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Look At Your Life From The Outside In

Consider that picture of an Afghan girl–you know, the world-famous one. Doesn’t she look noble? I think so. What’s going to happen to her in the future?, I wondered.

Here’s a picture of the Afghan girl and her again, many years later. She’s 12 in the first. Guess her age in the second. 40? 50? That’s what I thought, but in fact she’s 30. Maybe I shouldn’t be baffled. Maybe it doesn’t matter at all. But it made me think for a minute about what life is like for those in the Middle East.

They live in a society with vast restrictions compared to our own. They are poorer, have less intellectual and spiritual freedom, less freedom in general–to do what they want, be what they want. And yet the solution (or its first step) is so simple–not necessarily easy, but simple. If you’re an individual belonging to such a society, move to the United States! I’m not saying that the USA is the best country, since I have no basis to believe that, but I do have reason to think that being a USA resident will lead to a better quality of life than being a resident of another country.

Of course, if it’s that simple, why don’t more people migrate? Sure, I know there’s supposedly a lot of people who would like to migrate here–but why isn’t it 80% of the world?! (Or, if there are several other attractives alternatives to the USA, why not at least 10% of the world’s individuals?) And I think the first obstacle to overcome is 100% mental. Allow me to explain.

Explaining (Attempt)

Why don’t the poor migrate from countries like Afghanistan to the U.S. (in larger numbers)? Of course, there are many things to address here.

The first is the presumption that the U.S. affords greater likelihood of a greater quality of life–in commoner parlance, a better life–but I am going to go ahead and make that presumption, because it’s true. The second is that no one wants to leave their family or culture. This is true, but for now, pretend that you’re an alien, looking down at each individual on Earth, including this woman, able to see their possible life-paths.

This is the key to the post. And let’s say you’d conclude that even so it would be worthwhile to move to the U.S.A. Because, to me, it seems likely that would be the case. The third thing to address is whether it’s possible, but again, it may still remain worthwhile to attempt despite the difficulty. (Of course, I realize it might be so difficult, and bear so high a cost in case of failure, that it would not be worthwhile. But if you jump to that conclusion, be sure that your’e doing it from the perspective of the alien and not the myopic vision of one human.)

But of course no one takes that perspective. I don’t, you don’t, nobody does…  although to some extent we do whenever we consider our long-range goals or vision for a self 2.0, or consider our life from the perspective of a friend. We move outside ourselves and much pettiness falls away. I’m just saying, push that to the limit. (LessWrong.com has a similar exercise in which you ask yourself ‘how would an alien best use my body and my mind–my intelligence and skills–to take over the world?’)

So I have to conclude that a fundamental reason why people don’t migrate is because……

because it does not even occur to most of them as a possibility!

Not very strongly, anyway. Not strongly enough. But then you realize that…

For those who do consider moving, leaving all their ties and everything that has defined them, it’s still not that simple! Nobody has perfect foresight or perfect knowledge, so there is certainly no way to know that migrating from, say, Iran, to, say, America, will increase your qualify of life in the long run. It’s just not at all obvious; the whole notion of travel–let alone migration!–is too hazy. And yet, I maintain that migration is a smart option for many.

Of course, it doesn’t just apply to migration. It seems to me that

If you look at your life from the outside in,

you’ll come to some surprising conclusions about what to do.

It’s another tool–as is considering your death, (see Steve Jobs)–

for causing fears and a focus on the petty to melt away.

In theory anyway. As Tyler Tervooren (blogger) puts it, You’ve already won the lottery. So there’s a good chance you can afford to focus on making a high-quality life.

So I wonder, I wonder if…

Whenever you brush off some possible avenue of personal development, you’re being narrow-minded. We simply don’t have the awareness to even realize the things we can do–or at least attempt; and beyond that, since the larger the change, the more distant and hazy and unreal it seems, the less likely we are to do anything about it. (!)

It makes me wonder: just what am I missing out on? What real possibilities exist only as possibilities because I am either not aware enough or too biased away from uncertainty to take advantage of them?

What are you missing out?

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