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Op-Ed Columnist

In Jordan We Trust

Amman

Josh Haner/The New York Times

Thomas L. Friedman

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Yesterday's news from Jordan is earth-flattening, and it raises questions about whether there might just be light at the end of the tunnel. It is impossible not to be tantalized by the potential of these events to change the course of Jordan's history. What's important, however, is that we focus on what this means to the people. The media seems too caught up in dissecting the macro-level situation to pay attention to how their people are doing. Just call it missing the fields for the wheat.

When thinking about the recent problems, it's important to remember three things: One, people don't behave like car salesmen, so attempts to treat them as such are a waste of time. Car salesmen never suddenly set up a black market for Western DVDs. Two, Jordan has spent decades torn by civil war and ethnic hatred, so a mindset of peace and stability will seem foreign and strange. And three, hope is an extraordinarily powerful idea: If authoritarianism is Jordan's glass ceiling, then hope is certainly its flowerpot.

When I was in Jordan last Summer, I was amazed by the variety of the local cuisine, and that tells me two things. It tells me that the citizens of Jordan have no shortage of potential entrepreneurs, and that is a good beginning to grow from. Second, it tells me that people in Jordan are just like people anywhere else on this flat earth of ours.

So what should we do about the chaos in Jordan? Well, it's easier to start with what we should not do. We should not let seemingly endless frustrations cause the people of Jordan to doubt their chance at progress. Beyond that, we need to be careful to nurture the fragile foundations of peace. The opportunity is there, but I worry that the path to stability is so narrow that Jordan will have to move down it very slowly. And of course Amman needs to come to terms with its own history.

Speaking with a up-and-coming violinist from the large Jewish community here, I asked her if there was any message that she wanted me to carry back home with me. She pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, won tin jin hao, which is a local saying that means roughly, "Four things drive a man out of his house: too much smoke, a dripping roof, filthy air and a scolding wife."

I don't know what Jordan will be like a few years from now, but I do know that it will probably look very different from the country we see now, even if it remains true to its basic cultural heritage. I know this because, through all the disorder, the people still haven't lost sight of their dreams.