenties she realized that her desire for meaningful existence is so overwhelming that she is willing to jeopardize everything she has – her family life and even her own life – in her pursuit for it. When she is about to join the clandestine Sandinista movement she backs up a few times because of being afraid of the very real consequences. But then, ”all of a sudden, I realized I was on the verge of closing a door that was my only way into a more meaningful existence.” She gathers her courage and takes a step out of the bourgeois life, into the life-threatening world of a revolutionary movement within a dictatorship.

Because of her bourgeois public image she becomes the courier who passes important messages from one part of the organization into another. The life of a rebel is hard, many were the companions that suddenly were killed and whom she had to grief in secret in order to not reveal herself. And these losses hurt:

”At some point I fell apart, and began weeping in despair. The intensity of the pain startled me – it was as if one of my own brothers had died, someone close that I loved and not a person I barely knew. That was when I understood how strong the bond between those of us who were in the struggle was: we were a team, a unit.”

This was when she learned about the killing of Ricardo Morales Avilés and Oscar Turcios, persons she had only met briefly a few times. Later on she would loose a man she passionately loved. That pain stayed with her for years.

Despite its dangers, the rewards this lifestyle gave made it impossible to stop. The bond with the organization was so strong, participation in the revolution filled one’s existence with such a insurmountable sense of purpose, direction and meaningfulness that it justified all the sacrifices. At some points even she herself was baffled by how deeply she had connected her faith and identity with the revolutionary cause:

”Were we all mad? What mystery in human genes accounted for the fact that men and women could override their personal survival instincts when the fate of the tribe or the collective was at stake? What was it that enabled people to give their lives for an idea, for the freedom of others? Why was the heroic impulse so strong? What I found most bewildering and extraordinary was the real happiness and fulfillment that came along with commitment. Life acquired unequivocal meaning, purpose, and direction. It was a sensation of complete, utter complicity, a visceral, emotional bond with hundreds anonymous faces, an intimacy of multitudes in which any feeling of loneliness or isolation simply evaporated. In the struggle for everyone’s happiness, the first happiness one found was one’s own.”

There are many ways to go through the human existence. Martin Seligman separates between three forms of happy life: The pleasant life, where one chases after pleasures and happy emotions; a life of engagement where one’s existence is filled with some activities into which one is absorbed; and a meaningful life where one has a sense of working towards goals that transcend oneself. Of these three, the last-mentioned provides most solid forms of happiness according to Seligman. And if one wants to learn what this meaningful existence is all about, I can’t think of a much better book than Gioconda Belli’s autobiography ’The Country Under My Skin – A Memoir of Love and War’. In her life the innate search for meaningful existence is combined with a unique historical situation provided by the revolutionary movement to follow those instincts to the max – and an ability to carefully reflect the psychological landscapes in which these desires for purpose dwelled.

SandinistaVictory

What we learn from Belli is that if you have a change to find a purpose you could believe in, a cause you can strongly identify with, values you are willing to sacrifice your life for, then be prepared: Chasing them can lead to unimaginable forms of fulfillment and happiness. The highpoint of Belli’s life as a revolutionary is encountered in 1979 when the freedom fighters had taken control of the capital and the dictator had fled. After living in exile for four years and using her time to handle press relations and gather international support for the Sandinistas, Gioconda Belli was finally able to return to her beloved home country, to the streets of Managua:

”And so we began yelling out ’Freedom’ as loud as we could … People responded ’or death’ completing the Sandinista war cry they were all so familiar with. … That cry was now a symbol of victory, of the courage that had brought about that hot day when freedom finally showed its face in the streets of my city for the first time in half a century … I will never forget the eagerness, the hope, the joyous optimism of those faces. All the grief, tears, everything I had lived through had been worthwhile if only to live through this moment. What more could I ask than to bear witness to so much happiness? What had been the goal of all our efforts, if not these smiles? Whatever existential doubts one had disappeared right here. This was our life’s purpose: to see others smile, to take human joy to its full potential.”

Dirty backyards and a refined taste in wines: Aesthetics of good life

Examining the backyards of some Nicaraguan countryside homes led me to think about the role that aesthetics plays in good life. These backyards – quite frankly – were far from aesthetic. I do not know how representative they are of the country as a whole but at least in these ones various forms of garbage – buckets, pieces of metal and plastic – had been left to decay all over the place. A few hours of cleaning would do miracles to these gardens because the tropical plants would make a good base for a very aesthetic experience. Yet nobody had done this cleaning for years. Clearly aesthetic backyards was not a priority for the people inhabiting these houses.

Contrary to this, back home I have many friends and acquaintances for whom the aesthetic dimension forms a vitally important part of their way of living. Be it food, wines, music, architecture, clothing or whatever, they have acquired a very refined taste. In their fine-dining evenings they spend hours discussing and selecting the correct wine to their innovative new recipes.

This is fine as it is but for many it is clearly a game where the most important objective is not the aesthetic experience itself but to be ahead of the others: to develop a liking for a new band before others have heard it, to be able to have an opinion about the distinguishing features of every type of wine-grape and to be able to form innovative combinations of haute couture and second-hand clothes. I would go as far as to say that there are many people among us today for whom pursuing this aesthetic dimension forms the main motivational field of most of their daily activities.

Small cat and a big dog

As I have a certain repulsion against such games I consciously try to downplay my abilities in these fields. Many times I have arrived to a party with a bottle of the cheapest wine that money can buy which I have drank straight from the bottle whilst others are parading their wine-choices for today and tasting and discussing enthusiastically their latest findings. Strangely, nobody ever wants to taste my choice. I usually enjoy the bohemian atmosphere of places where things are a bit so-so and aesthetics is not so glaring. This all leads me to wonder why is aesthetics so important element in the life of some people?

According to the influential theory of Pierre Bourdieu, taste is about distinction. By having a certain taste I am signaling that I belong to a certain group of people – and almost more importantly: that I am not part of another group. When we, for example, distinguish between working class and bourgeois classes we do not look only at income but rather at their taste as regards clothing, food and different leisure time pursuits. This is why a person from a noble family can radiate an aura of sophistication even when his or her income is almost nonexistent. As Count Alexander Graf von Schönburg-Glachau testifies: ”Whilst we never had much money, we learned to compensate for what we didn’t have with taste.” Our taste is thus in the end nothing more but an acquired way of signaling what group we do belong to.

With Bourdieu’s theory at hand we start to see how various phenomena of modern times are nothing but ways of playing the distinction game; ways of attempting to put oneself above the others through one’s sophisticated taste. For what else is the recent trend of healthy eating and jogging than a way to distinguish oneself from those who don’t eat as healthy and don’t do running? And what else are the various lifestyle magazines than instruments that help the reader to stay one step ahead in this game of distinctions?

In the France of Bourdieu’s times things might have been relatively simple as regards class: There were the working class, the bourgeois and the nobility with their distinctive manners, hobbies and ways of dressing, speaking and thinking. In modern west the field is more fragmented; instead of clear class distinctions it is more about different aesthetic conclaves with distinguish themselves from others as regards their taste in music, clothing and often also more general life-values. There are the hipsters, there are the hippies, goths, yuppies, hiphoppers and what-not. They all might have started to listen to their kind of music and dress in their kind of way because they simply felt that that’s what they liked. But unbeknownst to them they simultaneously made a selection about what game of distinctions and sophistications they started to play. Their choices made them part of a certain group.

Chicken

So, if one scratches the surface of any aesthetic sophistication, one finds a person who is eagerly attempting to show belongingness to a certain group and who is attempting to put oneself ahead of the others in terms of the greater amount of refinement that one has been able to acquire in one’s special field.

This brings us back to the backyards of the Nicaraguan village where I made the observations about the non-refinement of their backyards. Even they might be seen as signals in the game of distinctions. The village was formed in the 80s when the lands of a former land-lord were given to the people in a great land-reform. It can be assumed that these people have a strong willingness to distinguish themselves against the higher classes and display their reciprocal solidarity. So by not having too fancy houses and backyards the people are signaling that they belong together, that they are equal. A too refined backyard would signal to the other members of the village that this person is attempting to stand above the others, that the person thinks he or she is something better than the others. The game of distinctions can be played in many ways…
Examining the backyards of some Nicaraguan countryside homes led me to think about the role that aesthetics plays in good life. These backyards – quite frankly – were far from aesthetic. I do not know how representative they are of the country as a whole but at least in these ones various forms of garbage – buckets, pieces of metal and plastic – had been left to decay all over the place. A few hours of cleaning would do miracles to these gardens because the tropical plants would make a good base for a very aesthetic experience. Yet nobody had done this cleaning for years. Clearly aesthetic backyards was not a priority for the people inhabiting these houses.

Contrary to this, back home I have many friends and acquaintances for whom the aesthetic dimension forms a vitally important part of their way of living. Be it food, wines, music, architecture, clothing or whatever, they have acquired a very refined taste. In their fine-dining evenings they spend hours discussing and selecting the correct wine to their innovative new recipes.

This is fine as it is but for many it is clearly a game where the most important objective is not the aesthetic experience itself but to be ahead of the others: to develop a liking for a new band before others have heard it, to be able to have an opinion about the distinguishing features of every type of wine-grape and to be able to form innovative combinations of haute couture and second-hand clothes. I would go as far as to say that there are many people among us today for whom pursuing this aesthetic dimension forms the main motivational field of most of their daily activities.

Small cat and a big dog

As I have a certain repulsion against such games I consciously try to downplay my abilities in these fields. Many times I have arrived to a party with a bottle of the cheapest wine that money can buy which I have drank straight from the bottle whilst others are parading their wine-choices for today and tasting and discussing enthusiastically their latest findings. Strangely, nobody ever wants to taste my choice. I usually enjoy the bohemian atmosphere of places where things are a bit so-so and aesthetics is not so glaring. This all leads me to wonder why is aesthetics so important element in the life of some people?

According to the influential theory of Pierre Bourdieu, taste is about distinction. By having a certain taste I am signaling that I belong to a certain group of people – and almost more importantly: that I am not part of another group. When we, for example, distinguish between working class and bourgeois classes we do not look only at income but rather at their taste as regards clothing, food and different leisure time pursuits. This is why a person from a noble family can radiate an aura of sophistication even when his or her income is almost nonexistent. As Count Alexander Graf von Schönburg-Glachau testifies: ”Whilst we never had much money, we learned to compensate for what we didn’t have with taste.” Our taste is thus in the end nothing more but an acquired way of signaling what group we do belong to.

With Bourdieu’s theory at hand we start to see how various phenomena of modern times are nothing but ways of playing the distinction game; ways of attempting to put oneself above the others through one’s sophisticated taste. For what else is the recent trend of healthy eating and jogging than a way to distinguish oneself from those who don’t eat as healthy and don’t do running? And what else are the various lifestyle magazines than instruments that help the reader to stay one step ahead in this game of distinctions?

In the France of Bourdieu’s times things might have been relatively simple as regards class: There were the working class, the bourgeois and the nobility with their distinctive manners, hobbies and ways of dressing, speaking and thinking. In modern west the field is more fragmented; instead of clear class distinctions it is more about different aesthetic conclaves with distinguish themselves from others as regards their taste in music, clothing and often also more general life-values. There are the hipsters, there are the hippies, goths, yuppies, hiphoppers and what-not. They all might have started to listen to their kind of music and dress in their kind of way because they simply felt that that’s what they liked. But unbeknownst to them they simultaneously made a selection about what game of distinctions and sophistications they started to play. Their choices made them part of a certain group.

Chicken

So, if one scratches the surface of any aesthetic sophistication, one finds a person who is eagerly attempting to show belongingness to a certain group and who is attempting to put oneself ahead of the others in terms of the greater amount of refinement that one has been able to acquire in one’s special field.

This brings us back to the backyards of the Nicaraguan village where I made the observations about the non-refinement of their backyards. Even they might be seen as signals in the game of distinctions. The village was formed in the 80s when the lands of a former land-lord were given to the people in a great land-reform. It can be assumed that these people have a strong willingness to distinguish themselves against the higher classes and display their reciprocal solidarity. So by not having too fancy houses and backyards the people are signaling that they belong together, that they are equal. A too refined backyard would signal to the other members of the village that this person is attempting to stand above the others, that the person thinks he or she is something better than the others. The game of distinctions can be played in many ways…

Best thing about traveling: Spontaneity and meeting new people

To balance the melancholy of the last post, here is an opposite story. Few days after the blackouts in the beach bar, I traveled onwards to León attracted by its reputation as the capital of intellectual and cultural life of Nicaragua. Whilst there, I went to eat alone in a local bar serving food even in the late hours Having finished my meal and reading a book while waiting for the check, a Norwegian guy from a big group approached me and invited me to join them to a night club they were heading to. Having no responsibilities or schedules, I naturally welcomed the idea. Two minutes later I was packed in a van with nineteen mostly Norwegian and hilariously drunk people.

We hit the night club where I happened to sit next to a local guy. We introduced ourselves to each other and I offered to buy him a beer (it is easy to be generous when a beer costs around 1$). He didn’t speak much English but I was surprised to be able to express quite many things with my hands and the lessons learned from my 5 days long intensive introductory course to Spanish (thanks Nica Spanish Language School!). He told me about a concert the next evening and invited me to join him and his friends for a pre-party at his home.

Next evening I showed the taxi-driver the address he had given me and we drove through the streets of León towards the destination. Here the streets have no names – really – so the address was quite literally ”red house 1 block south from the basketball field”. When the paved road ended and we drove in a muddy street surrounded by run-down houses in the evening darkness not lit by streetlights I began to wonder where was I really heading. Soon I was knocking on a door of a house that looked the most red of the one’s on the street hoping that I was in the right spot. Marti, my friend, opened and invited me in.

Casa de Marti

His friends spoke more English and we shared a few beers as well as listened to some local music that they introduced to me before heading for the concert. One guy’s name was Vladimir and when I asked about it he told that his mother had been in a leftist guerrilla army while she was pregnant and wanted to name her son after Vladimir Lenin. I thought what a hero I could have been on the schoolyard when children are boasting about their parents occupations if I could have said: ’My mom is a guerrilla soldier’. I found the dramatic history of Nicaragua become concrete when I realized that all the people I was meeting here had either themselves played a part in the fight against dictatorship or at least someone close to them had been involved.

So through traveling alone one opens up oneself to the potential of meeting new people. After some time of solitude one is usually quite ready to embrace all the opportunities for friendship. And with no prefixed schedule and no-one to answer to, one can freely cling to even the slightest straw of kindness and see how long it will take oneself. Many times in my travels I have for example met with a fellow solo traveler in a hostel, exchanged just a few words about our travels and plans with him or her before deciding to join forces for few days and few destinations. These have been intriguing forms of friendships: spending almost all one’s waking hours together with someone, sharing one’s lifestories to each other – and then parting and never hearing from each other again (although it might be that Facebook can actually change that last bit).

Also the openness and kindness of the locals have left me at awe all around the world. Be it an extravagant meal in a restaurant in Japan offered by a guy we just had met on the beach or community meal I was invited to participate in after visiting a local church in Rarotonga, people in every country seem to go out of their way to make sure that the visitor will remember the place and the people with warmness. I think that applies to every country I’ve visited – the only requirement is that one is somewhere where there are a bit less tourists and thus the locals have not grown too weary of them.

In fact, every time I think of the big and small acts of kindness offered to me, the stranger, by locals I am troubled by bad conscience I think how rarely I have offered a meal, a place to sleep or some smaller favor for a tourist visiting my home town. At home one is so reserved and stuck to one’s routines that one usually misses all these opportunities. It seems that one books one’s schedule so full of events that one simply don’t have the time available for being friendly. In building friendships ’It was nice to give you directions to the cathedral, Mr. Tourist, how about a lunch next Thursday at 13.30?’ is far less effective than ’In fact I can walk you to the cathedral myself. Let’s have a beer afterwards’. At home it feels that my life is already filled with so many friendships, projects and events that there is not room to meet with new people.

Bar in León

The reason to travel is therefore to get rid of the roles, responsibilities, schedules and other factors anchoring oneself to a more planned existence. Traveling offers one the possibility to question one’s way of living. Does good living really require so many responsibilities and predetermined activities as I am prone to gather for me? Or would less be more in terms of the room for spontaneity it would leave open for me? I really don’t know. When I get back I will most probably fill my calendar as full as it has been the last ten years. There just seems to be so many things in life that I simply can’t say no to. To counter this, I really have to remember to keep my plans as open as possible during these holidays. Too predetermined traveling would perhaps mean a larger quantity of experiences but would rip me off the opportunity to experience those adventures that can’t really be planned for. And usually they are qualitatively the most memorable moments of every trip. To balance the melancholy of the last post, here is an opposite story. Few days after the blackouts in the beach bar, I traveled onwards to León attracted by its reputation as the capital of intellectual and cultural life of Nicaragua. Whilst there, I went to eat alone in a local bar serving food even in the late hours Having finished my meal and reading a book while waiting for the check, a Norwegian guy from a big group approached me and invited me to join them to a night club they were heading to. Having no responsibilities or schedules, I naturally welcomed the idea. Two minutes later I was packed in a van with nineteen mostly Norwegian and hilariously drunk people.

We hit the night club where I happened to sit next to a local guy. We introduced ourselves to each other and I offered to buy him a beer (it is easy to be generous when a beer costs around 1$). He didn’t speak much English but I was surprised to be able to express quite many things with my hands and the lessons learned from my 5 days long intensive introductory course to Spanish (thanks Nica Spanish Language School!). He told me about a concert the next evening and invited me to join him and his friends for a pre-party at his home.

Next evening I showed the taxi-driver the address he had given me and we drove through the streets of León towards the destination. Here the streets have no names – really – so the address was quite literally ”red house 1 block south from the basketball field”. When the paved road ended and we drove in a muddy street surrounded by run-down houses in the evening darkness not lit by streetlights I began to wonder where was I really heading. Soon I was knocking on a door of a house that looked the most red of the one’s on the street hoping that I was in the right spot. Marti, my friend, opened and invited me in.

Casa de Marti

His friends spoke more English and we shared a few beers as well as listened to some local music that they introduced to me before heading for the concert. One guy’s name was Vladimir and when I asked about it he told that his mother had been in a leftist guerrilla army while she was pregnant and wanted to name her son after Vladimir Lenin. I thought what a hero I could have been on the schoolyard when children are boasting about their parents occupations if I could have said: ’My mom is a guerrilla soldier’. I found the dramatic history of Nicaragua become concrete when I realized that all the people I was meeting here had either themselves played a part in the fight against dictatorship or at least someone close to them had been involved.

So through traveling alone one opens up oneself to the potential of meeting new people. After some time of solitude one is usually quite ready to embrace all the opportunities for friendship. And with no prefixed schedule and no-one to answer to, one can freely cling to even the slightest straw of kindness and see how long it will take oneself. Many times in my travels I have for example met with a fellow solo traveler in a hostel, exchanged just a few words about our travels and plans with him or her before deciding to join forces for few days and few destinations. These have been intriguing forms of friendships: spending almost all one’s waking hours together with someone, sharing one’s lifestories to each other – and then parting and never hearing from each other again (although it might be that Facebook can actually change that last bit).

Also the openness and kindness of the locals have left me at awe all around the world. Be it an extravagant meal in a restaurant in Japan offered by a guy we just had met on the beach or community meal I was invited to participate in after visiting a local church in Rarotonga, people in every country seem to go out of their way to make sure that the visitor will remember the place and the people with warmness. I think that applies to every country I’ve visited – the only requirement is that one is somewhere where there are a bit less tourists and thus the locals have not grown too weary of them.

In fact, every time I think of the big and small acts of kindness offered to me, the stranger, by locals I am troubled by bad conscience I think how rarely I have offered a meal, a place to sleep or some smaller favor for a tourist visiting my home town. At home one is so reserved and stuck to one’s routines that one usually misses all these opportunities. It seems that one books one’s schedule so full of events that one simply don’t have the time available for being friendly. In building friendships ’It was nice to give you directions to the cathedral, Mr. Tourist, how about a lunch next Thursday at 13.30?’ is far less effective than ’In fact I can walk you to the cathedral myself. Let’s have a beer afterwards’. At home it feels that my life is already filled with so many friendships, projects and events that there is not room to meet with new people.

Bar in León

The reason to travel is therefore to get rid of the roles, responsibilities, schedules and other factors anchoring oneself to a more planned existence. Traveling offers one the possibility to question one’s way of living. Does good living really require so many responsibilities and predetermined activities as I am prone to gather for me? Or would less be more in terms of the room for spontaneity it would leave open for me? I really don’t know. When I get back I will most probably fill my calendar as full as it has been the last ten years. There just seems to be so many things in life that I simply can’t say no to. To counter this, I really have to remember to keep my plans as open as possible during these holidays. Too predetermined traveling would perhaps mean a larger quantity of experiences but would rip me off the opportunity to experience those adventures that can’t really be planned for. And usually they are qualitatively the most memorable moments of every trip.

The beginning of a journey

Sometimes a man has to go. Sometimes a man needs a purpose to go. I am going to Central America, to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The purpose of my journey is to learn more about the local culture, the way they live their lives and the way they think about vital issues such as happiness, morality and good life.

What makes Costa Ricans happy, what is their measure of success? What kind of attitudes do Nicaraguans have towards life’s big issues: family, work, friendship and death? What kind of things do they value, what is sacred for them? And of course: What can we learn about our own lives and our own deeply-held values and attitudes by comparing them with the Central-American culture? In other words, what can we learn from them in terms of how to live a good life ourselves? These are the questions I will be examining.

My mission in life is to explore novel ways of thinking that enable people to better understand how to live their life in a good way. I aim to find fruitful ways to answer the ancient question about what is good life and how to live one’s life. The journey I will now be taking is a part of this mission. Through absorbing myself to the Central American culture for a couple of months I hope to widen my perspective and thus be able to think about these basic questions in a more open and wide-reaching way.

This blog will be a report of this journey. I hope to give the reader two things: (1) To broaden her or his perspective about what good life could be about. (2) To give practical insights into how to live a better life within one’s own life-situation, whatever that situation is.

How then to live your life? Truth to be told, there is no such thing as one correct way of living. Everyone must carve their own path. As Zarathustra said:

”This is just my way, where is yours?” Thus did I answer to those who asked me ”the way.” For the way – it does not not exist!

Sometimes a man has to go. Sometimes a man needs a purpose to go. I am going to Central America, to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The purpose of my journey is to learn more about the local culture, the way they live their lives and the way they think about vital issues such as happiness, morality and good life.

What makes Costa Ricans happy, what is their measure of success? What kind of attitudes do Nicaraguans have towards life’s big issues: family, work, friendship and death? What kind of things do they value, what is sacred for them? And of course: What can we learn about our own lives and our own deeply-held values and attitudes by comparing them with the Central-American culture? In other words, what can we learn from them in terms of how to live a good life ourselves? These are the questions I will be exploring.

My mission in life is to explore novel ways of thinking that enable people to better understand how to live their life in a good way. I aim to find fruitful ways to answer the ancient question about what is good life and how to live one’s life. The journey I will now be taking is a part of this mission. Through absorbing myself to the Central American culture for a couple of months I hope to widen my perspective and thus be able to think about these basic questions in a more open and wide-reaching way.

This blog will be a report of this journey. I hope to give the reader two things: (1) To broaden her or his perspective about what good life could be about. (2) To give practical insights into how to live a better life within one’s own life-situation, whatever that situation is.

How then to live your life? Truth to be told, there is no such thing as one correct way of living. Everyone must carve their own path. As Zarathustra said:

”This is just my way, where is yours?” Thus did I answer to those who asked me for ”the way.” For the way – it does not not exist!