As a young child, I often thought about the differences I had to my peers, rather than the similarities. Nowadays, people still ask me why I am so different. However, I now appreciate the similarities between others rather than what makes me different, because I realise how we connect with people is actually what draws us together in the first place.
Difference of opinion
I had the wonderful privilege of conversing recently with Dr. Ruth van Reken, a well-known author, speaker and expert on the topic of “third culture kids”; individuals who move from their country of birth at an early age, eventually adopting an identity that forms the combination of cultures from their birth country and their home country, hence, creating a ‘third culture’, or perspective, on life.
Dr. Ruth van Reken explained to me that when she was living in Liberia after her parents moved from their birthplace in Iran, she began leading Bible studies for those who were in cross-cultural marriages; and found that one’s perspective can change their reality. “I realised that in God’s world, you don’t have to choose one culture or another; it can be both-and, not either-or”, she says. In other words, our worldview can be a combination of our cultural understanding and the way that we see others who have a different understanding or opinion to us of how they view the world, without it being necessarily contradictory.
In my own upbringing in an Indian home, despite being born and raised in Australia, I often felt that I could not relate to many outside of my own home, because the dominant culture was so distant from my own. Although I understood the mother tongue of my parents, loved the food, and relished the opportunities to connect to my “homeland” of India, I still viewed Australia as ‘home’. The cultural lens through which I viewed my own little world was not tainted, but rather enhanced by how I saw others and learned, over time, to value their unique experiences as well.
As Dr. Ruth van Reken explains it, “culture is the way we connect (the conduit), while identity is the way we see ourselves in the image of God; but the experience we have - shared or not - is the way we relate to each other”. What she means is that when we are able to appreciate our shared life experiences, despite our own cultural changes or worldview, we begin to connect with others on a much deeper level.
I sometimes still feel that I live between two worlds; one is the world in which I was raised to be Indian, both culturally, emotionally and even spiritually, while the other is the “real world”, in which I behave and understand my life as an Australian. However, the two are not separated from each other, but rather, complement the way in which I live my life.
The same goes for the way we view our friendships, our work, even our future aspirations, hopes and dreams. We often seem to willingly ‘compartmentalise’ our life into different sections, depending on who we hang out with, how we explain things, where we choose to live, and the like; without knowing that these parts of our life are what makes our existence what is the world we live in. We may not all be products of our environment, but we are all people who have a greater purpose than what we may think or imagine.
Influenced, or influencing
The more I think about it, the more I realise we have more in common with those around us than what we actually believe. For instance, your next-door-neighbour might not be the same age as you, the same height, from the same cultural or religious background as you. But you both chose to live in the same state, the same city, the same suburb, even the same street. You both know each other, or seem to know each other; but there is so much more left to explore in your relationship with one another. When you choose to find out who you are as individuals, but more than that, as friends, you will find that you tend to focus more on how you are more alike than different.
“I began to realise that the emotional, relational, intellectual side of who we are is connected to our personhood, and what we experience as loss actually forms the basis of who we are and what we identify as...God made you for a reason, and you have to know that whatever you are going through, it is not a mistake”, as Dr. Ruth van Reken says.
To be frank, you cannot actually influence anymore if you haven’t allowed yourself to be vulnerable enough to be influenced by somebody else. All of us refer to those people in our lives who have shaped our understanding of the world, our potential as individuals, or our future goals as our mentors, our role models, our “inspiration”. It is these people of influence who ultimately lead you on the path of becoming a person of influence to those around you as well.
Understanding our world
So, the next time you come across someone who you perceive to be “different”, try and focus on how you might be more alike than you think. You will be pleasantly surprised at what sort of conversations this might open up in the foreseeable future.
As Scripture says,
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be
compassionate and humble” (1 Peter chapter 3 verse 8).
We can all find ways to understand others better, and in so doing, get a little bit closer to realising the potential in others and how our world needs a little more compassion, especially as we seek to influence others better.
That’s how our own little world becomes a little bit bigger.
Joseph Kolapudi's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/joseph-kolapudi.html