We Live in Poverty – Not In Misery

Nguyen Hoang, Village Chief, Xom Gio, Vietnam; Cpl, ARVN (RET)

Hello dear reader, it’s so good to be back with you.

It’s been a month and I’m hoping you will be OK with me sharing my main takeaway from from our amazing trip to Vietnam and Cambodia.

Up front though, you need to know that if I don’t seem “fair and balanced” or my “tone” seems different in this post it’s because these are my personal feelings and  reactions, honestly held and expressed, to what I saw, and being honest with you comes first. Then you get to agree, or not…and that’s cool.

Also, if you are reading this in your email, the links to all this media won’t pop up, so clicking on the title at the top will take you to the post itself. The links will be there.

So, no surprise, it’s all about the people…always… the people: beautiful, warm, gentle, yet strong, very, very determined….and patient.

In Vietnam, these people had no way to know that in the 60’s, I  slept through their nightmare completely, safe and secure in my Canadian homeland.

On first appearance, based on my age and my white skin, I could absolutely have been in their country at that time with a gun and with orders to kill them or their parents.

Despite all this, and despite the fact that my anger/hatred/hostility radar was set at max, I detected not even a trace of these feelings directed at me – definitely not the model of the Hatfield/McCoy or the Montague/Capulet families.

And this is the very same behavior and attitude that they exhibit even to American war Vets who actually were in their country in the 60’s and 70’s, killing them and their parents.

Actually, there’s way more anger, fear and hatred (very lucrative products for those peddling them) on display daily, right here on Cable TV and talk radio.

Here in the US, we like to use the words “shit happens”. Mostly always we use them during or after a time when we have experienced some kind of inconvenience, problem, or snafu beyond our control (airport closure, power failure, major storm or flood, etc.). And tragically, sometimes it’s way, way worse: a whack job has gotten hold of an assault weapon and all the ammo he can carry (easy to do here in “Guns R US” – we love our guns) and has blown away his fellow students, his teachers, coworkers, or his congresswoman.

Of course, this is horrific, but what I’m talking about here is the major, catastrophic, existential shit, on a national mass scale, that these folks endured and survived.

I crawled around in those (in)famous tunnels built by the north Vietnamese to move their supplies and soldiers forward, and to protect their villagers, while the fruits of the most efficient death machine in the history of the world rained down on their heads: millions of tons of bombs, the fires of hell neatly re-packaged for delivery as a kind of Jello, not to mention “exclusive” chemical poisons, which continue to manifest as birth defects in their babies to this very day.

In Cambodia, although the circumstances were different, the basic story was the same. In that nation, to realize his scheme of an agrarian Communist utopia, the dictator Pol Pot, forced the evacuation of the cities to the countryside. TWO MILLION souls perished. He murdered 20% of the people…20%!! Wanting to kill all the “smart” people he started with the religious leaders – all religions; then, everyone who wore eyeglasses (I guess, in his crazy brain, if you wear eyeglasses it’s because you want to see, which automatically makes you an intellectual…right?); then, those with soft hands; then, all the doctors and teachers.

Unlike here in our “developed” nation, they haven’t felt obliged to “streetproof” their kids – to look upon all strangers as potentially dangerous. When you smile and say hello to a youngster they smile and say hello back.

I asked our Cambodian guide, activist, and environmentalist (now friend), Khin Po-Thai, this question: “how do you endure and survive this kind of catastrophe and not live in hatred? How do you have your heart broken on this scale and still keep it open?”

His words? “Right now, although we live in poverty, we choose not to live in misery.”

This same teaching on a similar subject, was articulated years ago by author and death camp survivor Victor Frankl on the topic of his ghastly years at Auschwitz:

His words? “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

I think that this  would be a really good place to insert this link – to a song by Leonard Cohen which touches on  the very essence of this post, a song which he has referred to as the best one he has ever written; I recommend you give it a listen:

And, while you are doing that, you might want to check out this slide show of some of the beautiful, beautiful faces I saw and met during the past month. You can pause anytime you want to spend more time with any particular pic. Enjoy!!


Finally, for context – context is everything – and in fairness to those 500,000 (mostly terrified) American youngsters sent into that misguided and ruinous war by their leaders –  kids who mostly just wanted to do their duty and get home alive, and for the 50,000 plus who didn’t make it, I’d like to share just one more thing with you.

In August 2002, at Stonehill college in Easton Mass, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, hosted a retreat for American Vets of the Vietnam war called the Veteran’s Sangha. These men were suffering greatly, and of the 13 heartbreaking stories which I have on CD, I thought I’d offer to share just one with you. If you are willing to spend 5 minutes with Kevin, I promise you won’t forget him very soon. Here’s the link:

Practice tip(s)

1) As a practice tip, I don’t really believe I could improve on the response offered to me by Thai, or the thoughts of Victor Frankl

2) Stay away from the fear and hatred box.

3) If you have the opportunity, travel. And don’t only visit the “sites”. Talk to the people. I guarantee that your view of who your “fellow citizens” are will be increased exponentially to include all the world’s “nations”.

Dear Reader, please, be kind to yourself.



About Michael Scott

Michael Scott is a life coach, author and teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area. After spending 35 years in business - coaching found him - and he's never looked back. Michael uses his coaching training and experience, in the service of his clients, as their constant and loving guide towards joyous, fulfilling lives which are genuinely their own. He lives with his dear wife in Sausalito, CA.

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