A Path Away From Pride & Prejudice

September 13, 2012
By

When Dreams Alight
2009 was a seminal year in my life.  That was the year that I took my first step.

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Looking back on the path of my life, I can see clearly that I grew up dreaming of making a difference in a world that didn’t feel quite equitable—even if I didn’t understand why.

My dreams shaped my choices and my choices shaped my experiences, but until 2009, I had yet to diverge.

Chris and I started Rising Pyramid three years ago because we were dissatisfied with the level of difference we could make at our day jobs.

Back then, we were high-fiving when we got over 10 viewers in a day.  Reflecting back, at first, Rising Pyramid was more about us than about the outside world; we were learning and inspiring ourselves as we wrote.

Three years ago when we published our first post, we pivoted away from the normal path.  That action was significant, not because it mattered to the rest of the world, but because it was a choice that mattered within.

Starting Rising Pyramid was a decision—a commitment to pursue the dreams that a childhood had created.  Without realizing it, I had found the act of prioritizing something meaningful over my free time so rewarding that it inspired a thousand similar acts.

Through one post per week, we learned the joy of doing something that felt like giving back.  We were off the ‘beaten path’.

The less trodden route can be a slippery, thrilling slope…before I knew it I was walking the path to work at a startup in Pakistan as an Acumen Fund Fellow.   My choices shaped my experiences as I learned to appreciate the perspectives of a people who couldn’t be more different from your average Californian.

The trouble with this path is that there is a long way to go.  As I become increasingly cognizant of the chasms of trust that exist between the peoples of our world, I’m saddened on a deep level.

Three Years In, A Long Way To Go
Rising Pyramid has always been about how utilizing business concepts can help those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.  Yet, we can’t talk about business without understanding context: culture, religion, perspective and sentiment.

The very concept of social business is built on the premise that we should treat those who have been cast aside by society with the respect and dignity that any customer of any product or service deserves (e.g. humane, fair treatment).  The challenge for ‘Westerners’ in social business is that those who went before us, more often than not, left with a bad reputation.

Throughout history, Westerners have shown up on the shores of today’s developing countries promising riches and protection and growth, only to loot or colonize.   Though many came with honest intentions, there were enough who had the pride to believe that they were better, or more privileged, than another people—enough to spoil a fragile trust and understanding.

Religious misunderstanding has also played a huge role in wedging the divide.  While all religions teach the importance of peace and community, enough of us have had the prejudice to use religion as a rallying torch for evil—whether it be through coordinated action or mere thoughts that silently flit in and out of your head.

For much of the developing world, there is a deep rooted hesitancy to trust and accept help from the outside.   Yet, we can build that trust one step at a time.

Last year, I befriended a street vendor in Nepal who sold miniature violins and he invited me over for dinner in one of the poorer, more dangerous parts of Kathmandu.  It was risky of me to go, but I extended my trust to this young man, and kept an eye over my shoulder.  A few hours later, I found myself sitting on his old wooden bed (no mattress) in the 10×10 room that was his entire house.  We shared stories and built trust and mutual understanding as his wife cooked us a simple but delicious dinner.

The answer to distrust in this world is not war or more colonization and hate, but individual experiences and personal connections.  We need more people to go into the homes of the incredibly poor and talk to them like they are equals.

This not an easy path, but it is the only path to mutual understanding.  We need more social entrepreneurs, not just to build businesses that make dignified life easier, but also in order to establish relationships built on mutual support, rather than mutual prejudice.

Rising Pyramid is about celebrating social entrepreneurs and inspiring new ones.   Together we can march forward.

A Path Across The Divide
The events of the last week highlight just how deeply ingrained our problem is; in multiple countries, offended Muslims stormed or protested American embassies because of a terrible and hateful anti-Islam video.  As a result, the US Ambassador to Libya, who was a local hero, was killed.

This is bound to stir up hate within Americans and Muslims alike, but if we only knew each other, we could see that generally all major religious or national groups have some crazy extremists attempting to cause lots of trouble, and frankly they should be ignored.

The video that created so much trouble was heavily publicized by a wacky pastor in Florida—the same one who has ignited hate by burning the Koran in the past.  Most Americans find the video repulsive and the pastor himself a nut.  Yet, someone who is perceived as crazy domestically may still be perceived as a representative American abroad.

This is where the confusion, pride and prejudice begins.  I am absolutely certain that right now, around the world, people are blaming America as a whole saying, ‘Did you hear about the anti-Islamic video from America?’  If you are American, this may seem like an unfair assessment to you, but don’t be so blind as to not realize that us Americans are guilty of misguided prejudice as well.

At the moment, millions of Americans are appalled that ‘Muslims’ are attacking our embassies.  Pride, especially national or religious pride, has the power to blind us.

We are talking about extremists on both sides of the equation.  Just as it is unfair for others to call this hateful video ‘American’, it is downright wrong for Americans to judge the people of the Middle East for the actions of a few crazies.

Having lived in Pakistan, I can tell you that the Muslims there are an incredibly peaceful people.  If anything, Muslims themselves are more affected by the regional extremists than anyone else ever is.

The ticket to progress is truly setting aside our national pride and our personal prejudices—to be open to the fact that maybe we’re all just humans hoping to live, laugh and love for 80+ trips around the sun.  One dream—to live happily with friends and family—is shared across the world, regardless of race, color, creed, preference or nation.  Yet dreams do not always have the power to inspire choices alone.

Choosing The Road Less Traveled
Our dream for Rising Pyramid is that it motivates others to make the same choice we are making each and every day: to keep travelling, up and down, forward and backwards, on a path towards universal respect, dignity and trust.

We are making progress—one step at a time.  Readership is up from 10 views a day to over 50,000 visitors already this year.

This year saw the advent of Microfinance Monday, a once-a-month feature by Chris that not only summarizes recent microfinance trends, but also challenges the industry to move forward.

Our most popular post—with 3x more reads than the next most popular post—is still the tribute I wrote to Pakistan a year ago.

With writing that ranges from analytical topics to moral musings, we strive to inspire new leaders to take that first step.

We cannot let those who perpetuate hate, misguidance and confusion to go on unchallenged.

There is still a long way to go, but we hope that together, we can make choices that shape the experiences of this generation.

Together, we can pave the less-trodden path, and build a road towards global respect and camaraderie.

~ Bryan and Chris

3 Responses to A Path Away From Pride & Prejudice

  1. [...] note: the following is an except from a post that originally appeared on Rising Pyramid. Please click here to read the full [...]

  2. benje wlliams on September 18, 2012 at 11:19 am

    brilliant post yaar…

  3. Aanya on September 18, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Bryan,

    So pleased the internet brought me to your blog. It’s refreshing to hear an American hold himself accountable along with holding others to blame. You can’t clap with one hand; when we lose one life, we lose a human; death of human beings equals death of humanity. Pakistan was lucky to have you there; even though you’re not there any longer, you speak the truth that the majority hesitate to encompass: “Muslims” don’t want to kill or get killed, they are tortured themselves most of the time when hate crimes around the globe take place.

    Thanks so much, keep writing!
    Best.

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