JJ fancied himself as very western and modern. Compared with most other Indian guys I know, he is. Compared with other western men, he is very conservative.
The more I talk with my friend SG the more I have come to realize the vast cultural difference between JJ and I. Although I probably have a much better grasp of Indian culture than most American women, it did not prepare me at all for a more intimate relationship. On the surface it seems trite. To a person who considers them selves open minded it may not even seem worth examination. Perhaps the subject is much like an ice-burg. “For Jung, a worldview is something firmly entrenched in an individual’s psychology, largely unconscious and culturally transmitted, an element of personality that is of “cardinal importance” in guiding the person’s perceptions and choices” – Mark E. Koltko-Rivera,
I think that he decided that he knows enough American women to understand my values and associations, but I’m not so sure. I am accutely aware that my ideals and experiences are vastly different than many of my American peers. I get the feeling from my friend that in Indian culture emotions are often seen as a sign of weakness, they are hidden to avoid the stress they might cause to someone else. Of course this is never true for everyone, but it is true for many in varying degrees. For me, emotions are not something to be ashamed of at all. They are a mystery of human existance through which you experience the richness of life. If you have difficulties you do not hide them, you lean to communicate in order to mitigate the harmful effects they might have on someone else. Are these differences surmountable?
The question for me is, how much of our history do we hold on to and how much do we throw off values that do not nourish our lives? How much of what we have inherited keeps us from pushing past that shell of expectation in order to experience a place of tender, intimate connection which exist in every human being? If course, it is always a balance. Often, I think people like JJ and I who cannot identify wholly with our cultures do not recognize as easily the values which have been embedded in us by it, because we are somewhat unable to empathize with it in general. It is inevitable for everyone that you are a product of your culture, and if we chose to step outside of those bounds then we have to be prepared to face the unknown and question our own values time and again. When it comes to feelings that is very, very hard. It is one thing to say that you respect someone else’s way of doing things, it is another when it involves you. I understand some of JJ’s disinterest in, or inability to, communicate his feelings. He graciously said many times that he respected that my way was to express mine. What neither of us could seem to do is try out the other’s process. I personally failed at this because all of my experiences have told me that men who do not communicate their emotions are fearful, lacking in self-awareness and are likely deceitful. It also tells me that they are immature and lacking in compassion. Is this true? Of course, I know it is not always but is my psyche convinced? I think for JJ his experience was that people who are “strong” hid and controlled their feelings; that people who do not are immature, weak, self-absorbed and unenlightened. Is this any more true?
There are some things that go beyond cultural differences. In spite of all of these barriers people are still able to find love and friendship. SG has brought this knowledge to me again on a deeper level. Perhaps it also helps that we are just friends and that our relationship has a limited amount of emotional intimacy. One thing I do think is that having each other as mentors and sounding boards is very beneficial to us both. What separates us all culturally may, at times, seem like such a wide chasm. On the inside, we are still human beings. As I have said, JJ and I are separated by years, by oceans, by history. So different on the outside, but on the inside we are very much the same.
I think this question is more easily addressed in the kitchen. Here is a dish that I love, even though it doesn’t come from my culture.
- 5 medium potatoes, peeled, boiled, mashed and cooled
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 18 damson or Italian prune plums, washed and pitted
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
- 1 1/2 cups very fine bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup cinnamon sugar
- In a large bowl, combine potatoes, eggs and salt. When well combined, add flour and mix until a soft dough forms. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes.
- Place a large pot of salted water on to boil. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/3 inch. Cut into 2-inch squares. Place a plum in the center of each square and fold in half, pressing out all air and sealing the edges. Moisten edges before crimping if necessary to seal. Carefully drop into boiling water. Repeat until all plums are in the water. Cook 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt butter in large skillet, add bread crumbs and brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove dumplings to a colander to drain. Place dumplings in skillet, coating with buttered crumbs. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
“A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation: As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump.
It is not as wide as you think.” ― Joseph Campbell