Of Blind Men and Elephants, part 2

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Deepa

Authored by Dia

In my last podcast I talked about tolerance and what it generally means when it comes to our interactions with others. In this podcast I’m going to talk about tolerance specifically toward those from other cultures.

John Piper, in his book A Sweet and Bitter Providence, wrote: “Racism and all manner of ethnocentrisms”—which is the attitude that one’s own group or culture is superior—“are as common today around the world as they have ever been. The shrinking of the planet into immediate access on the Internet has brought thousands of strange people and strange patterns of life into our lives—and put our strangeness into their lives. Diversity is a given in this world. The question is how we will think and feel and act about it.”1

Sociologists in the field of intercultural communication studies claim that as human beings socialize and take on the accepted norms and values of our culture, we begin to internalize the culture around us—it starts to become a part of who we are and greatly affects how we view things and make decisions. Metaphorically speaking, our culture becomes the lens through which we see and make sense of the world. Once our culture becomes an internal part of our belief, we take it for granted, and for the most part, we don’t reflect on it.

Let’s put it like this. Imagine doing a no-brainer activity or routine—one that you usually take for granted—with somebody who has never done it before. It could be something like using a cell phone, or speaking your native language, or playing a card game. In those moments as that person watches you do something that is unfamiliar to them and expresses it to you, you’d be able to see that activity or experience through their eyes and it might introduce some newness to that activity as well. In reverse, you could also imagine doing something for the first time that many others take for granted, but because of your unfamiliarity with it, you would see or feel something different than they do.

A close friend and I went on a walk in our little neighborhood here in Japan. She is Japanese, but I’ve been here for less than a year and will be leaving soon. We were discussing things I’d still like to do and see before I leave. I mentioned that I wanted to play pachinko, which is a local game of chance that resembles vertical pinball. She said she had never thought of playing pachinko and was rather amused that it had occurred to me as a unique Japanese experience I wanted to have.

Similarly, even though I grew up in India, I have never visited the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world. I guess I was rather familiar with it, since it was close to where we lived, so I never felt the need to see it.

When people don’t belong to a culture they are introduced to, they are more likely to detect and appreciate things that members of that culture hardly notice, because the members of that culture are so enmeshed in it. Conversely, foreigners often fail to understand or appreciate social expectations and codes that those native to the country are familiar with.

The Alchemist, which is a widely translated and bestselling allegorical novel by Paulo Coelho, tells the story of Santiago, a simple shepherd boy. One day, while resting under a large tree inside a ruined church, Santiago has a dream. He dreams that if he travels to the pyramids, he will find his fortune. So Santiago decides to make this journey. The book details his long and very eventful voyage, during which he meets the girl of his dreams, as well as many other interesting people. When Santiago reaches the pyramids, he meets a soldier who tells him that he will find his treasure underneath a tree that has grown inside a ruined church.

In other words, the physical treasure was home where he began the journey, but the treasure was also in the journey—everything that he learned along the way, the people he met, the experiences he had, and the love he found. Santiago ended up back at his home, but his journey had made him richer, wiser, and more appreciative of not only the world but of his land and home as well.

I don’t think that you have to do a world tour to discover the meaning of life, but being open to and tolerant of diversity, cultures, and people you initially don’t understand or have much in common with, will lead to rich life experiences.

Imagine I give you a ticket to a new film. You’ve heard it has great special effects, an awesome sound track, good cinematography, you like the actress in the lead role, but the lead actor you find pretty cheesy; in fact, you don’t like him. Would you be willing to tolerate that one actor you don’t particularly like to watch the film? See, tolerance can give you the ability to enjoy something or someone even though it or they are not 100% perfect. Some people or cultures that you encounter in life might be like that film—great, but with some aspect you’re not so into. Having tolerance can help you to enjoy it anyway. Having tolerance will help you embrace new experiences.

In the past year I’ve traveled to three continents, spent time in four countries, and met many wonderful and interesting people. If you asked me what I consider the biggest, “bestest,” shiniest key to adapting to new cultures, countries, situations, or people, I’d say that it’s genuine interest.

Seek to build bridges of communication with those you might not understand at first. Show yourself welcoming and open and portray kindness and respect. Accept others as they are, and don’t draw a circle around your life that shuts others out; avoid imposing your opinions on others; make it your business to be at peace with all men as much as you can;2 and remember that the greatest quality and virtue is love.3 Love is a universal language, so use it.

At sixteen I had a favorite oversized, light blue t-shirt with a picture of a sad-eyed puppy and the quote, “Don’t try to understand me, just love me.” When I was feeling awful and wanted some extra sympathy I’d put it on. Shamelessly emo, I know. But that quote did a good job of expressing my desire for tolerance. You cannot always understand somebody or why they react, feel, or think the way they do, yet you can always try to love them anyway.

As Mother Teresa aptly said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”


Footnotes
1 A Sweet and Bitter Providence: Sex, Race, and the Sovereignty of God, John Piper (Crossway, 2010).
2 Hebrews 12:14, Romans 12:18.
3 1 Corinthians 13:13.

Read by Florence McNair. Music by sindustry(CC). (CC). Copyright © 2011 by The Family International


Article originally appeared on Just1Thing (https://just1thing.com/).
Published: Aug. 24, 2011
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