The Edge of the Wood

by John Messeder, Nemophilist & Ecological Storyteller

A consistency among peoples

In the opening sentence of a letter ostensibly to the leaders of the Iranian government, nearly half the members of the U.S. Senate declared that those leaders “may not fully understand our constitutional system.”

Why do we keep thinking people who aren’t us are, if not stupid, at least ignorant? I’m guessing the leaders of any nation which can produce poets and playwrights, jet fighter pilots, and maybe even nuclear weapons, likely is aware of the governmental machinations of their competition on the world stage.

During my Navy career, the first “foreign” language I learned was Spanish. I enjoyed passing by the beer joints and English-speaking girls that line the main road leading away from every military base frequented by U.S. soldiers and sailors. The challenge was to walk down to the playa, where Spanish workers, after a day of labor,  sat in a bar – here we would call it a coffee shop – and talked about what working people the world over discuss.

In the first bar I entered, I tried to order a coffee and some food. The waitress could not understand; she could not speak or understand English. I looked at the menu, listened to the men talk, and started with something easy – “café con leche y cognac.” – a very small cup of very strong coffee with milk, and a touch of cognac.

Eventually, I began trying to order in Spanish. In a short time, the men who earlier had seemed to know no English began teaching me to pronounce the words. Amazingly, many of them who a few minutes earlier could not speak English, began translating.

Like us when we meet someone here for whom English is not a natural language, they wanted me to speak in their tongue – and were willing to help me learn if I was willing to try.

In Germany in the late 1960s, a young woman guided me around Hamburg, but had no desire to come to the U.S. She had seen on TV how we lived, and wanted no part of the burning neighborhoods of our segregation and civil rights strife. She had never, of course, seen one of our malls.

Granddaughter is studying “social norms” in her Sociology class. I was in college before I learned to spell “s-o-c-i-o-l-o-g-y.” Especially with a Capital S. Last weekend, we celebrated Gramma turning 201, violating a social norm because it was not Gramma’s 201st birthday; her birthday was in January.

In Torremolinos, a town on Mediterranean coast of Spain, I discovered a different social norm. Women lounged in hotel courtyards while they soaked up their daily ration of Vitamin D. Outside the courtyard, street vendors mixed and sold by the glass a steady supply of sangria. From time to time, a sunbathing woman would rise from her chaise, don her bikini top, and exit the courtyard through a gate set in the four-foot high stone wall, to purchase a glass of refreshment from the vendor.

A friend often points out Iranian artists and scholars. She is on Facebook, contrary to what some of our leaders would have us believe about that nation’s access to the world beyond its boarders.

Over the years, I have learned to not trust everything I see on the television news. Everywhere I have traveled I have observed an array of social norms, but one has always bothered me: the nearly universal inclination of nearly every people, urban or rural, light-skinned or dark, of any religion, is thinking anyone not in their group is less enlightened.

And we are probably not well-served by leaders who think a society capable of fine art, exceptional scholarship and a nuclear weapon are somehow incapable of knowing how our government functions.


  1. I have enjoyed reading your column. Nice to meet you. MY name is Sejeong Kim. I am a SEJ member and that’s how i got to know you and your website.
    Your writing touches me a lot because I am in an environment where being different is wrong and where you are expected to think and behave the same way as millions of others and I feel suffocated.
    I am from South Korea. My northern neighbor is the most repressive nation on earth. People here look at them with arrogance. But, I feel very often that this place is no different from the northern hell, because I see the same attempt by my leaders to make us a fool and a slave.
    Thank you!

  2. And I like how you described yourself: environment storyteller!

    • John

      June 5, 2015 at 05:54

      Thank you for your thoughts. Sometimes I feel similarly about our culture when laws are passed our community standards are enforced that deny individuality. Then I read about places where it is much worse.

      I will look for your site and writing. Again, thank you.

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