Myanmar and America politics, only one we can like

Goatherd Myanmar

Goatherd on the tracks in Myanmar? Now that’s a job I wouldn’t mind talking about.

“I think we should talk about politics,” I suggested to the table of tour members, bored senseless with the American conversation of what you do for work.

“Oh, but wouldn’t you rather be friends?” A woman responded, half joking. Maybe a quarter. Heads around the table nodded their agreement, and we discovered that Bill was an accountant.

I get it. It bums me out, but I get it. And given how much more important politics is than what we normally talk about (unless Game of Thrones really affects your life) this kinda boggles my mind, so I’ve grabbed a few theories to explain it.

Not your enemy. Not anyone's enemy.

Not your enemy. Not anyone’s enemy.

3: Things seem so screwed, talking about them depresses me. (I get that. But what if ignoring problems is an implicit endorsement of them?)

2: I don’t understand politics and I’m scared that if we talk about it, you’ll find that out. (Chicken or the egg?)

And my number 1 reason why I think Americans are scared to talk about politics: We’ve forgotten that disagreeing with each other doesn’t friggin mean we’re enemies. You can still be friends with people you disagree with. And personally, I think you should be friends with people you disagree with. That might help our impasse, and lessen the ease with which we demonize and ridicule those with other opinions, instead of understanding and connecting with them.

So I’m delighted that Rick Steves encourages his guides to talk politics with tour members. And I’m going to. With frequent disclaimers that they’re just my opinions, and that I respect differing viewpoints, yada yada yada, and I’m sure I’ll get cases (like the one in Rome) where people look at me and their eyes indict “Oh. You’re one of them.” Who want to take our guns. Who want to demean the sanctity of marriage. Who want to give our jobs to the ___s.

Daily life, somewhere between Yangon and Mandalay

Daily life, somewhere between Yangon and Mandalay

But what about when teaching refugees? Should I talk politics with people whose politics might have gotten them killed, and gotten their families killed? Probably not.

But when I have so many students from Myanmar, and that country is having its first apparently/relatively fair election in 25 years, I just have to ask something. And that one particular student is such a positive, friendly, open guy, and he speaks English so well, I just had to ask him a question that’s been lingering since I visited Myanmar in 2013.

I stopped by Aung Sun Suu Kyi's birthday party, which was fantastic. But why were the shirts in English? (About 100 languages are spoken in Myanmar. Oh.)

I stopped by Aung Sun Suu Kyi’s birthday party, which was fantastic. But why were the shirts in English? (About 100 languages are spoken in Myanmar. Oh.)

“How do you feel about Aung San Suu Kyi?” He looked at me, slightly bewildered. “I heard, in Myanmar, people say that she is kind of more for foreigners than Burmese people.” (Kind of like how the Dalai Lama is the outside world’s representative of Tibet, but inside the country the Panchen Lama is often more significant.)

My student summed up politics in so many countries. “We like her. Because she’s the only one to like.”

So as the Republicans continue to search for the most insane viewpoints, the most profound misarticulation of reality, and the worst possible responses to it, and Hillary tries to squirm out from under the perception that she’s an intelligent, dedicated diplomat who is basically just another politician, I am left loving Bernie Sanders. Of course, the more I hear from and about him, the more I love him, but still, he’s the only one to like. Wouldn’t it be great to have more than one good option?

I wonder if I can get a table full of Americans to talk about that one.