Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

While walking my dog in our neighborhood earlier tonight, I walked past a young family with three little girls.  As I was walking by, one of the girls looked up on the roof of the house in front of us and, upon seeing the skylight, said “Oh, is that an iPad?”  The dad chuckled and said, “No, it isn’t an iPad.  It’s a skylight.”  I smiled as I walked by them and pulled ahead at the faster pace my dog and I prefer.

The girl’s confusion is completely understandable.  She hadn’t seen (or noticed) skylights before, but she is well aware of iPads.  She spoke from the context of her experience.  As children, we all do that, for example, by learning broad categories like “dog” that apply to many things before we develop the ability to distinguish between German Shepherd, Collie and St. Bernard.  The girl saw a rectangular object (albeit it very large and on a roof) that had the shape and glass color of what she knew – an iPad.  That was her frame of reference.

I think we need to remember that the same is true for people of all ages.  Too often we expect people to see and understand things exactly as we do.  But nobody else on earth has exactly the same background, education, language and experience that you do.  What should be “common knowledge” in your estimation may not be an option for someone with a different background, education, language or experience.

Being aware of those differences may help us be a little more understanding and kinder toward others.

Leap year lesson #209 is We only know what we know.

Tolerance is a big deal in today’s world – at least in our current American culture.  One of the most damning accusations many think they can hurl at you is to call you intolerant.  Certainly, our world can use a little more effort to get along with others who are different from ourselves.  We would do well to spend less time trying to get people to be just like us, and spend more time being the neighbors, family, coworkers, friends and strangers that we wish others would be to us.  The Golden Rule still applies.

It is a very good thing that there are laws to prevent discrimination against groups based on race, nationality, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age and more.

In my workplace, it does not matter one bit to me about any of the above or other categorizations by which one may be grouped.  What matters is that we work together well to accomplish the objectives of the business.  Such categories are completely a non-issue for me in the workplace – not because it’s the law or company policy, but because it’s the sensible way to relate to others I work with in order to get things done, and because I genuinely respect people.  Whether others look like me, act like me or believe like me in matters unrelated to work is of no significance in our ability to work together well.  I will give my all to cooperate and collaborate, and if they reciprocate, we will succeed.

So it is odd to me when some demonstrate an extreme lack of tolerance toward others in the workplace when they don’t see eye to eye on matters outside the workplace.  It seems at times that those yelling the most about tolerance have a tendency to themselves be extremely intolerant of anyone who disagrees with them on their soapbox issue.

Isn’t the epitome of tolerance being at that point like I mentioned above where such differences are a non-issue?  Then why do some continue to make them an issue?

Leap year lesson #170 is Don’t be intolerant in the name of tolerance.

If I have learned anything so far on this trip to China, it is that humans are more alike than different regardless of nationality.  Sure, externals can be radically different.  I don’t look like any native Chinese I’ve seen.  Still, there are so many experiences that are the same across cultures that it is a terrible shame to misrepresent whole groups of people with broad generalizations to serve our purposes.

When meeting poor, rural Chinese Christians over the past week, we may have only understood basic phrases when talking without an interpreter, but simple human kindness, respect, love, courtesy and giving were experienced and felt the same regardless of language.  Tears of joy are real in any language.  Laughter and smiles need no translation.  Common bonds of faith supersede differences of history, culture, personal experience or governmental influence.

Watching teenagers in China behave like teenagers in America reinforces the centrality of human nature in our development – for good and for bad.  Seeing how parents treat their children shows love in the same way I feel toward my sons.  Observing couples relating to each other and old people carrying on as they see fit and shows the same compassion and work ethic I see in many back home.

I am not defined by what my government does.  I am impacted by it, but not defined by it.  Nor do I lose my own personality because of anything my government does.  So let’s give the average citizen of other countries the same we demand for ourselves – individual respect as a human being.

That isn’t to say we treat governments with naivete.  That would be foolish.  But it would be more foolish for me to travel to a rural Chinese area, meet with Christian believers, and assume that they are untrustworthy or puppets of the government just because they live in this country.  I’m sure there are many officials who should not be trusted and propaganda to be dismissed as false.

Last time I checked, though, our own government in the U.S. does a pretty good job at dishing out its own propaganda.  Remember to focus first on people.

Leap year lesson #112 is We are more alike than different.

My wife and I just had a wonderful evening with one of my former coworkers and his family. They moved here from their home near Mumbai, India nearly a year ago. For the last couple of months we’ve been planning on getting together with this kind family hosting us. Our earlier scheduled evening had to be postponed because of my wife’s illness that weekend. Fortunately, we were able to spend tonight with them.

If travel is the best education, spending time with others who have lived or spent most of their lives in very different cultures than your own has to be a close second.

The meal was delicious, authentic Indian cuisine. I love spicy things, and the meal was generous in that regard as well as in the quantity served with my friend’s wife bringing more each time we’d get low in supply. I finally had to stop without finishing all before me. Several hours later I’m still stuffed.

Besides the meal and learning more about Indian food than I knew before, I really appreciated hearing more about the customs of the culture my friend and his family grew up in. It is so easy to think that all the world is like your little corner or that it should be. So much of what we experience in life, though, and what shapes us is attributable to culture more than anything else.

We have much to learn from other cultures. It would be great to learn by going to those places and spending time there, but that isn’t always possible or practical. So do the next best thing and befriend someone from a very different background and culture. Spend time with them. Ask a lot of questions so that you better understand them and are less likely to jump to incorrect assumptions and conclusions that stem from your own lack of knowledge.

You may just find that you simultaneously expanded your world while making it a little smaller.

Leap year lesson #56 is We have much to learn from other cultures.