Beyond The North American Norm

I sat in a theatre this afternoon watching Michael Moore’s latest film Where To Invade Next.  It wasn’t about war and keeping the world safe for the American way of life.  Instead Michael visited Italy, France, Finland, Slovenia, Portugal, Iceland, Norway, Germany and Tunisia in search of best practices – things that those countries are doing well.

Often, when Michael was sitting with a business leader, government official, educator or just plain folks, he’s tell them how things are often done in the USA.  In those moments, the movie was a study in astonishment.  I very much enjoyed looking at the quizzical facial expressions.

Here are some highlights:

Italy – Employees get eight weeks of paid vacation plus generous wages, and work fewer hours than we do.  When the owners of a factory were asked why they don’t keep more of the money for themselves, one of them replied, “Why would we want to be richer?”  They were committed to the happiness, and thus productivity, of their workers, who typically go home at noon for a two-hour lunch.

France – Elementary students eat three-course meals in the cafeteria.  When Michael showed a few of them photos of a typical American school lunch, their pained expressions said it all.  Plus no Coca-Cola, thank you.  The kids were happy with their water.  Lunch takes an hour and is also an opportunity for teaching the value of balanced nutrition.

Finland – There’s virtually no homework in the schools, no standardized testing, and a commitment from staff members to teach the children how to be happy.  School days are relatively short, with the students encouraged to explore interests and socialize with their peers.

Slovenia – University is free, even for foreign students.

Portugal – Drugs have been decriminalized and the focus is on rehabilitation for the users.  Police officers talked about the importance of human dignity.

Norway – In one prison, inmates live in cottages and wear their own clothes.  In a maximum security facility, the culture promotes caring about each other.  Prisoners working in the kitchen have access to knives, and no one seems concerned.  Guards don’t wear guns.  “Talk is our weapon.”

Iceland – Women are well represented among government and business leaders.  In the aftermath of the country’s economic collapse in 2008, the bankers whose actions precipitated the crisis were convicted of crimes.  No bailouts.  Many jail terms.

Germany – The Holocaust is remembered, not swept under the rug.  Public art includes replicas of notice boards with anti-Jewish messages, such as requiring Jewish folks to sit only on the yellow public benches.  Discussions are held in classrooms, acknowledging inhumane Nazi actions.

And … in one of the countries, the young people receive sex education focused on relationship, giving and receiving pleasure, and on effective birth control.  Michael suggested the possibility of abstinence.  The female teacher didn’t see the value of that choice.

***

It was a jolt of a film, dissing various forms of ethnocentrism in favour of people-centrism.  A you and me world.  I like it.

 

 

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