Chatted with a friend yesterday about a mutual acquaintance who is joining the Peace Corps. We both mentioned how, to us, this choice seems odd: how the Peace Corps seems an anachronistic remnant of the Cold War, the “soft” approach to diplomacy (“winning hearts and minds”) to complement the hard approach (“bombing brains and bodies”). How there’s something uncomfortably imperialistic about it, about the idea that all these “natives” need to “rescue” them from hardship is a 22-year-old liberal arts student with a Lit. degree and no remotely relevant experience; analogous to the “Mighty Whitey” trope in film and fiction, also known as What These People Need Is A Honkey.
“At the same time,” I said, “I envy these people their ability to believe in something.” Our friend’s belief in the American Way and its relevance to completely different cultures, while deeply problematic and sort of shockingly naïve, allows him to go out into the world and accomplish something. It’s analogous to religious faith: as with many deeply religious people, his unquestioned, blinkered “faith” is a source of strength. And like many religious people, he’s a genuinely good-hearted person.
“Myself,” I went on, “I don’t have that kind of faith – not in a chosen people and not in a chosen country. I used to sort of “believe” in literature, but even that has become problematic for me in recent years. I guess I don’t know what I believe in, anymore, not really.”
“Hmm,” said my friend, after a pause. “I guess I believe in breath.”
And I thought that was as good an answer as any.
Pic by Adriana Petit via here