This I Believe

Jules - Oakland, California
Entered on December 13, 2006
Age Group: Under 18
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Stripped to the Bone

It surrounds us. It’s in our history books, it’s in the backs of our newspapers, it’s glaring on the TV screen every morning while you sip your coffee. It exists in every country, and at times it seems like it’s the only thing that’s keeping us from advancing as a species. It’s the barrier between countries, the cultural and ideological barrier that keeps us from knowing one another; the seas that stretch for thousands of miles and alienate us from each other; and it’s our greatest display of ignorance.

Last summer, I left the United States for the first time. I remember how the closer we came to our destination, I became more and more fascinated with the idea of what I was about to do. The second and final flight, to Basel, Switzerland, is when I fully realized that there was no turning back. The next time I got off the plane, the family would be waiting there for me, and I would be speaking a language not my own, in a culture not my own, for an entire month.

With three initially shy kids, a curious town, and a desire to get settled in, I basically had to jump into the part of my personality that would normally take time to arise, the part of my personality that I reveal to only my best of friends.

Through the course of the month, I met countless Swiss, and from each one learned more about myself. Being taken away from our contrived social culture might have been the best thing that ever happened to me. I was able to gather an entirely new and honest perception of myself from these people I barely knew.

This I believe: That living as a hermit in your own culture, we can’t truly understand ourselves. What we begin to know ourselves for is the way we react to pop culture, the way we act around our peers. We know ourselves as celebrities. By removing ourselves from this haze of familiarity and assuredness, and entering an environment unknown, we find our personalities stripped to the bone. In the same way that we meet and form an opinion about our peers, we meet and form an opinion about ourselves. And thus, we are that much closer to being complete – by knowing ourselves not only as celebrities, but as friends.