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Right vs Wrong vs Different

An important difference between tourist and traveler is that the former accepts his own civilization without question; not so the traveler, who compares it with the others, and rejects those elements he finds not to his liking. ~Paul Bowles

The greatest gift I received from living abroad was learning first hand to distinguish right vs wrong vs different. For the longest time, years growing into decades, I believed my own culture was the best in existence if not the preeminent culture of all mankind, the pinnacle of human civilization. It was an indisputable fact supporting my world view…despite believing at a young age, 10ish, the US involvement in Vietnam was an immoral atrocity perpetrated by corrupt presidencies and warmongering politicians lining their pockets with blood money, Judas gold. Ok. That last part may be a stretch but I did have enough awareness to oppose my prowar father on the touchiest topic of the day.

I did not have the wherewithal to comprehend right, wrong, different at first blush. It required years of travel to rough scrape against my psyche and remove calloused preconceptions, to slowly peel away jingoism, unconscious bias, and conscious bias before I was able to…before I was willing to…understand. I resisted. I fought against learning. Closed myself to enlightenment.

Initially, I noticed differences and automatically rationalized the inferiority reinforcing my culture’s obvious superiority. No cheese on my chicken sandwich in England and a side eye glance when requested? What an abominable culture. Unamerican food was a blight on the palate of a civilized person.

Then I jumped into the deep end, left my safe place for a home in a new land where every day was a ‘not the way I was raised’ day. Traffic moved on the wrong side of the street. Half the populace opposed eating meat. Christianity accounted for less than 3% of the population. Traffic control, stoplights, lane lines, etc were treated as optional. Yet, it worked?

My view of right vs wrong was quickly slain opening space to appreciate nuances without falling to judgment through a myopic cultural lens distorting place and time. Right for India is not necessarily Right for the US. Right for one country is unlikely to sow harmony in another.

The US way was deemed the best way for Chile so we backed the overthrow of the democratically elected Allende government choosing to prop up the dictator Pinochet. The result, the persecution of political critics resulting in 1,200 to 3,200 executions, tens of thousands tortured, up to 80,000 imprisoned.

The culture of a place is, with few exceptions, precisely the way life needs to be for societal harmony. Neither right nor wrong, just different than my own. It is a way of life to be appreciated with elements adoptable as the situation dictates. Right and Wrong cease to exist when we develop the ability to appreciate differences.

30 Aug 2019

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