We come from the East, West, North, and South. All of us have something to share and/or contribute. We are different from each other, yet we are similar because each of us is somebody.
Peter is an African. When he was in Portland, Oregon, he was stopped from time to time mainly by Whites inquiring why he wore "pajamas" on the street during the day. Actually, they were curious. They wanted to know what kind of people dressed the way he did. He was astonished at how little was known about people of Africa and their unique variety of culture. As Americans looked through their cultural looking glass, they saw pajamas; but as Peter was looking through the African looking glass, he saw regular clothes.
One does not need to be a professor of anthropology in order to know that all of us are different: We have different backgrounds, nations, languages, colors, cultures, likes, dislikes, habits, and manners in every way of life. Each difference makes us, people, a kaleidoscope of variety. It is this difference, this variety, that gives life its wonderful mystery and challenge.
Our differences should make us reach out to one another. They should bring us closer together in order to learn from and about each other. The ultimate joy would be experienced as soon as we realized that each of us is a piece of a puzzle and, that without each other, we would make an incomplete picture. The joy of differences will be experienced by our fellowship with one another.
According to Webster's New World Dictionary, the word fellowship means "1. companionship 2. a mutual sharing 3. a group of people with the same interests...." Some people suggest that the word "fellowship" means all fellows in one ship. Fellowship is not something one does; it is a life-style. There is warmth in fellowship.
I have three sisters. All of them are still in Africa. My sisters and I used to eat from the same plate or bowl during meal times. One hand would scoop the food and mold it before passing it to the other hand. The mouth would be fed from the hand that did not scoop from the bowl. The joy of sharing and the courtesy demonstrated strengthened our relationship as children. There was something about hand-eating. It brought a sense of communion. It was as if we were communicating with the food we were eating. Hand-eating seemed to give food extra nourishing power. That power was manifested in our smiles and laughter as we ate.
This suggested that companionship was not something we had to work at. Mutual sharing did not need lessons. The four of us had the same interests. We wanted to be fed. More than that, we were making a strong and loud statement in silence. The statement was we needed each other. If one of us was not well and was unable to have fellowship with us, the meal seemed to lack an important ingredient.
If one would look at what we were doing through another cultural looking glass, it would not make sense. I shared my family story with some of my American friends. They reacted in different ways. Some said: "Yuck, that was unhealthy," "That was sick," "That was different," " I hope you won't do that anymore," "Wow! that sounds romantic," etc. American reactions were understandable. They confirmed the thought that we live in a diverse society. This should not mean that one culture is more superior than the other.
Many people suffer from the "social disease" called cultural myopia. This is the tendency to view members of another ethnic group negatively. This tendency is caused by a nearsighted field of cultural vision--viewing the world exclusively from the perspective of one's ethnic viewpoint. Thus one's own group becomes the standard by which all other groups are judged, and since groups differ, they are regarded as inferior.
This social disease needs a cure. There are various ingredients needed in order to bring harmony among cultural groups. All of us need to open up. Opening up will make us recognize one another. We need to understand each other so we can appreciate each other. Appreciation is the foundation of genuine relationships, while lack of understanding is the bed of all the worst types of racial stereotypes.
Unless we realize that we, as a people, are on the same team, it will be extremely difficult if not impossible to experience the joy of differences and the richness of diversity. Let us always keep in mind that we complement each other. We share the common lot of humanity. Though our cultures may be different, our needs remain similar. All of us need to be loved, to be appreciated, and to be needed. Let us get together and celebrate one another. Let us reset our focus and experience the joy of differences.
This magazine is produced by the Write Place and is funded through a St. Cloud State University (St. Cloud, Minnesota) Cultural Diversity Committee allocation.
Contributors retain all rights to their work.