TO a young islander in Micronesia, the world is a scary place right now. So many questions swirl in your mind, you don’t know where to begin to make sense of it or understand your place.
I can pepper you with graduation speech clichés or we can talk about real questions you have thought about. I prefer the second option, don’t you?
Traditions versus Modernity? You have grown up in a culture that respects its traditions and its ancestors, and rightly so. Understanding where you come from helps you know where you are and where you are going. To ignore your past is not just foolish, it is arrogant. Your parents and ancestors made a lot of mistakes and accomplished great things. Along the way they learned a lot of wisdom. Only a fool would ignore that wisdom and learn the same lessons over again. On the other hand, the modern world does not look like it has much in common with island history. The world is all about computers, social media, and technology. These things have little to do with taro and proas. Can you embrace the modern world while still holding on to your traditions? Not only is the answer yes, but it must be yes if you are to prosper and be happy.
How do I prepare for the future? The short answer is to learn, learn, learn. More than ever before, the difference between success and failure in life comes down to how much you know. Do you know why every year billions of dollars flow to crooks who run email scams? Because victims don’t know any better. Do you know the difference between the person working for the company and the person running the company? One of them understands what the company does, its place in the market, and knows how to do most of the jobs within the company and the other does not. The difference between the blacksmith and the apprentice is how much they know and understand about their craft.
Are things as bad as they look? Well, yes and no. On a societal or global level, things look bleak. Beyond Coronavirus and the quarantine, we have a Cold War between China and the United States, social upheaval and protest have exploded in dozens of countries, climate change brings its own set of problems, and runaway population growth. But while things may look gloomy for humanity as a whole, it does not have to be that way for you and your family. Regardless of what is going on out there, happiness is still a choice. Optimism is not completely out of fashion yet. If your entire worldview is based on the six o’clock news, it would seem pretty depressing, to be sure. But you can be happy. You can make a positive difference in the lives of those around you. You may not be able to solve the problems between China and America, but you can be a source of encouragement and refreshment for the ones you love. Focus on that.
Should I stay or should I go? Perhaps the most pressing question on the minds of young islanders is whether to stay on island or move off. Perhaps life is better on the mainland, maybe there are more opportunities and better jobs, better mates to find. I cannot answer this one for you, but I can tell you that so many people have asked this question that we have a saying for it: The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. Have you ever noticed cows graze in a pasture? No matter how lush the grass is in their own field, they always walk near the fence, poke their heads through, and eat the grass out there. Meanwhile, the cows on the other side are poking their heads in this way to get at this grass. Do they think it tastes better? Is it the forbidden fruit? There is a powerful lesson here about human nature. For many islanders, all they want to do is get to the mainland, but for many mainlanders, they want to get to the islands. Maybe we are more like cows than we thought.
The conclusion is this: respect what came before you while reaching for what is ahead. Learn all you can any time you can. While things may be bad out there, help the people you can and worry less about those you can’t. And as for the cows, well, just try not to end up as hamburger.
BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He currently resides on the mainland U.S.