The World and Us
I recently made the mistake of posting something on Facebook.
It was a simple observation. Not an opinion. Nor an attack. Just three lines. When I confessed this to a friend the next day, he asked, “What were you thinking?” Shaking my head, perplexed at my lapse, I responded, “I wasn’t thinking, I just typed it and hit send.”
Here’s what happened.
I’m driving from Marrakech to Casablanca with a good friend. We’ve known each other for almost a decade. He’s co-founder of a travel company catering mostly to Americans. Their mission is to change perspectives about Morocco and by extension the Islamic world. A noble cause to be sure. He and his business partner are the right people to be taking this on. They both grew up in Morocco. One from a well-to-do family in Casablanca. The other raised by a politically radical mother from Rabat, the capital city. They were educated in some of America’s finest universities, meeting at Harvard Business School, where they hatched this audacious plan to change minds. They are products of their time. Idealistic, worldly, ambitious.
These two men could have written their tickets with any multinational corporation. Becoming senior leaders with large paychecks and stock options to boot. They could have stayed in the United States. Launched a startup, getting millions in funding. They are both young enough to choose either path now. But no. They decided to move back to Morocco. To build a business that’s ethical, nurtures its employees, and brings a rule of law approach to contracts, partnerships, and day-to-day dealings with locals. No need to get into the complexity of this challenge. Needless to say, it’s formidable.
When we first started working together, my friend would often say, “I’d love to show you my country.” I responded as most Americans would, “Absolutely. I’d love that.” Guessing that it would never happen. But it has. This is my fourth trip to Morocco. For the past two years, I’ve been working with his team, from the early four to the current seventeen. Proud to see their growth both as a team and as leaders.
On my previous trips I moderated sessions, actively guided them. But not on this trip. I’m like a faculty advisor. Sitting in the rooms, adding support, and giving feedback behind the scenes. It’s gratifying to see these young leaders lead and even better, see a cross-section of Morocco follow. Attentive. Believing.
This group of employees is a mix of old and young who’ve rarely been outside of their country. They are from the mountains, from the desert, from the city. They make their living touring foreigners around. They know their country and by extension, they know the world even though they haven’t visited it much. Then there are the young people in their twenties doing the office work, sales, support, operations. They are idealistic and generally well-traveled. Most are Moroccan and Muslim. And very modern. The face of today’s Islamic world.
We’re speeding down a four-lane highway. It’s like any highway you’d see anywhere in the first world. My friend comments on it a few times. “If only you had seen what it was like before they built this highway. The drive was dangerous and took far longer.” We jump from subject to subject, talking about his family, his country, and what’s happening in the United States. His insights are better than mine. His extensive education and experience in America have made him an interesting mix of Moroccan and American. He can see both sides and articulate both well. I say more than once, “You know you are an American now, right?”
My only contribution is my perspective as a Southern American. Having grown up in Northwest Florida in a town of just over 2000 people, I’m still actively in touch with my home folks, many of whom are aligned with the current White House. He’s curious what they think about these first few weeks of Trump’s presidency. I say they love what’s going on. “Really?” he asks more than a few times. I talk about how the election is the result of frustration, not a belief system.
“I was just talking with one of my mentors,” I explain. “He put it like this. Of the 60 million votes Trump received, he would bet 30 million were people who’d rather not have voted for Trump but they needed our elites to wake up. So they’re stuffing Trump down their throats. Making them deal with him.” The point being that our public institutions have become so distant from average people, that people from towns like mine needed to do something drastic. Something Trumpian. So they did.
He kind of laughs but in a sad way. “Wow, let’s hope the price isn’t higher than the medicine we’re required to take.” I turn my head to the desert hills that are passing by my window. We’re close enough now that silence is comfortable. I’m thinking about this place, this modern Muslim man, his future, mine. He’s right. We’re taking a huge risk with this reaction. And it’s our fault. Those of us who own capital, lead businesses, live in New York and San Francisco, who consider ourselves educated. We forgot the working people. And as history has taught many times before, when the elite forget the people, the people punish them. Here we go again.
As we enter the crowded streets of Casablanca, my friend comments on our timing. “We’re arriving at just the right time,” he says. “If we had come in an hour earlier or later, we’d be locked in traffic.” Instead the roads are open and we arrive at our destination in due course. A metaphor of sorts. A modern highway built for the people to get us here. Considerable pain to build I’m sure. And a timing that minimized the price of entry into the urban sprawl. A stretch but . . . hopeful.
It’s at this moment that I write my Facebook post. I’m in a reflective mood. Innocent. I simply write, “Currently in Casablanca after a drive from Marrakech with local friends. No anger here. Just sadness for the American dream.” The response is swift. My left elites love it. My childhood friends go quiet. A few defriend me. Finally one writes, “You didn’t have to be political.”
Political? Why would he think I was being political? Then it hits me. I was. A good example of the disconnect between my childhood reality and the world I live in today. I was just saying what I saw. My reality. He read a judgment. A critique. An elite with a distant view. Someone disconnected from his truth.
The people I grew up with lost the American dream long ago. Today they have hope for a better tomorrow. This for the first time in a generation.
I woke up. And it took a drive in a distant land with a friend dedicated to changing perspectives to make it happen. How about that?