La Différence

So much of the drama that unfolds daily in America and across the world boils down to simply viewing the world around us in different ways. Politics, both in the U.S. and across the world, for example is just a division between two points of view. What those points of view are or why they exist can be argued endlessly, but I’ve come to learn that its simply something not worth discussing. Simply shrugging the topic off tends to be the best approach.

However, differences in perspective and what is appropriate or inappropriate is largely based on cultures and what the culture has evolved to allow or to shun. People get caught up in these constructed ideas and are often unwilling to look objectively at other cultures or even at their own to see what they may learn. For example, take two issues that America has long struggled with: sex and guns.

American society has always struggled with the notion of human sexuality. The arrival of the Puritans in 1620 saw the start of an almost absolute fear of sex. Puritan culture was based on the idea that God was vengeful and directly punished those who acted in ways society deemed inappropriate. In fact, the first person the Pilgrims executed was accused of a sex crime, and was most likely mentally ill. This concept took hold in the colonies and has long persisted in the United States. In equal parts, Americans are fascinated and terrified of sex. Yet, Americans are still having sex. They simply don’t talk about it, and it is not (and never has been) an openly acknowledged part of human existence. As a result, many schools today have little to no sexual education, and Americans in general are woefully uneducated about sexuality. The states that have gone the furthest to avoid sexual education (and most other things of a sexual nature) actually have higher unwed pregnancy rates and higher rates of STDs in the general population.

In contrast to this is any number of nations or cultures. It’s easy to point out a place like the Netherlands with its sexually liberated attitude and numerous sex stores, public education classes, and open discussion of all things human related, or even Germany who follows this mindset but from a particularly Germanic/academic/no jokes please, we are a serious people point of view. Instead, look towards Australia. A road trip through country means traveling through lots of small towns, many of them in rural areas. It’s almost like driving across America on Route 66 in the 1950s. After a while it starts to become clear that each of the towns tend to have certain features in common. They all have a grocery market, an agricultural supply store, a couple of rival clubs for socializing, and a small sexual supply store. These aren’t places where activities are carried out, but rather places that help people have more fulfilling sex lives. Every town seems to have  one. There is an acceptance of the realities of human nature.

This isn’t something that Americans have been quick to embrace. The puritan mindset that with enough work, effort, prayer, persistence, and blind luck, human nature can be overcome and reconciled and pushed into a subscribed box. It never seems to work, and often seems as though those who are the loudest and most insistent that those boxes be filled are often the ones who are struggling against themselves the most.

Another example is that of guns. Americans have struggled with this issue for decades.   Assault riffles are now sold in stores for “hunting” purposes. No other nation allows this, and America has the highest number of gun fatalities in the western world year after year – and not by a small percentage. For example, the populations of Great Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, Japan Switzerland, Denmark, and Australia roughly equal that of the United States. Each year the U.S. has over 32,000 gun homicides. Combined, they have less than 200. Those contries don’t have the a Second Amendment and have enacted gun control laws. America has struggled with how to best approach this issue. Even within its own boarders, the various American cultures still argue over this. In rural states, where people tend to grow up around guns for hunting proposes, people don’t cry for regulations, but in more urban areas where more shootings tend to happen, people do.

To see the differences in cultures, you don’t even have to look at these two extreme issues. Take the issue of the human body and how it is seen by society. In certain parts of the world its common to see people bathing in public, and even on the streets. It’s a non-sexual setting that is simply something that people do. In other parts of the world, nudity in advertising is so passé that no one bats an eye at it. In the Paris metro, you’re just as likely to see an advertisement including an exposed breast or a flash of a bottom, than you are a street musician or a sleeping homeless person.

All of this is to say that it is the differences that define the culture. In a broad sense, we as a species are pretty similar. All of our bodies work the same way, we all have the same emotions, we form the same type of bonds with each other. We all want the same things: shelter, food, more happiness than sadness in our lives, and well being for our loved ones and ourselves. The little differences these make are the factors that make our cultures different and in our own heads we blow these differences drastically out of portion, giving them good or bad qualities, when instead we should be honest and talk about them in terms of preferential.

Wouldn’t it be far more interesting if we took on the notion of looking at cultural differences to explore what we could learn from each culture. Each culture that has evolved to showcase its own strengths clearly works for a reason. We could figure out why that is and determine what we could take from it or what lessons we could learn from their experiences. Each has something to teach us, and perhaps we could learn a thing or two about ourselves in the process.





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Categories: Thoughts


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