MBA Law Day

6 05 2008

Fiction, false.


Hot, humid, bright green. We are hiking ten kilometers to our next stop, Punta Mona, Costa Rica. Witty banter along the way lightens the mood, takes our mind off the gritty sand and dirt falling in our shoes, under our socks, flaking off palm trees and down our backs, mixing with sweat. Flies are everywhere. Little bugs nip at our skin, zip dangerously close to our eyes.

Still, we are happy. We are in Costa Rica. Seventeen of us, from the class of 2008, randomly put together and sent with two teachers and a few locals to guide the way. We will have no contact with the other two school groups traveling in different parts of this country. We are living together for the next two weeks, and we have only just arrived.

We are in our seventh kilometer, so close to Punta Mona. We are walking single file, but still manage to involve pretty much the whole group in a discussion. The conversation turns to politics. A classmate’s diatribe against the modern American political system begins. He hates to see his neighbors disadvantaged by a system that favors whites, that does nothing effective to fundamentally change the inner-cities’ public schools, that maintains a cycle of poverty from generation to generation. He hates this system, will do anything to change it. Some of the group offers suggestions, but all are rejected. He has seen this destructive cycle firsthand, he knows that after-school programs and tutoring sessions and young teachers can’t empower every single child, will not afford them opportunities for success. His solution is a dictatorship. A dictatorship that grants him complete control. Many of my classmates are shocked, even appalled. Cries of “A dictatorship!? Are you kidding me?” reverberate throughout the jungle. He is defiant, and holds his ground.
Another kilometer passes. We have not yet resolved the issue. He is assailed and assaulted from all angles. Even his assertion that he’d be a benevolent dictator doesn’t help his case. (“Name one successful benevolent dictator. Please.”)

Another kilometer passes. He is at a loss for words, his argument begins to sag, and the conversation is less about America’s systems than about proving him wrong. The adults in the group are hiking two at the front and two at the back of the line; they hear it all. For a while, they don’t say anything. A few try to defend him, but they find it difficult. Dictatorship is not an easy concept to endorse. Other leaders quiet my classmates, encouraging silence rather than irrational discussion. By now we can see Punta Mona, the organic farm and center for sustainable living where we will be staying for the next week. Its sparse wooden structures loom in the distance.

It must be around three in the afternoon; the first fat raindrops of the day slide off huge jungle leaves and onto our heads. We are silent for some time. I don’t say anything during our hike because I don’t agree with him, but want to give his controversial ideas some thought. After all, we are here to bond, to trust, to foster respect, to live like we have never lived before. In this place so many miles from our safe homes, I hope at least we will become more open to unconventional ideas, or maybe even tolerate them, since we surely can’t run away or turn our backs. Apparently, the intolerance carries over, and we try to keep ourselves in the bubble of familiarity regardless of our location.

I am thrown out of my reverie, literally, when the person in front of me stops short and I fall against her back. It is still raining; I peel myself from her and wipe the now-moist grime from my face. Punta Mona is beautiful. Structures I thought were stark from a distance now appear thick and full of life. Three or four children run in the courtyard. A woman greets us and takes us to the out-door kitchen.

After we eat, we lounge in hammocks and talk about the day. I sit quietly, thinking to myself. I realize that no matter where I am, people will argue and of course will have differing points of view. In fact, antithetical, even heretical ideas are welcome; it is the method with which we address them that intrigues me. I realize that seemingly outlandish ideas sometimes have a kernel of validity and merit, which may not be immediately apparent. He and I drift apart from the group. I tell him I can’t agree with him, but I respect and admire him for speaking his mind in an unreceptive environment. We agree to disagree in a friendly and mature way; his friendship is valuable to me no matter how far we are from home.

Back in the US, I now carry with me an excitement to hear, discuss, learn from and grow with creative people with controversial ideas.




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