Life-Love 58: Feeling kinship with someone different

It is so easy to dismiss others who surprise or disconcert us. They may look different, eat foods we’ve never tried, listen to music whose rhythms and melodies surprise us, speak a language we don’t understand or wear clothes that we find strange or immodest. They may have a different skin colour, or perhaps practice a religion we don’t fully understand. In a way, it’s comforting to tell ourselves that they are alien and bizarre, perhaps even threatening. This is the route to self-satisfaction and personal comfort, but it is also the route to exclusion and personal stagnation. C.S. Lewis once said: “We read to know that we are not alone.” He had a point, when reading was really the only way to experience the cultures of faraway lands and our imaginations the only theatres within which we could interact with people different to us. Now however, the world had shruken down, hadn’t it? The great cities of the world have grown to gargantuan, inhuman proportions, attracting all of the peoples of the world into their confines. People have a habit of humanizing things, though, and so our cities have, in many ways returned to being collections of villages, who populations are a finely-woven tapestry of many colours and designs. This has brought difference to our doors – all over the world. Those most fortunate among us have had the luxury of traveling the world and glimpsing how its great cities have evolved to resemble one another – most of them are world cities, building colourful mosaics of music, dance, ritual, food and clothing around the city’s indigenous cultural core. So Hong Kong is fundamentally Cantonese, Edinburgh is basically Scottish, New York is naturally American and Cairo is traditionally Egyptian – but each of these cities has been marked by a serious internationalisation that has transformed them, elevating and changing the indigenous culture by pulling apart its threads a little weaving back together a little different, with more deeper hues and more intricate patterns. One of the best things a person can feel in these places, or wherever one lives, is probably to look to those around you and try to understand them – to see that they add something to the song of your culture, and to feel a human kinship with them. When you feel kinship with someone different from you, and they manifestly feel it back – the world has made progress toward becoming a better place.

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