A prime time host on Fox News was recently discovered to have described the Iraqi people as “semiliterate people” for whom he has zero sympathy. Nor did he care for their culture because they “don’t use toilet paper or forks”.
I was a Peace Corps volunteer in a Muslim village in Malaysian Borneo where the people did not use toilet paper –it was not available- and they ate with their hands. When the villagers first witnessed me eating with a fork, they burst into laughter. They thought it hilarious and ridiculous to put rice on these little prongs while navigating this metal thing to one’s mouth without spilling when eating with one’s hands was so much more efficient. When I ate at the homes of the villagers, I learned to eat with my hands. Initially, I managed to get food in my hair and all over my face, but with practice I learned the art of eating easily and gracefully with my hands. This is one of the many things that was foreign to me. Finally I came to the realization that the rules and rituals of one’s culture are, on the one hand, totally arbitrary and, on the other hand, the fabric that binds the culture together.
From its inception, the United States has been a melting pot of a various cultures. Yet there has been friction as each new culture migrated to the US, challenging the newfound identity of the collective consciousness. One of the reasons for this is that historically we lived in tribal groups with the deep seated belief that our tribal group or nation was the best; living in tribes or small nation states is part of our karmic memories. Throughout the history of Europe, there were frequent wars between and among the various peoples that came to call themselves French, English, Scottish, German or Spanish to name but a few of the cultural identities that fostered tribalism. Also housed in our karmic imprints are trace memories of our experiences living in other cultures. When I first went to live in Malaysia, I had repeated flashes of deja vu with waves of awareness floating over me that I had come home. The kindness, love and acceptance that I experience in this remote village far outweigh any cultural dissonance over forks or toilet paper.
If we allow ourselves to relax our hypervigilance regarding the sanctity of our own tribal identity and open ourselves to the richness and beauty of other cultures, we can allow ourselves to remember the peace and joy of living connected to nature and the inner resonance we experience with certain cultures. Through struggling to assert our cultural supremacy and ridicule others, we demonstrate our own ignorance and block ourselves from remembering the wisdom from all of the lifetimes that make us who we are today. As we race towards a global consciousness, may we remember and embrace the insights and lessons from whence we came rather than disparage those who are different from us.