An Open Letter to a Young Greek
My husband’s cousin Thodoris, his son Orestes, and their friend Vasilis drove down from New York to visit us for a couple of days. Orestes and Vasilis are young men in search of career and meaning. It was delightful to talk to them and show them around town, and since they left, I’ve been reflecting on their potential. I thought I’d share some thoughts with them and experiment with the “open letter” form here.
In our conversation yesterday, I was intrigued when you said you could be a motivational speaker. There are two reasons to be intrigued: 1) I think it’s true, and 2) I think it’s exactly what Greece needs. I understand your sense of hollowness–that you have the skill to connect with people but little substance to offer them. In sales, you had a product to offer, and you could measure the extent to which it was taken up by your customers. Now that’s gone, and I know you worry about your lack of educational background. It’s as if you have skills but no field to plant them in. And charisma without grounding can be scary; it makes me think of demagogues. Fortunately, you have no inclination toward Golden Dawn or other nefarious causes. If your upbringing had given you a weaker character, you would be a leader in one of them by now. So let’s all thank your mother, father, grandmother, and extended family for raising you well!
When I say Greece needs a motivational speaker, I don’t mean to suggest you’re the only one. I do mean, though, that Greeks need motivation; they need an alternative to cynicism, corruption, and powerlessness. I think you have an ability to change the conversation for people within your reach; you can uncover embers of hopefulness and creativity that are buried inside people. If you blow on them, beautiful things could happen.
Your friend Vasili offers a wonderful complement to your skill set. He has a well trained and inquisitive mind; he looks for underlying causes and patterns. I think the idea of teaming up is a great one, and Detroit Soup might offer some inspiration. I think it was founded just to try to get some attention on possibilities and new ideas. It gives entrepreneurs and volunteers an audience and a little money, but most of all, it gets them together to listen to each other and focus on the positive. You and Vasili would be great at that! I can imagine you helping presenters speak with confidence, and you could rev up the audience to support them. Vasili could help them think through the substance of their pitch (potential risks, rewards, etc.). It’s not a career, necessarily, but perhaps it could lead to something.
I hadn’t thought of it before, but there’s a certain parallelism between the situation in Detroit and that in Greece. Would you be interested in exploring Detroit and seeing if you could meet with the Soup leaders? When you get to Niagara Falls, you’ll be just 4 hours away.
My Twitter feed this morning included a link to this article by Steven Johnson: The Hummingbird Effect: How New Ideas Surprise Us. I recommend the whole article, but this part especially made me think of you and Vasili:
As the great James Burke wrote, in his book Connections:
“Change almost always comes as a surprise because things don’t happen in straight lines. Connections are made by accident. Second-guessing the result of an occurrence is difficult, because when people or things or ideas come together in new ways, the rules of arithmetic are changed so that one plus one suddenly makes three. This is the fundamental mechanism of innovation, and when it happens the result is always more than the sum of the parts.”
The political system in Greece doesn’t seem to be generating much hope (to put it mildly). So maybe hope – and large scale change – will need to come from the bottom up. Whether or not the Detroit Soup model is interesting, I encourage you to value your own skills, Oreste. When you figure out where to apply them, they will serve you and the people around you well.