I was watching an interview in which the interviewer asked a Hawaiian: “How many words do you have in your language?” The Hawaiian’s response was: “How many words do you need for us to have in order for you to realize that we have a rich culture?”
So why is it that we are sometimes tempted to view those different from us as somehow being inferior to us? Many mainlanders dismiss poi as an incomprehensible mystery that somehow speaks of a Hawaiian lack of elevated culture, just as Northerners who move here to Georgia view the southern love of grits as evidence of the South’s strangeness, if not outright inferiority.
This issue of recoiling from or rejection of “differentness” extends as well into our relationships: Just because someone doesn’t show their love in the way that we might want doesn’t mean that they don’t love us. At the heart of our fear of differentness is… fear! We seem to assume that whatever is different from what we know could possibly harm us.
Life is a journey along which we keep bumping into new and unknown things, customs, food, and people. Someone once observed that the forest would be a deprived place if it only contained one kind of bird with one kind of song; without variety life contains only one kind of song. As we live our life it is inevitable that we will come face-to-face with this issue of difference, and life does not care whether this confrontation pisses us off or makes us fearful.
On my bulletin board I have a cartoon which shows an old man with a long beard holding a riffle as he sits on a stool staring out an open window. In the foreground is his wife on a phone saying, “He’s angry about getting old.” One of the most unsettling confrontations with the issue of difference occurs the day that we suddenly don’t recognize the old, or older, person in the bathroom mirror. If we fear what we see we will try to delude ourselves about our aging and therefore engage in various expressions of denial. If we are pissed off by what we see we will be made miserable by our anger… which is also a form of denial.
At the age of 63 I have begun to catch myself when I am in the midst of rejecting things: A food that I had convinced myself at the age of 6 that I didn’t like, a person covered in tattoos, a different and unfamiliar type of music. No matter how old we are most of us view “old” as being older than we are currently: Now is the time for me to re-cultivate that curiosity and willingness to try the “new” so that I can embrace my “old age” whenever I arrive in it, rather than sitting angry at the window trying to fend off the inevitable.