I have my own MLK dream today: I dream that sometime in the future, the country will make it possible for every high school student to spend at least six months in a country outside the United States, preferably on another continent. Robert Kaiser wrote yesterday in the WaPo that Americans get into trouble--read, Iraq and Vietnam--because they are ethnocentric, somewhat unreflective and strong in the belief that everyone sees things and wants to live like they do. I think that's largely true--I always remember Frank Burns in one of those classic episodes of MASH telling Hawkeye Pierce that we were in Korea to make sure all citizens of the north and south had American plumbing and toilets. It is also perfectly understandable, since Americans live on an island with relatively friendly neighbors. It takes work to get out and mingle with Europeans, Asians and Africans.
If you live abroad for any length of time, you learn that not everyone views the United States as a beacon of liberty, hope and human rights. Whether they have been conditioned by their governments to focus on the negative aspects of US history or they are close readers of the news, a lot of people abroad see us as an opportunistic, self-serving, often hypocritical great power. That's both true and untrue, but that is the way they see things. Secondly, you get a sense that people are the products of their historical experience. Russians, for example, are mistrustful of foreigners in part because foreigners--read, French, Germans, Poles, Swedes and a host of other invaders--have brought them a lot of grief and death. The French and most continental Europeans will do virtually anything to avoid war, not because they are cowards but because of the two wars that devastated their countries not so long ago. Third, you learn to live with ambiguity--you can be friends and have a dialogue with someone else even if you don't share his or her world view. It seems to me that's the beginning of perspective and wisdom.
I would not trade my time abroad for any amount of money. I dream that someday, our people will have the tools to break out of their isolation and exceptionalism, so that they can avoid delusions like those that landed us in Vietnam and Iraq. In the meantime, YOU should "cultivate your own garden," that is, investigate opportunities to travel and engage "furriners." It will change and enrich your life, as well as those of the people lucky enough to meet you.