What the US can learn from others


5-14-07, 9:23 am

The US News and World Report recently carried a special report, inviting discussion on 'what can we (the US) learn from the outside world'. The weekly publication admitted that America is not the best in every way. The nation has the world's highest GDP, boasts many of the world's best universities and the biggest number of Nobel laureates. However, according to comprehensive indices, its people are not 'the happiest people under the sun'. Among western countries, America has the highest rate of gun-related manslaughter and murder. There are currently 2.1359 million prisoners doing time in US jails, much higher than other countries proportionally. According to six indicators, the US' performance in environment-related issues is ranked 28th globally. The US is absent from a list of countries with the world's lowest infant mortality rates, and in terms of longevity of life, the US is ranked 40th in the world, behind Costa Rica and Cuba. Some 32 percent of American adults are obese, while this percentage is just 3.6 in Japan.

Looking at the world from an alternative perspective, the US has much to learn from others. Denmark is trying to use wind power for 20 percent of its energy consumption. In Singapore, anyone who drops even a candy wrapper can be fined up to US$1000. In Finland, traffic fines are adjusted according to the violator's annual income and the seriousness of the breach, in the spirit of fairness. Finland also provides one of the world's best scientific educations; there is very narrow gap between students and teachers are very well trained. In Britain, students often take a 'gap year' between high school and college to travel around the world. European countries, including Germany and the Netherlands better accommodate bicycle riders on the road. In some European cities such as Rome, the roads are paved with big pebbles which absorb raindrops and filter pollutants, and are therefore more environment-friendly than asphalt-surfaced roads.

Even developing countries have some things that the US could learn from. Compared with the US, some Latin American countries, Columbia for example, have a better public transport system, so that even the wealthy opt to take the bus to work. Since 1958, the small Caribbean nation of Dominica has sent 440 ace baseball players to world clubs. Though war-plagued, Afghanistan still enjoys the legacy of the Silk Road and impresses tourist with its hospitality. Even Bhutan, a small inland country on the southern slopes of the eastern Himalayas, has something to teach it: it is the world's first nation to exercise a complete smoking ban.

There exist today more than 200 sovereign states and 2,000 ethnic groups of different sizes. It is key that they learn from each other's strengths. As the editor of the US News and World Report pointed out, the US does not have all the answers for pursuing a safe, healthy and meaningful life. It is good to be aware of what one must yet learn.

Learning is a very broad idea. Things can be learnt from Ireland's cheap air tickets, Sweden's sex education, France's holiday system and Japan's easy-use toilet facilities. However, such things are relatively superficial and many things cannot simply be grafted into another country because of different cultures and conditions.

Learning is also an attitude. The importance of discussion about 'what the US can learn from others' lies in recognizing the diversity in the world. The world has always been colorful, and the diversity of civilizations is both a feature and a driving force of society. Peace, development and cooperation are common aspirations of international community, and will be achieved in different ways in different civilizations. Equal treatment and respect of others is a foundation for learning. Different histories, cultures, social systems and development modes should be respected and allowed to co-exist. With such an attitude, there will be less aggression and more harmony as people find a common ground by reserving differences.

By People's Daily Online