|photo by katerina plotnikova via www.boredpanda.com|
The cold North Sea wind whistled through my earrings and turned my cheeks a rosy pink. I pedaled harder, letting its frigid strength renew the power of my legs, my frozen fingers, my fast beating, invigorated heart. I was an American girl, after all, a child of the Cold War, of capitalism-is-good and socialism-is-bad, and here I was pedaling my bike to school in Europe, eighteen years old, with the Berlin Wall still standing just a couple hundred miles away. I was on my own, a lone foreigner in a beautiful new land and this fresh, freezing wind was my competition. I was not going to let it win.
By the time I got to school, I was exhausted. My legs felt like jelly, my hair was a scraggled mess and my heart was beating right out of my chest. I was a mess and I knew my father would be proud because I fought the wind and won. I walked up the stairs to my first class with a proud smile on my face.
Learning college-level math in a foreign language is not something I recommend. Truth is, probably every other person in my class would tell you that it wasn’t anywhere near college level math. But for me, a young woman feeling like a character on the ‘Peanuts’ listening to the teacher and her ‘blah, blah, blah’s’, it might as well of been Phd level math. I didn’t understand a single word.
So when my desk mate, Ole, mumbled the answer to one of the questions and didn’t raise his hand to share it with the rest of the class, I was shocked. The math teacher chastised the class—did no one know anything? Were we all asleep? (Or at least that’s what I thought he was saying.) I looked over at Ole. Still, he sat silent.
“Why don’t you raise your hand?” I whispered to him. “You know the answer!”
Ole shook his head, and took a second to collect his thoughts. His English was impeccable so I knew he both understood me and would have no problem responding. “We aren’t like you Americans,” he said. “We Danes, we don’t like to stand out, to shine, as you say in English. We think more of the group than ourselves.”
I blinked in thought, waiting for him to continue.
“If you stand out in the USA, most of the time you are praised, rewarded for beating others out. Here in Denmark, it doesn’t usually work that way. If we stand out too much, we don’t have as many friends because we are thinking more of ourselves than others. If we brag, we are avoided, not embraced.”
I started to argue with him in my head, but each time I did, my argument came up short.
We all deserve to shine … yes, but we ALL deserve to shine
Speak your mind …but isn’t it better to first, do no harm?
Show your talents … but give others a chance to do the same
Think of yourself … but what about the satisfaction of thinking of others?
So I sat mute, stunned into silence as I watched a young man in my classroom say nothing of what he knew for the sake of the group.
Maybe I had gotten the competition part of life all wrong. Maybe life wasn’t win-lose. Maybe I had embarked upon a whole new way of seeing life. And all because of my eighteen-year-old desk mate Ole who once, years ago, thought beyond just himself.
* * *
What if we didn’t honk when someone wasn’t moving out of the way, but got out of our car and checked to see if they were alright? What if someone wasn’t acting kindly and we responded with loving words? What if a child chose not to listen and we took it as an invitation to not listen, with them? What if we stopped demanding, taking, wanting for ourselves and started to try on the perspectives of the people all around us? What if suddenly we realized a more fulfilling life could be ours… if we just stopped thinking only of ourselves?
Would we make different choices?
What if life is win-win, not win-lose? What then? Would we stop competing with others and start competing only with ourselves?
What if loving yourself, at its best, is loving everything around you, too? Because isn’t love, in its purest form, all-encompassing, never selective? And then, if we love ourselves enough, and believe in a win-win world, wouldn’t we have more than enough love to go around? Wouldn’t giving be easy, natural, even second nature?
Broaden your Self—your thinking, your love.
… think, beyond …
And shine brighter than you ever have before,
just as the rest of the world has always wanted you to.