People are the same everywhere, yet not so much

How much do we really see when we visit other cultures? How much do we really see about ourselves?

THERE’S MORE TO IT — It is true that people are made of the same flesh and blood, have the same basic needs, and enjoy laughter, music, love and companionship in all the varying forms. But there are distinct differences that seem to matter, and often interfere with our ability to find quality interaction, relationships and even business partnerships that cross these cultural divides.

I love to travel, see things and experience the world, but as a traveller, you don’t really understand what’s going on, no matter how grassroots you think you are getting.

It took me almost eight years of living abroad in India to even begin to see how people actually comprehend life and the world in entirely different ways.

In developing countries, we often see majestic-looking buildings with novel artwork, yet the structure is crumbling.

For us, this amazing old house looks fascinating, we’re enamoured by its character and charm, but we wouldn’t want to live in it. It’s old, broken, and propped up, with disaster, age and instability having rendered it iconic, but not a real option for a real home. Yet, it is someone’s real home.

Culturally, much of the world is a lot like this house. Ancient beliefs, societal norms, caste systems, economics and more have made many cultures appear as charming to an outsider as that house.

What we don’t see are the real struggles and difficulties that people belonging to these cultures face, nor do we comprehend how those ancient beliefs are charming, if they have resulted in societies where equality of gender, race or religion is unheard of, and basic human rights, dignities, opportunities, education, and even concepts like second chances, just don’t exist.

We all bleed red, but across cultures people do not think or behave the same way. I was in an eastern European nation last year, teaching at a seminar. One day, several of the leaders arrived with a live sheep in the back of a car; they had seen it, thought the students might like some meat in their diet, so they grabbed it. That culture has an unusual precept that “if I have a need, and see the solution, I should take it.” That is normal for them, and I couldn’t convince them that they had stolen and eaten that sheep.

An important part of this is to recognize that our Canadian perspective, our culture, beliefs and values are often as bizarre and shocking to them as theirs are to us.

This shouldn’t stop us from embracing new Canadians, nor prevent us from engaging and experiencing the world. It should, however, cause us to seek to know more about the world we live in, and maybe even understand why we see things the way we see them.