Can our goal for the New Year be to accept the cultural divide?


January is the time we all assess the last year. Many of us look back and are pleased at goals set and achieved, some of us have the courage to look at the ways we went off course and look for correction in the coming year. If you speak to someone, anyone, about ways in which you feel you fell short, most people are empathetic. Whether they give you a listening ear, advice for the coming year, a smile of “been there, done that” and an acknowledgment of “made it through the other side,” they want you to be successful in whatever it is you need to do in the future.

For some reason, those warm fuzzies we are willing to extend to other individuals fly out the window when it comes to opinions, values and beliefs. In today’s world we are unable to simply listen, smile and wish someone well when they voice an opinion that is different from our own. This was true 30 years ago, as well, but usually only in regards to two to four topics. Now people get up in arms over anything, violently and loudly.

This seems like a digression, but I recently went to Mexico. We encountered little “things” that are much different than they are here in the states. From basic needs like the women’s restroom which was in an area that few people went to for anything other than to use the restroom, well it was closed. All of these women were getting off of their planes and heading straight for the restroom, passing two employees as they went. No one said anything and no sign was posted. If you were not the one who had to “go” it was almost comical. You could almost see a succession of penguins waddling quickly in a line towards a common goal, doing an about face, finding someone who might know what they need, trying to communicate the need, then finding out where there is another restroom and then the quick stepped line continued in another direction. We were waiting for another plane to arrive, we had time, so I watched. No one said anything sharply under their breath. No one suggested a sign be posted. No one was angry that the bathroom did not work and there was no redirection to another restroom. It simply was.

Then there were much larger differences. We stayed at an all inclusive. The meals were at restaurants in the evening, not a buffet, that required a dress code. We had two young people with us, our sons and we were “flagged” for dress code twice. While I watched two older couples come in with the exact same code infraction get seated immediately. This became a point of interest, so we watched the rest of the week and sure enough, younger couples were getting scrutinized and turned away while people of an older generation were seated immediately and reverently. I took this to mean that in their culture, they have a deep respect for their elders. None of the younger people that were turned away got angry. They simply fixed the situation and came back.

What if, in this New Year we all had the same goal? What if we all look at our neighbors, friends, family and people we simply “share space with” and assume, straight from the beginning that these people are from a different culture than we are? They were brought up with different beliefs. They experienced different tragedies. They had different responses to their needs growing up. Everything they went through formed their culture. Can our goal for the New Year be to accept the cultural divide?