Last weekend, I went to see Michael Moore’s latest documentary film Where to Invade Next. OK, I’ll admit, this marked the second time I’ve seen the film – it really is good enough that it warrants a second viewing.
Where to Invade Next explores the cultures of several European and African countries, particularly in regards to work, education, health care, women’s rights and other social issues, and compares the wellbeing of their citizens to Americans.
Spoiler alert: many of their citizens are overwhelmingly better educated, better fed, in better health and overall lead much happier and healthier lifestyles than their American counterparts. The film is utterly thought provoking and eye opening in regards to just how different America is from the rest of the world, and highlights the fact that there is much we can learn from our friends across the pond.
What stands out the most in the film is the European’s blatant disbelief in the importance of overworking yourself. None of the employees interviewed (and there were many) ever work late – in fact they typically leave the office by 3 p.m., and that’s including a two-hour lunch break they never skip.
In some countries, it is illegal for employers to contact their employees after work hours, while they’re on vacation or on weekends. In fact, in Germany they are so committed to not overworking themselves that any German citizen who feels stressed can receive a prescription to attend a free three-week stay at a spa. The government looks at this as a preventative measure since, after all, stress can wreak havoc on your health.
This might all sound incredible, but it’s important to note that what works for some doesn’t work for others. Americans may not receive eight weeks vacation time like Italians do, but according to several studies I’ve read online, we make much higher wages and have significantly better chances for career advancement than our European counterparts.
It’s important to acknowledge the fact that if you look around our office you’ll see a team of intelligent, accomplished, hard working people – that’s a result of us all being Americans raised in a society that values ambition and drive, and that’s a good thing!
Nonetheless, what we can take from this film is the fact that everything should come with a balance. Work can be a strong #2, but family, friends and enjoying life should always be #1, and that’s a philosophy that can and should transcend cultural differences.
Overall, it can be easy to walk out of the film declaring I’M MOVING TO EUROPE, but I don’t think that’s the point. Moore specifically states in the beginning of the film that these countries also have weeds accompanying their flowers, just like America does. Our country has problems, but so do others.
The point of the film isn’t a declaration of which country is the best, but rather the fact that it would serve us well to open our minds and make the effort to learn about other cultures. There is a wealth of information out there that can benefit us all if we only take the time to tap into it. In the meantime, Moore’s film is an excellent opportunity to skim the surface and truly think about how you can make changes to your life to benefit your overall wellbeing. Instead of watching hours of TV when you get home, read a book.
Instead of talking about work at the dinner table, engage with your loved ones. Instead of checking your email first thing when you wake up, make a cup of tea and learn about what’s going on in the world. The lives of Americans will never mirror that of Europeans, particularly in the workplace, but we can learn from them the importance of prioritizing what truly matters.