Tiffany’s Evil Wrath in Cleveland

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Iconic shot from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

TIFFANY’S IN CLEVELAND AND A HISTORY ON ENGAGEMENT RINGS

Out of all of the news that could have been talked about yesterday, the majority of things pressed through my ears and under my eyes were about the new Tiffany’s & Co. opening up at Eton Chagrin Boulevard in Cleveland.  Reporters dubbed this as an exciting moment for Cleveland, evidently more important than the war in Syria.  Women everywhere have been generalized in the news as lovers of the Tiffany’s box, as Hollys enthralled with the very idea of a sparkling rock.  How is this good news for Cleveland?  It’s not.  Absolutely not.  In a dead, burned out city struggling to get back on its feet, a diamond store doesn’t fit in the least.  Cleveland is third on the list of large American cities with a high percentage of low income families.  Stores like Tiffany’s only perpetuate the stereotypes and materialistic mindsets of young people who grow up thinking a diamond is in the future of any successful lifetime.

So what is the origin of the diamond engagement ring anyway?  The first type of ring worn by couples was recorded in Greece, but there were no pre-marriage rings.  Couples’ rings in Ancient Egypt were a simple band representing an eternal ring and doorway of life.  The Romans had the first true betrothal rings, likely taking the idea from the Egyptians.  These rings were used to signify ownership.  (Yes, ladies, so be super excited to get that ring from him… It means he owns you but notice how he doesn’t wear one.)  Not only that, but women had two rings: one nice one for in public, the other made of iron so they could do housework and not ruin the public ring.  Sometimes there was a key included, not to symbolize unlocking the heart like many want to believe but rather to suggest unlocking wealth.  Charming?  Not.  The ring then faded out and wasn’t revived until after the Dark Ages, mostly for the use of royalty and not for common folk.

But where did diamonds come into play?  It wasn’t until the 1400s that royalty giving rings caused nobility to pursue more expensive gifts, such as diamonds.  This tradition didn’t really take off until the 1870s when African colonies were being ripped to pieces to gather diamonds and sell them to the world.  Sure, this made diamonds more affordable for the common folk to buy now, but only after depreciating their value.  Rings, however, never really kicked off the way we know it until the 1930s – during the Great Depression.  WWII made wedding rings more popular for men who wore them to remember their wives.

 

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S

Yet the real reason why 80% of women are given diamond engagement rings and girls everywhere are so childishly infatuated with the “tradition” is supported by a long line of ownership, greed, and… of course, the Entertainment Industry who has continued to popularize the idea and make a diamond ring an attractive possession.  Just think of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  The movie, based loosely on a book, stars Holly (Audrey Hepburn), a ditzy, greedy, wanna-be socialite woman…that now so many women today idolize?  The story includes crooks, crime, and corrupted relationships.  If you take away the glamor of the picture, there really isn’t anything attractive about the story.  In fact, here’s what my  pessimist person takes away from the movie: Holly is a horrible person, she only cares about money and things to make her seem wealthy whether she is or not, she has no care in the world for the feelings of others, and she strives to marry rich men for their money without any shame to admit it.

While everyone lusts over the aesthetics of this movie (well, mostly of Hepburn and the diamonds in the shop window), I begin to wonder if anyone really pays attention to the storyline at all.  Tiffany’s, from my perspective, is symbolizing a tyranny of greedy, unnecessary, flashy things.  Silly Holly is sucked into this world of Tiffany’s and acts like something she is not, just like any not-so-great, not-so-rich, and not-so-nice woman lusting over her way too big diamond ring or necklace.  Paul is finally someone who breaks through her bad run of men and manages to – somehow – fall in love with Holly.  Here’s the irony of it all: Holly realizes what  wench she is at the end, when Paul tosses a Tiffany-engraved ring on her lap.  Sure, there’s some Tiffany’s in it…but the ring itself was from a Cracker Jack box that her ex-husband had.

Read the signs people: Diamonds = greed, stupidity, and a perpetuation of a stereotype.  The Cracker Jack ring signifies how meaningless diamond rings are, especially in today’s world.  Diamond rings don’t prove love; they prove the ability to be swindled into wasting a lot of money on a Blood Diamond, on a piece of greed, on a shiny rock.  What are we, parrots?  (No offense, parrots – you probably have a lot more common sense than most people.)

 

MY VIEW ON ENGAGEMENTS

In today’s world, marrying in your early 20s or sooner is not logical (unless you have unplanned incidents that might sway your plans).  Today is too competitive.  We young people have to build a career – one that defines us and easily changes us – before we are actually able to settle down and make those kinds of decisions in our lives.  Furthermore, the idea of marriage has become such a fickle, disposable thing in modern times.  It’s left people with the impression that it should happen quickly and that it comes without significant consequences.  But marriage isn’t about a wedding day or a honeymoon or jewelry; it’s about finances and, well, that’s really probably the heart of it.  It’s about survival and how teaming up can increase your chances.

Think you’re ready for marriage because you’ve been dating the same girl since high school?  She’s been eyeing up jewelry and dropping hints?  Don’t fall for it.  You have to both be prepared.  If she’s so infatuated with the idea of it, chances are she isn’t ready.  If you have any qualms, don’t be tricked into it.  I see too many guys getting dragged around by overly eager, silly, ignorant girls and it angers me that these kinds of people are out there perpetuating the stereotypes the media consequently lays on me of needing shiny things to feel like I have self-worth and am loved or whatever they get out of it.  I would rather see that money donated to a cause I care about than invested in a stupid ring.  I hate the thoughts of weddings for the same reason.  (“Oh, let’s start a life together!  And blow ALL OF THE MONEY WE DON’T HAVE in the first 24 hours!” – NO THANKS.)  My motto is: If she isn’t willing to marry you without any rings at all, then she doesn’t really care about you let alone love you.

And for the record, I don’t even know what a Tiffany box looks like.  Hmpf!

4 Reasons Why Overseas Volunteer Projects are a Waste of Time

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Shanties on a US reservation, no better than houses I’ve seen in rural India or West Africa and unfathomably worse than donated facilities at the Nuevo Paraiso mission project in Honduras.

It seems like, growing up, the cool thing for kids to do who went to my fancy private school was to be sent off by their parents on some overseas volunteer project in a third-world country.  I never did anything like this until college, mostly because my mom always shot the idea down.  I never fully understood her reasons until I went on a trip of my own and began reevaluating such overseas volunteer projects.  I decided that I agree with my mom.  The only people these trips really benefit are the travelers themselves, giving them something to put on their resumes.  And although the benefits operate on a case-by-case basis, it is my experience and observations that suggest how these projects are often just a waste of time.  I will outline my reasons below:

1. GIVING OUT FISH.
My family strongly believes in the motto: “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man how to fish, he eats for life.”  I’ve grown up knowing that expression and beginning to see the truth behind it.  Although my parents use that approach in their political views and anti-welfare standpoints, I see how this fish comparison directly relates to volunteer projects.  It’s easy to give a monetary donation and let someone else handle what happens to the money.  That’s obviously no way to help an impoverished community.  But too often we are still transfixed on materialistic things to improve an entire village.  Why save up money to go build a building?  Most of these communities have all the resources they need to build a building that suits their needs.  Why not lend a physical hand instead?  Why not teach and do less of handing these people supplies and new, shiny things?  Give them all of these donations and the only thing they’ll think is “Wow, Americans have nice, fancy things.  When I grow up, I want to get out of here and go somewhere where these things can be handed to me.”  Not only does handing out fish not allow these people to fix themselves, it encourages them to seek out where they can be handed more fish and prevents them from fixing their old mistakes.  Indirectly, it could also cause communities to disband and lose culture as the younger generations with more potential greedily seek out a life outside of their community for shiny things they don’t need.  And I’m not just making up a hypothesis; it is a serious issue I learned about while on some community projects this summer in rural India.

2. BROKEN THINGS THAT STAY BROKEN.
When I signed up for Engineers Without Borders, I though, Gee, this is cool – I get funded to travel to a really unique place and practice both my French and engineering skills!  The experience helped land me a job and gave me some real world perspective on what life is like in West Africa.  But my trip to Cameroon benefitted myself more than it did the community.  We spent endless weeks organizing, building, delivering, preparing, teaching,…all to end up with empty wallets and a failed system.  We visited a nearby project similar to ours: a solar panel-powered well system installed by the University of Delaware.  What did we find?  An empty water tank at the top of a hill next to a school.  Why was there no water pumping up here?  We found the lower pump where a few kids were squeezing out the only drops they could get.  Why was there not even water at the taps with the greatest hydraulic head?  My colleague found the answer: the solar panels were coated in weeks worth of red, Cameroonian mountain dust.  No one had been cleaning the panels, despite clear instruction from the volunteers to do so.  Back at our own project, we even set up a committee dedicated to clean the panels once a week.  You would think that a quick cleanse isn’t much to ask from a slower paced, rural community, but even our village had to provide an incentive by offering weekly pay to the volunteer.  When I returned to the States and shared my story with my friends, my best friend gave me a link to a video that discussed exactly how EWB projects are inevitable failures.  There is no water coming out a year later.  All of this money and time, and for what?  Why is this happening?  The answer is multi-faceted, having its roots in my fish theory.  Plus, things that break in these rural communities often stay broken.  Why?  Well, what resources are there to fix them?  To fix these projects that are not the standard way of life?  What motive is there to gather the information and to find a way to bring back something that these villages have survived for thousands of years without?  And that brings me to my third point…

3. DON’T FIX WHAT’S NOT BROKEN.
Why are Americans so in love with themselves that they think their way of life is the solution to the planet’s suffering?  The wasteful, materialistic American way of life is not only greedy and corrupt, but it could easily be contributing indirectly to the suffering of these remote areas.  The environmental impacts of our decisions in the States causes a global reaction that can directly impact the weather conditions and water cycles of these victimized areas.  Still, they thrive the way they have known to thrive for thousands of years.  Throughout history, ancient civilizations have survived and thrived without the assistance of outsiders.  In fact, if anything, these outsiders have obliterated these civilizations before ever significantly impacting them in a positive fashion.  For example, think about the situations in America.  All of the tribal peoples who have lost their identity and land.  All because we think the way we live is the right way?  The sophisticated way?  Go to West Africa and you will see a collage of old and new.  People living in huts who have cell phones.  Why is that?  Well, they want to take advantage of the best of both worlds the best that they can.  But, at the same time, not everyone wants to jeopardize their old ways of life.  It’s what they know.  It’s their comfort zones.  It’s how they have evolved to believe they should live.  I’ve had countless political arguments with sheltered people and friends who felt that invading countries and transforming their governments was the correct solution to everything, but is it really?  Is our government system really the answer?  Is it our business to decide that for anyone but ourselves?  How do we know that we’re right?  I’ve seen first hand how these “less fortunate” people actually believe we’re the unfortunate ones, leading stressful lives and answering to people we hardly know, not understanding anymore what living is or how to appreciate life.  But it’s not just how their systems aren’t broken but how we try to fix them and break them to pieces.  How we strip people of culture.  Perhaps the worst offender of such things is religious cleansing.  I am absolutely opposed to mission trips and anything that operates in another community by the “light of God”.  Can’t people do good things for the sake of life, living, and kindness?  Why is religion attached to any good notion when religion is in fact the cause of so much evil?  So much war?  I see people going to Africa every year on “mission trips”, and all I can think is I hope you feel good about yourself when you shove Bibles down these poor peoples’ throats and rob them of any cultural identity they used to have.  Why not teach them how to read and write?  So they can buy books and learn the newest herbal medicinal discoveries or how to fix their water issues naturally and without the use of energy and pumps?  This religious debacle leads me to my last reason…

4. HELP YOURSELF BEFORE YOU HELP OTHERS.
Even airlines tell you this before your plane leaves the runway.  While we are so transfixed with being the heroes to people in communities that will never remember our names once we have parted, why don’t we take a look at our own country?  And I don’t mean just soup kitchens and giving handouts to homeless people who continue to drink away their handouts.  I mean the thing that I’m most passionate about: poverty on the reservations.  It’s not because I’m biased because my grandfather is Indian and it’s my focus of work.  It’s because I strongly believe America is responsible for the situation it’s created.  You can’t invade a territory, take over completely from peoples who you don’t even acknowledge as people, set up a system familiar only to the invaders and only at the advantage of said invaders, and then expect the natives to thrive.  That’s just it; they weren’t expected to thrive.  They weren’t considered people, they were murdered without consequences, and they weren’t even accounted for on the census rolls until tribal counts were created.  By that time, most of the less powerful tribes were wiped out or assimilated to a different culture anyway.  The territorial borders kept pushing back, tribes were hit with European clothes, weapons, alcohol, and Bibles, all in an effort to strip them of their identity if not kill them off altogether.  The answer to this problem, when peaceful terms were supposedly going to be met, was to shove these peoples onto a hodge-podge of lousy land parcels called “reservations”.  That was no solution, but everyone seemed to “roll with it” until the Dawes Act sparked up in the late 1800s and unconstitutionally revoked the rights of thousands of American people – American Indian people.  What efforts have been made since to right these wrongs?  A similar wronging was in the African-American slave industry around the same time.  That dispute divided our whole nation until it was resolved and, although we still have racial issues, the States made an enormous effort to right its wrongs.  Can you say that about the native people to whom this land really belonged?  Whose voices aren’t being heard despite their protests?  As an example, Gilmour Academy near my university (and where several of my friends went) sends students annually to Honduras on a mission trip.  Ignoring the fact that it’s a mission, can we ask ourselves why these people are spending thousands of dollars for the glory of assisting (handing fish) to people in a remote, foreign village that will likely stay broken?  One that maybe wasn’t all that “broken” to begin with?  One that actually used to be full of native peoples that were conquered by the Spaniards?  But we’re continuing to perpetuate that wrong as a right by influencing our western ways on the rural populations?  And if the reason of choosing that location is solely based on the poverty level in Honduras being under 50%, have we stopped to consider that a few of the largest Indian reservations in the US with a majority of the native population is in fact exceeding that level of poverty?  Within our own borders?  Okay, so South Dakota or the desert in Utah maybe isn’t as “cool” as Honduras to visit…but is it a volunteer trip or a vacation?  Spend your money wisely.  Don’t blow $1000 on airfare to fix a problem that doesn’t concern you.  10 students’ airfare to go to Honduras could send multitudes more in a workforce to address the issues in our own country.

So there you have it, my rant for the day: how overseas volunteer projects don’t teach a village anything life-changing, how they have a tendency to be short-lived, how they aim to fix things that may not be considered a problem internally, and how they take our attention away from our own neighbors suffering.  I’m sure there are plenty of people who think differently but, until I see some serious changes within our own country and in these overseas projects to be more economical and sustainable, I see no reason to advocate my opinions in anyone else’s favor.