The Chinese New Year has just arrived; it is the Year of the Horse. So let me take this opportunity to wish all my readers who celebrate the Chinese calendar a very Happy New Year! But this reminded me of something that happened in the course of my networking, and I hope it is indicative of something larger. Something positive.
One person I met last year is a Muslim, unemployed, and looking. I’m Jewish. Clearly there is the potential for a baseline antagonism given the history between the two religions. Yet we’ve established a casual friendship marked by my sending job leads I think are appropriate, the occasional “How are you?” emails back and forth, and so on. Still, I was floored last year when for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, they spontaneously sent me a greeting wishing me a Happy New Year. Later, they sent me Chanukah greetings. In a month or so I need to be sure to wish them a happy Nowruz.
And this is how it should be. My life is enriched immensely by my contacts with people of other cultures, races, and religions; I have learned about other cultures and faiths which, in turn, has deepened my appreciation of my own. When traveling I attempt to sample local foods preferentially in order to try something new, and my wife and I enjoy many different cuisines when dining out (though this is complicated by my relatively-new “spirited attempt” to stay kosher – the marinated & grilled conch in the Bahamas a couple of years ago looked really good, but it’s not on the list*).
In the science fiction book Spock’s World, Surak, the progenitor of the Vulcan philosophy of logic and emotional mastery that saved the planet from destruction from the wars that raged almost constantly, was sitting on the sand, alone in the desert, after fleeing his home in despair upon seeing the shocking results of the test of an anti-matter bomb on the planet’s moon, T’Khut; he was fearful that the use of this new weapon could lead to the destruction of their race. It was right then that an Underlier, a silicon-based life form that also lived on Vulcan, surfaced. Large as a hundred houses, it towered over Surak, and he thought his end was nigh, but the Underlier surprised him. Looking at the tiny being before it, it roared in joy, in delight at the difference between them… and telepathically communicated that joy to Surak.
This revelation led to the Vulcan philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.
I have no illusions that humanity, with our fundamental flaws of human nature, will be able to put aside all hatreds and fears. Indeed, hatred and fear of those that are different is a hard-wired survival trait… think it through. Those you know, those you’ve worked with, lived with, and bred with, are those most likely to be similar to you and therefore (on average) the safest to deal with. Strangers throughout history have often been threats, whether perceived or actual, in myriad ways.
But we can try to rise above ape-tribe spirit to restrain our passions, let our higher mind work… and embrace differences as an opportunity to learn and grow. Does this mean there are no dangers, whether between individuals or between nations? Of course not, and it is a suicidal utopian who denies the existence of such dangers.
As I wrote in my column highlighting how my knowledge of a facet of Japanese culture helped me in a work situation: until World War IV, an asteroid hits, or a calamitous economic collapse disrupts our modern world and global marketplace, we will be living and working with people of other cultures, races, and religions. Take this chance to learn something new about another culture or religion; whether professionally or personally, this learning is a good thing.
Just as this person took a step to wish me well, if you have a colleague or friend or acquaintance from a background different from you – do some research, and wish them well on a holiday of theirs. One by one, we can work to overcome the fears that plague us, fears that often spring because we don’t know better, have heard propaganda about “the enemy”, or know nothing at all.
Roar with delight at the differences between us.
* If it comes from the water, it must have fins and scales. I miss scallops, and the classic New England dish, battered and deep-fried clams.
© 2014, David Hunt, PE