Being a new foreigner here in Beirut has its advantages. For one, my ignorance of the cultural aspects in Lebanon allows for my perspective to be untainted.
Cultural dichotomies seem to be a running theme in Beirut. There are extremely conservative people, and really liberal people. There are really rich people, and really poor people. There are really rude people, and really hospitable people. There are really religious people, and really secular people. There are corporate people, and there are artists.
Most recently, I have witnessed the dichotomy between activists and those who just do not give a damn about the issues of Lebanon. Both sides are extremely, well, extreme.
In Lebanon, there is no shortage of issues. Politically, well, you can read a 1000 page book on Lebanese politics, live here for decades, or interview 100 people, and still have no clue what the hell is going on here politically. There are issues with refugees, racism, misogyny, domestic worker abuse, violence against women, environmental issues, sectarian segregation… the list goes on and on.
With that said, there are two distinct people I meet in Beirut: The Activist and the Ignorant. Only on occasion, do I meet someone in between. There is a lack of balance in the individual where one practices the yin and yang — a Taoist practice of balancing the polar opposites.
The (big A) Activist, understandably, is angry. They fight for every issue. I believe we need (small a) activists. We need people who know what the issues are and fight to make the world a better place. But I find that in Lebanon, there are so many issues that it starts to taint the Activist and they start to become a very negative person. They no longer see the beauty in life. When another is trying to do good, they only see what they are doing wrong. It starts to pollute their perspective on life — that everything is against them and there is nothing good in the world anymore. I find it scary actually, and it is one of the reasons why I want to work in the private sector for a few years after my Masters to balance out my perspectives.
The Ignorant is completely unconscious. People say ignorance and unconsciousness is bliss, and maybe it is, but I find this way of life to be pretty pathetic as well. The Ignorant lives in la-la land. They throw their Pepsi can out their car window. They keep their windows open with the air conditioner on full blast and complain that there is an electricity problem in Lebanon. They think all Southeast Asians are domestic workers in Lebanon and all Eastern Europeans are prostitutes. They believe Asians and black people are beneath them. They are Lebanese people who think they are white. They have a salary of $1000 USD/month yet they drive a BMW, and wear brand names to look “rich” instead to look good in their own individual way. They think that if they don’t have symptoms, they do not have a STD and do not need to wear a condom. They believe men should be the breadwinners and pay for everything. They believe in status and success without knowing what real status and success really means. They don’t read. They blindly follow trends.
Both the big A Activist and the big I Ignorant are seriously missing out on life. I believe having fun without the thought of consequence is necessary in life, sometimes. I also believe that there needs to be social justice. But somewhere along the line they forget that there is a different kind of consciousness: the human condition.
To the Activist, I say to you, have faith in mankind. Give them a chance. Tell, don’t yell. Have patience. Be angry but not enraged (easier said than done for me in some aspects).
To the Ignorant, life isn’t just about what’s in front of you but what is ahead of you. Enjoying life is important but making sure your neighbour is enjoying life with you is much more fun.
I don’t know if this makes any sense but I sure am having a great time observing in Beirut.
Until next time.