“If man is to survive, he will have learned to take delight in the essential differences between men and cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, a part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.” Gene Roddenberry
Are you generally open to new experiences or do you avoid people and situations that are different from what you are comfortable with? How do you react to people with a different point of view?
The Delight of A Sacred Toast
When I traveled to Africa on a Fulbright-Hays Travel Abroad Grant in 1994 with 12 other teachers from Louisiana, one of the events that stood out in my mind was drinking a toast with palm wine. Because it spoils easily, it is rarely exported, but it was a drink that frequently appeared in the African novels we read in a Teaching the African Novel course we had taken the year before. It seemed exotic and rare, and I was very excited to know how it actually tasted. The experience was quite special because we drank it as a good-bye toast as we left a sacred space where we had witnessed a sacred ceremony performed by a water goddess. It was a toast to the connection and friendship we had experienced that day with the Africans.
The wine tasted like fermented pineapple juice and I never tasted it again, not even at the West African restaurant I frequented in New Orleans where the fried plantains were perfect and the greens hot and spicy compared to the mild ham and greens of my southern childhood. But the wine was merely a symbol for the extraordinary experience of living in a different culture for five weeks. And yet it wasn’t so different, for much of the New Orleans food had its roots in West African, just as other New Orleans traditions were translations of West African ritual. The whole experience made the world seem smaller and more connected for me.
Appreciating Nature’s Surprises
When I lived in the middle of Nebraska among the flatlands where trees were scarce, I remembered all the stories I had read about those who settled the west. Actually, living there amid the blizzards of winter and the high winds taught me to appreciate the stoic nature of those who ventured into the unknown. Seeing the Sandhill Cranes landing by the hundreds on their yearly migration reminded me that nature presents us with unusual delights even where its beauty is usually so subtle we may easily overlook it.
The Beauty of Humility
There was nothing subtle about the beauty I saw in New Mexico where color and art enliven the beige expanses of desert. I have always been drawn to the Native American culture’s connection with nature, but it was an act of humility that touched me most deeply. When a Native American child is spoken to by an adult, they gaze downward and do not make eye contact. After dealing with many “in your face” teenagers over the years, I was deeply touched by this expression of respect and humility. I was most grateful for this unusual delight.
New Experiences Teach Us Spiritual Lessons
When we avoid anything that is unfamiliar, we miss many of life’s delights. Each point of view that we encounter is an opportunity to learn about another and to find a place where our beliefs and experiences connect. We will change our world one person and one encounter at a time. The time of separation is ending, and to resist it only creates difficulties. Our greatest lesson is to be who we truly are and to accept others as they truly are.
I’ve learned that when I really resist something, it’s usually a sign I really need to look at it more closely. There’s a lesson hidden in the issue or in the person I avoid. Recently, I experimented by deliberately sitting next to a person who usually irritates me. My intention was to be at peace no matter what the other person said or did. Several times I had to remind myself of that intention, but I was able to release my attachment to resistance, and as a result, my experience was pleasant.
Choose Peace Rather Than Judgment
When we cling so desperately to our religious or political dogma that we are unable to see any value in other points of view, we usually do that out of insecurity. We are afraid of what is different, but the irony is that our only real security in this world is to understand each other and respect different points of view. This doesn’t mean we have to choose another’s lifestyle as our own; it simply means we respect their right to make different choices, and when our lives intersect, we choose peace rather than judgment.
What is something different that you have learned to respect in another person? Please comment.
© 2012 Georganne Spruce
Related Articles: Nebraska’s Annual Sandhill Crane Migration, Why We Fear the Unknown, Personality: Why We Fear Doing Things Differently