I’ve been on a Bob Dylan kick lately. Two weeks ago, I took a meditation teacher training down the shore and on the hour-long ride, I was listening to some old rock/folk music when “Positively 4th Street” came on. Since then, I’ve been obsessed with Dylan’s snark. Talk about salty!
When I listen to American folk music, of the less salty kind, I always feel this great sense of hope, openness, and dedication to freedom. The US is a country with very strong ideals – ones we talk about often, though sometimes we’re not as adept at putting them into practice in our daily lives. And yet.
At some point when I was in Brazil over the past two years, I realized something that was missing. A big, large, gigantic chunk of American culture: a sense of hope. I’m not just talking about Obama-era hope, but hope in general. Though we may criticize the American dream for its failings, that criticism is, in itself, based on a sense of hope. Everyone deserves to dream, everyone deserves to pursue their happiness. Right?
Hope is subtle in its pervasiveness. As children, we’re taught we can be whatever we want to be. If we work hard enough, we’ll get it. Those who hustle get the reward in the end. You can always get to a better place than where you are right now.
Brazil, I realized, doesn’t have this same attachment to hope. That’s not to say that Brazil isn’t a hopeful place, but hope does not seem to be seen as a natural human right. There’s no promise that things will get better. There’s no hustle for the dream – it’s always a hustle to survive, and it will probably go on forever.
So what exists in place of hope? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but my best description would be community. My impression, as an outsider in Brazil, is that it’s okay for life to not be everything you’ve ever dreamed of so long as you have people around you. In community, you find solace. (Consider the amount of shared space in Brazil, for example, compared to our endless fences and walls in the US.)
It’s a subtle difference that I never quite adjusted to. Individualism, work ethic, goals, motivation, discipline: these are my sign posts as an American, whether they were spoken or unspoken. Sacrificing my personal desires for the collective is a struggle. I never feel at home in a crowd, nor can I shut down my introverted tendencies to go along with the group because it was never a requirement in my life.
One is not better than the other. But when I reflect on the two – with all of my history and culture – I love the sensation of hope. It’s like a perpetual dawn, the sun is always rising. You never know what the next day will bring, but it can always be better.