Sunday, September 16, 2007

Forces of globalisation and need for perspective taking

Having grown up in Singapore (majority immigrant Chinese), with a strong British and American influence, as an Indian, truly opened me to instrinsic perspective taking. It was a skill I needed to survive. My parents also consciously taught it to me as a child to see things from the other persons shoes. This really helped me fit in almost anywhere even today. I however realise that whilst this may be true with people who are minorities, it is not usually the case with people who are in the majority race or culture.

Today, I live in Cupertino in California where there is amost 50% Asians (including Indians). Living here has made me aware that not everyone does perspective taking. This I see as the cause of much "conflict" between the cultures. I hear my Caucasian friends talk about how rude Asians can be, that they don't look at you when trying to cut into your lane, don't give signals, cut into a parking slot you have been waiting for, etc. Meanwhile Asian friends complain how Caucasians are so aloof, don't help unless asked, don't make friends easily, don't invite you into their homes, etc. Yet for me, I have both positive and negative experiences irregardless of their cultural backgrounds, and often it is more do with personalities. Although I must add that it is my immigrant friends around here are the ones I can count on more than my American friends who are from this area (just different survival instincts I suppose).

Yet, I do feel that people treat me differently based on their perspective of how I look. I feel more often than not, that before I open my mouth and talk, people treat and respond to me as if I am an illiterate Indian woman who does not know her rights or what she needs. Now sure if I project that image or is it just their stereotype of Indian women, but I get talked down to a lot. Just yesterday a man pulled his car all the way into the gas station right in front of me cutting me off, even after seeing me thus leaving me little or no room to pump gas at the adjoining stall. He just ignored me and chose not to see my predicament for whatever reason. At the Northwest airlines, I used to get the ticket counter people talk to me as if I did not understand English. Over and over again it happens. I cannot help but feel that condescendence ooze out, or am I taking things personally. My husband tells me that I should tell myself that people are just going through their own stuff and not take it personally. But it takes a lot of patience and understanding, and is hard at times, especially when it happens over and over again. It is times like this that perspective taking can come in handy but is hard to do. Hence my reminder that "when you find the light within you, you will liberate others".

Whatever it be, I am so glad to see that my son is now attending a seminar at a class for high functioning autistic children where he is learning perspective taking. It is so useful although hard for autistic children to do so. But he is learning everyday and improves on it. So if he can do it, anyone can. That made me think, and I thought if only everyone learnt about perspective taking, social thinking, social etiquette, etc. we can avoid a lot of this unnecessary conflict we find living together. That we can better enjoy each other as human beings and not what we stereotype each other to be based on how we look, what we wear, etc.

So I do hope that we see more of this "Centre for Social Thinking" type education for our children in schools, where we do not assume they will get it even if not taught. Teaching ourselves and starting at home will be a good way to start. Having an international circle of friends whom you can have frank discussions and learn from them what you are doing wrong or right, will also help. I believe as long as we are open to learn how to reach out, not to offend, feel what others may be feeling, and truly want to be connected as one, we will then reached a state of unity.

Baha'u'llah states that “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. ”Let's not forget this and let's not take unity as a given, rather let's work on establishing unity and hence peace for all.


Blogger meispirit said...

Ah yes, those assumptions are quite frustrating! And then I catch myself doing it sometimes and I inwardly cringe. We have to be daily vigilant about putting ourselves in others' shoes. I loved challenging assumptions with you - especially when we crashed the Israeli cocktail party at ITU Telecom Geneva wearing saris! You are an inspiration Laina.

6:22 PM  
Blogger Laina Raveendran Greene said...

Yeah...that was fun indeed!

11:27 PM  

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