Somehow, and I’m not quite sure how yet, there’s an innate difference between when the kid sitting next to you on your flight is screaming in a language you know or in a foreign one. It has something to do with empathy, guilt, and recognizing where he’s coming from, that in a foreign language just isn’t there. At least not at first. But then he smiles and looks outside the window, distracted by the endless clouds, or brushes his fingers against your arm hair, because his curiosity overcame the common etiquette his father had taught him.
Cross cultural communication begins at that exact moment, when curiosity overcomes the taboos, when the desire to fully encounter the other overcomes the do’s and don’ts that you were taught. Its when you can finally see beyond the mumble of unrecognizable words and sounds. It’s when you recognize something so basic, an observation that transcends the simplicity of conversing and allows you see who the person in front of you is.
But that moment of innate humanity and empathy that you had worked on so hard in order to see through that mumble of incoherence, is also limited in its scope. It can’t overwhelm you into endless conversations about the world, it can’t reach the other person to the depths of their souls, and it can’t even tell you that what you see is wrong. Because it’s only about what you see, and not about what the other person tries to tell you.
Somehow, and I’m not quite sure how yet, this is how I feel about my month and a half in China and Laos. It had more to do with what I was able to see and experience, than about the people themselves. It had more to do with my desire to explore, than my desire to change.
And at the end of the day, I’m ok with that. There’s a time and place for everything, and maybe I should save change for places that I can really make a difference.
I’m heading home now for a healthy dose of reality, something I haven’t had in three months.
Happy Birthday to me.