I was reflecting on an interview about the role and importance of Asian, and specifically Chinese, FinTech when something exploded in the middle of my head. Not literally, of course, although you might have said that, but more an idea that had occurred to me a few times but suddenly was crystal clear.
We stereotype a lot.
I was telling the journalist that the West is not keeping up with developments in the East, and whilst our ailing legacy infrastructure – not banking legacy, but legacy everything – creaks and groans into the 21st century, how jealous I am of China’s technological leadership. She had just told me, for example, that if you lost a child in Beijing the police have their digital identity records to track and trace them fast. Do we have those in England? Not in the same way, although our government is not so interested in tracking and tracing us from such a young age.
And there it is.
That typical Western view of China: it’s a police state nation that abuses human rights. Or that’s what some of our media reports, and some of it is true. What they overlook however, is that China may have been like that in the last century and it takes time to change, but it is changing, as I pointed out the other day.
It was then that it hit me. That overwhelming feeling of how stereotypes stay with us and are hard to shake off. It was a bit like the moment a few years ago when someone asked me to come to Colombia, and I took a deep breath. I paused because a while ago I was due to go to Bogota on business, when I was employed. The business was cancelled by my American bosses over fears of kidnapping, as Colombia was one of the world’s most dangerous states for foreign business people back then.
That was then though, and this is now. I’ve been to Colombia many times in the past five years and it’s a beautiful country full of beautiful people. Equally, for those watching Narcos, you’ll know that it’s almost 25 years since Pablo Escobar died, so move on.
It’s a little like when I got an invite to go to Rwanda, and the first word that pops into your head is genocide. Yes, there was a genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and it was disgusting. A false battle created by historical colonizing interventions of divide and rule, and funded by those very same foreign puppet masters. But that was 1994, and this is now. In visiting Rwanda, I found a beautiful country full of beautiful people, with very bad memories.
I could go on: Ukraine, Russia, Pakistan, Iran and more have all got some negative publicity in my lifetime in our media. So what? So has Bosnia, Serbia and Ireland, but do we blackmark all these countries for their terrible histories? If we did, then we wouldn’t go near Germany or Britain.
It’s the media coverage that makes us nervous and, for those who haven’t travelled, would make our journeys very limited. It is the reason why some tourists cancel their holidays in the South of France when they hear there’s been a terrorist attack in Paris. Same country, but not the same location. Equally, attacks like the one that occurred at the Bataclan concert hall are not happening every day in France. They are once in a while.
In fact, the terrorist outbreaks of recent times remind me of growing up in the era of the IRA. I never went to Northern Ireland back then, but I did share a hall of residence with a couple of guys from Belfast. I learned that the reality is that most troubles were communicated to avoid killings, and so most of the time you could drink in your local pub and have no worries. If the code had been given, the landlord would raise alarm and you would all leave. It was all very matter of fact.
What this taught me is that trouble only usually exists if you go find it or stumble into it. That is why I travel all the time, including to many countries that have negativity in Western media, because I know that I will only find out what that country is really like if I go there. Nearly every time I go there, I find the media portrayal has created a stereotype image of a country that is rarely ever the actual situation. In fact, most of the time that stereotypical portrayal is based upon old news, or is based upon an isolated area of the country which does not represent the country as a whole.
That is why I would recommend anyone nervous of travelling to travel safe, but still go. By way of example, my worst travel moment was where I could have been killed, retrospectively. I had been out for the evening in an area of town that felt really cool and buzzing. The bars were full and the evening was long. We had some great music going, and danced till dawn.
I got back to the hotel and the following day my host asked me if I’d had a good evening. I told him where I’d been. His face went white and his jaw dropped. What’s the problem, I asked. He told me that no white people go to that part of town without an escort. This was 1987 in Chicago. Just goes to show.
In conclusion, I know this blog entry has nothing to do with banking and FinTech, but I’m writing it for a different reason. I’m writing it to just ask you: are you open or closed to the world? Is your world view narrow or broad? Are you willing to embrace new ideas and new countries, or would you rather stay local in your own space?
If your answer is stay local, then you will find the new digital age difficult as the more I travel, the more I find everyone is connected. Staying off the global grid is hard, but good luck.