💭 Ethereal Epiphanies

Short-form lightly edited, lightly structured essays, written in 30 minutes.
Published on:
February 11, 2024

🌍 Bridging Worlds: A Journey into the Hearts, Lives, and Cultures of Others

🙋🏾‍♀️ My Exploration of Different Cultures and Abilities

Throughout my career, I've had the fortune of growing up with, working with, and going to schools with individuals from nearly every continent ( not Antarctica of course). My life has been rich with diverse cultural interactions, from Yemen to Afghanistan, China to Japan, Malaysia, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Canada, Mexico, Germany, France, etc. Recognizing differences became second nature to me early on. I've observed how in some environments, kids with similar cultural backgrounds either stick together or, in other settings, integrate into a melting pot.

 This diversity is reminiscent of the DNA of New York City, where pockets of cultural adherence coexist with those who actively seek to understand and interact with different cultures. I learned quite early that there's a stark contrast between how media and textbooks portray people from various cultures, lives, and abilities, and their actual lived realities and experiences. Growing up, I noticed a tendency in many to shun and reject what is different from them. This realization became more evident as I aged, especially in a context, where there's a strong narrative of superiority based on "intelligence", wealth, skin color, nationality, material possessions, and education. After traveling to 27 countries, I've noticed that each has its version of this portrayal, with some nations idolizing others as their aspirational standards.

As I grew older, I became more cognizant of how people with disabilities are overlooked. Consider the daily planning and challenges faced by someone partially paralyzed, in stark contrast to the relative ease of able-bodied individuals who navigate life without such considerations. How many of us have ever thought about whether a subway stop has a working elevator or learned basic sign language to assist someone who is deaf? These considerations have always been part of my thought process.

To better understand and connect with people from various backgrounds, I ventured on a journey of learning. This involved extensive reading about others' cultures, histories, daily life experiences, and societal dynamics. I sought out books, classes, museums, documentaries, and 1:1 discussions not just for academic purposes, but as a way to develop deeper connections with those around me.

💡Steps to Deepen Your Understanding of Others:

🇿🇦 Engage with other Histories and Cultures: You can start by exploring the histories and cultural nuances of the people around you. Invest time in learning about their societal makeup, communication styles, and significant historical events, beyond what you read. If you don't live in a diverse place could you maybe join some online communities where you could learn about others if you work with other cultures, could you maybe take some time to get to know your coworkers of other cultures, or perhaps when you travel could you skip extensive shopping and very touristy spots and swap that for spending a day with the locals?

🫱🏾‍🫲🏼 Initiate Conversations: Don't shy away from personal stories. Organize informal meetings to ask about their life experiences. Listen to what life is like for them or their family heritage. Most importantly, when you hear something you may not agree with or understand, don't be quick to fall into an angry state or deny the other person's experiences by saying you can't believe it's true or it sounds impossible. It's always better to listen, and perhaps respond with more neutral statements like 'That's interesting, I'd love to know more.' Or remain silent until there is a better scenario to discuss. Sometimes, when someone shares something unfamiliar, it's important to remember not to shut it out simply because we don't understand it. Take time to ask questions, and let your questions show that you are truly trying to inform yourself, not further perpetuate or confirm a previously learned bias or prejudice. Ask what topics they are comfortable discussing and answer questions about.

♿️ Learn from the Differently-Abled: Engaging with people with disabilities can be a profound learning experience. Participate in forums, support groups, or personal interactions to understand their challenges and perspectives. The great thing about the Internet is that it enables brave individuals to share their experiences, whether through YouTube, newsletters, or social media. Many people with various disabilities or health challenges, such as being wheelchair-bound, living with debilitating diseases, mental disorders, Tourette's syndrome, or Down syndrome, etc, are sharing their stories online to help inform the rest of the world about their lives, which many may know little to nothing about. These stories are shared to educate others and foster understanding about their lives, helping to bridge gaps in knowledge and promote empathy in the wider community.

💜 Volunteer for Empathy Growth: Volunteering at cultural festivals, disability support centers or community events allows for a hands-on understanding and appreciation of diversity.

💭 Reflect and Share: After each interaction, reflect on what you've learned. Sharing these insights with family, friends, your journal, etc. Encouraging others to embrace this journey of understanding different cultures and abilities is also important. In my experiences living, staying, and traveling in various countries, I've learned that many people are misinformed due to limited access or unawareness of how to obtain accurate information. Instead, they are often fed false narratives and propaganda. Being well-informed enables you to correct misconceptions when you encounter them and to spread truthful information, thereby making a difference and helping others gain a clearer and more accurate understanding of the world.

🚀 By embracing these steps, you're not just gaining knowledge; you're cultivating a deeper understanding and empathy for an array of diverse human experiences. This enriches your own life, making you more appreciative of your circumstances and more towards others. It's a pathway to becoming a more empathetic and understanding individual, contributing to a world that acknowledges and nurtures diversity.

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