Just recently, I travelled to Italy and Sicily for the trip of a lifetime and got some life lessons along the way. As I am born of Sicilian parents, it was as if I was returning home, to a place I barely knew. And the lessons learned I can bring back and share with you, lessons we need to learn soon if we hope not to destroy ourselves.
Sicily has a rich history of conquest. Please don’t misunderstand. We were the conquered, not the conquerors. Palermo, its largest city, the city near my parents’ home in Terrasini, has a unique distinction. It is “considered by historians to be the world’s most conquered city, occupied by Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Angevins, Aragonese, and others,” according to BestofSicily.com.
Back in America, we love winning the wars, the battles, the games. We like writing history from that perspective, even if we miss a few important details. We adore winners and champions. Sicily tells a different story. With its record of conquest, Sicily would fit within the realm of the losers. It has lost its share and then some. But there’s another type of game, seriously, in game theory called the infinite game, where the object of the game is to keep playing. In that game, Sicily could be the greatest of all.
Contrary to finite game theory, where the object is to win, and Sicily has not in infinite game theory, Sicily continues, survives, thrives. Despite being conquered by essentially every invading army, the island absorbs these invasions and the invaders become part of Sicily’s lore. Sicily is an island rich in beauty, pride and history. Amid the ruins of its former invaders, trophies if you will, Sicily is still playing. The countryside, towns, churches, piazzas, cliffs and caves, sun and sea. Did I mention the food? Bellissima! Who wouldn’t want to conquer it?
In Sicily, and all of Italy, one epoch’s ruins lay on top of the last. Nobody lost, they were supplanted (well, maybe there was a little sacking, pillaging, burning and destroying). For more than 2,000 years antiquity blends with modernity. Beauty beseeches you around every corner, and every photo seems like a famous postcard, a classic painting, with you in the picture. The feeling is shared by people from all over the globe, also sharing the moment, experiencing a place where ancient history and today’s bustle seem to fit together. For all of the world’s strife and struggle, Italy proves that we all really could get along, if we choose.
Being of Italian descent, I felt like I was home. Then it occurred to me, everyone else seemed at home there too. No tourists, just folks like me, searching for that place where beauty truly exists, in the statues, ruins, art, food, people, buildings, sea. In ourselves. Just like the conquerors of old, we came, we saw, we conquered and returned home, conquered by its beauty.
Arriving in America, after nearly two weeks away from it all, and some 24/7 news going on as we walk through the airport — some liberal at odds with some conservative, some inane thing that Trump said and some ad nauseam response by his adversary, some meaningless debates, some fool calling some child “illegal,” some leader calling his adversaries “losers,” some ...
Something is wrong here. We’re playing the wrong game. The winners need to understand that in life, the fight never ends for the losers. The history of conquest is such: those who are put down will never stay down and those who are winning will one day lose. The only way to really be victorious is to switch games, where the object of the game is to keep playing, to live fully. Not to vanquish your foes.
In Italy, they have learned to build on their old mistakes, to redefine winning. We should learn that too, or we’ll be in ruins. Go to Italy and see the infinite game played masterfully. In that game, the only losers are the ones who failed to see the beauty all around them and in each other.
Sal Moretti is a retired Bakersfield superintendent and current district director for Supervisor David Couch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.