No shame in kvetching to avoid acquired apathy

Dear A.M. Costa Rica:

Rob Rowntree’s relatively pleasant “Get Over It” rant, just like so many of those that have preceded it over the years here on A.M. Costa Rica, still ignores the obvious: By not effectively confronting the shortcomings everybody knows exist here, Costa Ricans and their fearless leaders in San José are insuring that these issues will persist. Are we who’ve come here with open hearts and open wallets and whose lives and businesses are impacted by these perennial problems and the less than transparent/often futile attempts by the government to solve them, supposed to just shut up and work on our our tans simply because most of us don’t have the right to vote? Where I come from, that’s called “playing the victim.”

There’s no shame in kvetching. It’s a global pastime with a proud history that stretches all the way back to the time of our screeching, tree dwelling ancestors. But many foreigners bring more than just money and opinions when they come to Costa Rica. They arrive with shared experiences of generations of community support and activism, a tradition that is often lacking here.

My neighbors in Manuel Antonio hate the crumbling, potholed road that passes through our neighborhood. It has been an axel-buster for most of the 10 years I’ve lived here. But if you try to talk them into signing a petition or going down the hill to a town council meeting, they’ll look at you like you’re suggesting they light their hair on fire and streak the bus station! That’s just who they are. The vast majority of them are friendly, hard working, God fearing folks who just aren’t wired for confrontations of any kind with civil servants.

Acclimation by foreign residents to life in Costa Rica can easily produce acquired apathy if one’s awareness is overly focused on fitting in/not rocking the boat, rather than pitching in/grabbing an oar and putting one’s back into the shared journey. My experience is that Ticos appreciate it when extranjeros pitch in, as long as they (a) don’t expect to be put in charge, and (b) don’t require a hero’s adulation for their efforts. Speaking up is a way of pitching in.

With all respects to Mr. Rowntree, Costa Rica’s foreign residents should NOT “get over it,” and they shouldn’t shut up about it. They should get involved with it; respectfully, constructively and in the spirit of community building and cooperation.

Dean Barbour
Manuel Antonio
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