So many things are different when you enter another culture within a culture, like here living with Buddhists in Hindu-dominated India. You inevitably make tons of mistakes. In fact, my nickname "Bano" was acquired on my first trip to Nicaragua many years ago in which I had a hard time figuring out the difference between a bathroom and a laundry room, but that's a different story.
This week I accidently locked a house-cleaner into our guest room for a good 30 minutes and they had to somehow find me wandering the university campus to let him out (which they somehow did). A cultural misunderstanding over how locks are handled. But that also is another story.
What I want to write about this morning is Sarah Palin, one of America's former candidates for Vice President, a candidate that is easy fodder for comedy shows like Saturday Night Live. Today, a valued and smart friend of mine was appalled by a news article she had just come across, headlined, "Sarah Palin; Native Americans should go back to Nativia". and posted it on Face book.
Now this idea is crazy but given what Sarah Palin has said in the past, it IS quite believable, and, truth be told, I WANTED to believe it was true. It would reinforce my preconceived notions about her. But something told me I should withhold judgment just a tad more than I was comfortable with, and fact-check it, which I did at a more reliable source for internet rumors, Snoops. And there, sadly, I saw it was blatantly false. Never said. Viral rumor.
Yesterday I was talking with Tenzin Kunsel, head administrator in the Tibetan university’s office of the Vice Chancellor, who was telling me of the importance of educating students about 'discernment." He gave an example of how Muslims were reportedly killed recently in a riot by Buddhists in Myanmar, and a photo was attached with it of Buddhist monks in Tibet burying dozens of people killed in a natural disaster, placing them in mass graves, inferring this was proof of the Buddhist massacre of Muslims in Myanmar. A totally false claim, but the photo and article went viral and as a result, Buddhist started getting targeted around the world and beat up and killed over it.
I find this ability to withhold judgment for slightly longer than we are comfortable with, to check out alternative realities before going with our preconceived assumptions, is one of the most important skills to nourish in today's world. As we work across cultures, it is so darn hard dealing with the unknown that we want and feel an urgent need to have things "make sense" quickly to reduce our anxiety over uncertainty. But it only leads to further problems.
Sometimes it’s trapping someone in a room due to a cultural misunderstanding about locking doors. Sometimes it leads to something much worse.
Greg Tuke teaches and travels internationally, working with university faculty in India, Indonesia and the MIddle East, sharing strategies for implementing international collaborations within course work. This blog chronicles key experiences and insights about those experiences. All opinions expressed are mine, and represent no other institutional affiliation.