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There Are No Shithole Countries

We recently learned that Donald Trump referred to African nations and Haiti using a derogatory and profane term. (Accounts differ, but all seem to agree it ended with “hole.”)

Writing off an enormous percentage of the world’s landmass and population as inferior isn’t just nasty, it’s incorrect.

It’s true that some nations have oppressive, despotic, or corrupt governments. Some have high rates of poverty. I don’t envy the citizens of North Korea, as they have both.

But human nature is universal. Human beings in every country demonstrate the same levels of courage and bravery, compassion and kindness, and intelligence and ingenuity as we do here in the United States.

I’ve traveled to five continents (all but Australia and Antarctica) and I’ve met people in each place who excel in ways Americans value — such as by attaining college educations or succeeding in high paying careers.

But I’ve also encountered incredible people proving their greatness in other ways.

In Mexico, I visited boarding schools in which the children, some as young as seventh grade, grew, harvested, and cooked their own food every single day, in addition to attending class and completing homework.

They did this without tractors, refrigerators, or stoves. Making breakfast meant waking up before dawn to light a fire (with wood they chopped themselves) and cooking beans and tortillas from scratch.

In the Philippines, I visited a community that was being exploited by a multinational corporation. The community called in an international non-profit organization to investigate and publicize what was happening. Then they bravely gave their names and told their stories publicly, risking retaliation as they attempted to fight for their rights.

In Kenya, children spend far more time in school than Americans do. I stayed with a family whose two kids arrived at school earlier and stayed later than I ever had to — and they went back for more on Saturdays. In Kenya, such dedication to school work is normal.

In Cuba, I found people who could invent just about anything from simple materials. One man created a hydraulic irrigation device out of a few soda bottles and some plastic tubing. With no electricity, the device turned the water on and off at regular intervals, providing the right amount of irrigation to the man’s guava seedlings.

These were not unusually extraordinary people. Just as many Americans exhibit brilliance, creativity, and hard work, so do people everywhere.

However, there is value in diversity. By traveling and meeting people from five continents, I not only encountered diversity in skin colors, languages, and cuisines — I also encountered diversity in ideas.

Americans can only lose if we shun people from the rest of the world. When we meet and work with people from each different culture on earth, whether here in the U.S. or outside it, we gain from their unique perspectives just as they gain from ours.

Some of the most exciting developments I’ve witnessed have come from two or more cultures working together, combining the ideas of each to create something more than the sum of its parts.

A nation’s poverty isn’t a mark of its people’s intelligence — or their value. By all means, criticize oppressive governments. Hate poverty, war, and disease. But remember that people everywhere possess the same common humanity that makes each culture on earth great.

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