I had about seven different ideas for what to write about this week, but after a thought-provoking New Year’s Eve discussion about xenophobia (which may or may not have been assisted by some $1 bottles of Soju) and re-watching this video for probably the hundredth time in my life, I’ve decided I want to write about people. Not people in the “listen to all the differences between my culture and their culture” sense, but rather as a discussion of the threads that join the members of our very own global community.
I continue to be amazed by the human spirit. It is really easy to take one look at CNN or BBC and feel really down about the future of our world. There’s a whole lot of bad going on with regards to international women’s rights, unemployment, a ridiculously unequal distribution of wealth, and the fact that the Euro currently has a 1 in 5 chance of lasting the decade. The problems we face seem so insurmountable at times that some people have sworn off the news entirely, preferring to live their lives in peaceful ignorance instead of being guided by fear and mistrust.
But there’s a lot more that unites us as people than sets us apart. Working in Korea has made me more aware than ever of the massive cultural differences that guide even the smallest of interactions, and it still catches me off guard when an old woman bowls me over to get onto the subway first, but for every blaring example of cultural differences, there are about 50 emphasizing the humanity of it all. One of the best aspects of experiencing life overseas as a teacher is the ability to take a step back from the pounding differences between life here and life in the West and appreciate the fact that across continents, kids will always stay the same. Children will always try to stay home sick from school, will always want to sit next to their friends and will always try to not-so-subtly-text on their cellphones instead of paying attention in class. They will compliment each other, laugh with each other, support each other linguistically. There is so much more that unites us as people than separates us, no matter what our news sources tell us. It’s an idea that I’ve already touched on when I discussed my epiphany in Russia, so I’ll spare you the repeated sermon, but the bottom line is, we are all one.
The Baha’i faith has a common refrain that I have always really appreciated: Unity in diversity. For the quick reader, this concept may seem fairly obvious, and quite commonplace in our increasingly PC society, but a subtle change in wording can make a world of difference in practice. Our society’s current focus on diversity can be more aptly be named ‘Unity despite diversity,’ as though we have overcome the many hurdles involved with having a multicultural and multiracial community, and learned to cope with that. Conversely, unity in diversity praises theses differences, and celebrates the many different theologies, cultural practices and mentalities that guide us as people. What a beautiful way to view our world!
The best way to see and appreciate these differences is, of course, to travel. Open up your mind and heart to the people of another culture and express a willingness to share your life with them. Study abroad, work overseas, take a week-long getaway to the country next door. For those who have no interest in traveling to a different country, or perhaps lack the funds or vacation days required to leave, there are always opportunities to explore immigrant culture within your own community. Take a stroll through your closest Chinatown, sign up to be a conversation partner for ESL learners, volunteer to host foreign exchange students in your home, watch a foreign film. We are all proud of our unique cultures, and eager to share them with anyone willing to listen. Take advantage of that. Ask questions. Take pictures. Read memoirs. Traveling is as much of a mental journey as it is physical, and for those unable to jet away to far-off places, you can still surround yourself with a multitude of cultures within miles of home.
Diversity will never be hard to find in the ever-changing world of ours- it’s finding the similarities that we as people struggle with. Being able to overlook language barriers, and religion, and views on life is what takes practice and an extra helping of grace. With that in mind, I am sending all you readers out on a challenge: to explore our world with open-mindedness, looking for what unites us as people, instead of what unravels us. Look at those we share our world with as members of our global community instead of outsiders. Look for the smiles, the music, and the food that pulse through each culture instead of dwelling on those massive differences. And for those who haven’t seen it, Where the Hell is Matt? is a great place to start.