Thursday, September 13, 2007

In keeping with the Bedouin theme...

Aisha's comments about the Bedouin lifestyle are a perfect segway into my post, and for that I would like to start off by thanking her. That said, I have just had what so far has been the best week of my life. Last week I stayed with a Bedouin family in the south of Jordan near the Saudi border. For a day by day description, please see my other blog, but here I would like to talk about something that a few of the readers here know about almost too much. Ethics and Excellence.

Last year, I spent a whole semester with 24 of my close friends trying to dissect these two topics. Never reaching a joint and resolute conclusion on the topic, it has left me coming back to the topic from time to time trying to figure out its true meaning. After this past week, I feel like I am one step closer to feeling resolved on the issue.

In Bedouin society there is an idea know as المسان. Al-Misaan is derived from المسن or elderly. However, the Bedouin use it to describe the ideal qualities of a man. Behind this idea is years of war and conflict, so obviously the ideal man includes the ability to fight. Also within this context is desert life. Therefore, Al-Misaan is preferable to a man who can survive the elements. In a sense, المسان is the Bedouin version of the Renaissance man.

However, the most fundamental part of Al-Misaan as described to me by my house father is the idea of never forfeiting on your principles. This philosophy states that one should rather die than do something he considers wrong. It also talks about treating strangers and friends all alike, with a compassion and hospitality that the desert from which they came surely did not grant to them. Al-Sheraf, honor, was the most important part of all. Everything one does must uphold his personal honor as well as that of the tribe. In every aspect of life one is a representative of others and as such should act accordingly.

Now, this philosophy, like so many others, has its flaws. The most obvious of which is its patriarchal nature that does not mention females at all. However, I feel that this should not take away from its fundamental message. The individual should first rely upon his self and then upon others. Everything one does must be backed by a desire for perfection, yet that desire should not corrupt the principles and compassion that is within everyone. In essence, Al-Misaan simplifies the question of ethics and excellence by blending them into one topic. Therefore, the two are indivisible; you can not have one without the other.

While this posting is a quite shallow description of a conversation that lasted over two hours, I would rather not drone on about what all was said that night. However I would love to hear feedback from anyone interested, and would love just as much to hear if anyone has heard of a similar thing with other Bedouin.

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