I was halfway through Alain Danielou’s book, The Myths and Gods of India, before I realized why it captivated me so. A number of texts I’ve read about Hinduism would start a sentence by saying for example, “The Hindus believe that Lord Shiva is….” In Danielou’s book, he would simply start the sentence by saying, “Lord Shiva is….” As a result, Hinduism wasn’t an object I was studying. Instead, it was something I was resonating with, as if I was discovering it as truth within myself.
To me, this was a lesson not just in spirituality, but in the nature of cultures. It’s common and natural that other cultures feel foreign to us. We can find them fascinating, but at the same time alienating. Our cultural appreciation then has a component of tolerance to it. Some may even feel that to be an open-minded global citizen is to be fascinated while tolerant. But tolerance has too much judgment. It’s as if you’re putting up with things you find weird or inappropriate, while considering yourself open-minded.
Moving beyond tolerance and into full appreciation is a matter of the heart. We feel and resonate with the moral and traditional values of that culture even though they are so different from our own. We don’t just tolerate the differences. We understand them. We feel the wisdom within them. We honor them as truth.
Yet those other cultural values are often inconsistent with our own. They’re just not the way we were raised and are not what we believe. For example, I am a Westerner. The holiday I resonate with most is Christmas. The Christmas tree, family and friends, music, and traditions are a part of who I am and what fills my heart. At the same time, I have a deep love and appreciation for Eastern cultures. I deeply believe in their ceremonies and I find them beautiful. They feed my soul. Far from a matter of tolerance, it’s a matter of deep heartfelt appreciation and love.
Nevertheless, the Eastern culture is not how I chose to raise my family. Yet their ways are not foreign to me, and are not something that I ‘tolerate,’ but instead are a fiber of humanity that resonates within me. Similarly, we can learn a foreign language, but the language doesn’t resonate within us until we take on the feeling, the mannerisms, and the accents that make that language come alive within us.
In order for different cultures to live in harmony, humanity must live that deep level of intercultural appreciation (not just tolerance) while concurrently upholding the integrity and values of our own culture. For, every culture is the foundation of morality, honor, decency, tradition, and integrity which makes every culture great.
Years ago on the news, I saw our President standing beside an Asian President at a White House State dinner. Though they were standing side by side, I felt they couldn’t be further apart. Yet, that was not because of the political conflict, but rather because of a cultural gap. I thought, “How could any lasting harmony be born out of such mere tolerance and dissension?”
To achieve lasting harmony and appreciation in our world, we all need to find these qualities in our hearts. It is when we can have a true appreciation for one another’s traditions and culture will we close the distance that separates us. We can love and appreciate one another without becoming one another. We can live in harmony while maintaining our own cultural identity and integrity. This way, the roots of every nation are nurtured, not only from within, but also through the true love and appreciation of other cultures.
Michael Mamas is the founder of The Center of Rational Spirituality, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the betterment of humanity through the integration of ancient spiritual wisdom with modern rational thought. Michael Mamas helps individuals and organizations develop a deeper understanding and more comprehensive outlook by providing a ‘bridge’ between the abstract and concrete, the Eastern and Western, and the ancient and modern. Dr. Mamas writes on a variety of subjects on his blog, MichaelMamas.net. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+.