A highlight of my life has been my experiences marching on Martin Luther King Day. I haven’t been there for a few years, but this year I was invited to celebrate in downtown Dayton, Ohio. I was treated by an inspiring talk by Daniel Juday, Director of the Ohio Diversity Council.
What inspired me were the fee points he made from his experience having lived in Thailand. I also lived abroad. So, his experience spoke to me and reassured me why I chose my path to train people who want to experience a life in a different culture.
He, like me, believes that having an intercultural experience is enriching and teaches us lessons we could never imagine. As he said, “It doesn’t mean you are perfect. In fact, no one is perfect in a different culture.” You just are. And, getting it right is generally not part of the process of learning.
I want to summarize the three points I took away from his talk.
- Be earnest. What he meant by being earnest is approaching the experience of talking to someone in a different culture with an intention to learn. Be genuine, but be interested.
- Be eager. Approach everyone with enthusiasm and a sense of awe. I love this one. I believe that the most enjoyable moments are the ones we share with people who are different. They teach us more about ourselves than anyone else.
- Finally, listen to the stories. As he said, from our eager faces, stories arise. Even if that story is told in the silence of having no words. He recalled a meal shared with a family in Thailand in which there was no way to talk. Yet, the very act of being in their home told him their story. And, when they were able to talk, he heard a little about their life. I also have my own experiences. My first trip to India. I talked so eagerly to my Mother-in-law — in English. She talked to me — in Hindi. And yet, I learned so much from her. I learned her expectations of a daughter-in-law and her love for her family and son. Unfortunately, I also learned that the calves of my legs were too big and that muscles were not a desirable trait for a daughter-in-law.
While this advice is good for learning in a different culture, it is just as valid when walking into a home in the US. We often forget through all that we share as Americans that we are also different. We have differing values, hopes, and fears. Right now as we are divided as a nation it is even more important to remember the lessons of Marting Luther King and his dream to see us all “bend towards justice”.
Here are Martin Luther King’s words:
“The arc of the moral universe is long,” Dr. King said in closing, “but it bends toward justice.”
In contemplating the civil war, Thomas Parker, a Unitarian minister wrote:
“Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.
Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.”
Let us all ride the arc and find justice together!