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A Lesson from Abu Dhabi/Dubai

We need to build from what we’ve learned from civilizations past and foreign (Candace)

I’m struck whenever I now hear the phrase, “I want to change the world.” I’ve used this statement a million times in my own life. But whether from my recent travel or reading the book, Ishmael, this mindset somehow now turns me off.

First, who am I to assert that the world needs changing? That my way is the best way to do so? And second, shouldn’t I ask the world whether it wants to be changed first? Rather than imposing my views, belief systems and way of being upon it?

I knew as soon as we finished that book in Bali that my world view had changed. And I worried how this might affect me when I returned to the grid. Because everything in my culture, from the way I was raised to the education I pursued to the entrepreneurs I surround myself with, support the notion that, “I am right. And I need to convince everyone else to follow my way.”

Suddenly, this perspective feels immature and irresponsible to me.

For example, when we were in Abu Dhabi (near Dubai), we were struck, not only by the 115-degree heat, but by the interspersed, haphazard skyscrapers that popped up randomly around the city. And as our hosts explained to us “how things came to be this way,” they said that the Emirates, with their recent wealth and relative youth as a culture, decided that they knew best how to build their cities. As such, they did not consult outside architects or designers from other nations that had survived throughout the centuries. Rather, they only built their own designs, and according to their own time schedules.

Less than 10 years later, tall buildings abound, but with no infrastructure. Roads were an afterthought, and water and sewage were not built into the building plans (primarily in Dubai prior to 2013). So, literally, every night, a truck would pull up to each condo building and manually remove the day’s sewage, or worse, the sewage would be drained in the streets. And mosques are lined, wall to wall, with one continuous roll of carpeting. It’s just so obvious that, less than 100 years from now, everything will have to come down and be built again.

And as I look at a number of situations surrounding me today, I see ambitious and talented people claiming they know best. But failing to consider and respect the systems and civilizations that came before. And in their excitement of what could be, they fail to look to what brought them this far. In failing to look to the past to inform the future, we surely set ourselves up for failure.

So today, I find that I am not actually trying to “change the world” anymore. I prefer to take good but misguided concepts and tinker with them. Add and remove. Slowly over time. In the hopes of building a better product. And I look to the wisdom of those who came before me, and to the wishes of those I’m trying to serve, to guide me.

Thank you for this lesson, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.