Sunday, 3 February 2013

I Don’t Know You

Would you eat your dead parents?
When Darius was king of Persia (modern day Iran) circa 500 B.C., he asked the Greeks what it would take for them to eat the bodies of their dead parents. The Greeks thought it a horrible notion beyond the scope of their understanding and against everything they believed. Darius summoned the elders of an Indian tribe called Callatiae and, through an interpreter, asked them how they would feel burning the bodies of their dead as the Greeks did. The Callatiae were horrified at the thought.
You see, the Callatiae’s custom was to eat their dead parents.
As repugnant as that may sound (it’s not my idea of a good time either), it personifies cultural differences developed all over the world. What is morally correct to one person may well be an abomination to another. When determining what is morally right or wrong, it is often impossible to understand the morality of one group of people without having lived and breathed their culture.
Whether one considers custom differences of other countries or a tribal ritual in Northern Canada or a routine of the folks across the street, we can’t see the logic or circumstance that got them there so how can we possibly fully understand?

It isn’t about understanding. It’s about accepting.
Generally, if I accept cultural differences of other people, factions or nations, then I open the door for them to accept me and my habits. They may think I’m a bit weird for eating toast with brown sugar or believing there is no God, but that’s my thing. It’s how my thought process and taste buds have developed and I’m pretty happy with both. Neither one of those things harms anyone else. Trying to convince me that toast and brown sugar doesn't taste good because it doesn't taste good to you is counter productive to building a relationship.
I have no way of getting into your head or you into mine.
How does what they do affect me?
I have to ask the above question any time I come across something that, in my view, seems weird or wrong. For instance, if a group of native folks in Ecuador paint their faces for a marriage ceremony, how does that affect me? The simple answer is, it doesn’t. If it doesn’t affect me, I should leave it alone. Perhaps the best way to honor them would be learning their customs and be interested in who they are not what they do.
I ask the same question of others who become angry or adamant about another group's beliefs. How does it affect you? If it doesn't (and most times it won't), then it may be in your best interest to give up the battle. Puffing up your imaginary self-importance by demeaning someone else is only going to hurt one person... you.
While acceptance is imperative at an international level, it doesn’t start unless we can accept others at face value on a personal level. How can we be as accepting of that tribe in Ecuador if we can’t accept that our siblings have different ideas about what makes them happy? If what they do doesn’t harm me or anyone else, then I haven’t any reason to hate them for it.
Far too often we consider a group to be a threat to our well being simply because they think differently than we do. In reality, they are no more a threat to us than the guy up the street who cuts his lawn on Monday rather than Saturday like the rest of us.
The only exception to this rule of acceptance is when one group’s intent is to harm another group. By harming I mean;

  •  demeaning them because they think differently
  •  forcing their culture to change (or worse, annihilate them) because they aren’t the same as us
  • believing their deity is proves how ignorant they are because ours is the only real deity
  • believing they are lesser than we are because of skin colour or sexual preference or creed or language or an arbitrary pinpoint on a map
  • hating them because we think they are morally or culturally different
  • taking something from them by force because we want it
  • forcing anyone into a situation where their safety or rights are threatene, whether a country, a culture or an individual

Forcing anything on anyone because they aren’t exactly the same as us is akin to character assassination.
Whether I am speaking of different customs or whether I am trying to understand my neighbour, I can’t get into your head. I haven’t the same history as you and have no way of understanding why you may react to something in a different way than I do. I know not the underlying reasons for the things you do. If what you do doesn’t harm me, you or anyone else, it needn't bother me.
Make no mistake. Where people are denigrated or forced to succumb to another’s way of thinking, it is society’s (and each individual’s) responsibility to step up.
All that said, even though it may be your thing, I’m still not going to eat dead people.