This is my first post in 2018, so of course it has resolutions in it. A few weeks ago I wrote on a quote I saw in the Writers Lounge at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. (See Write because you have to) The Oriental was a frequent stopping point for authors and other public figures in Asia in the late 19th and 20th centuries, continuing until today. Another quote on a wall there was by James Michener, a prolific author of over 40 books, mostly historical fiction and travel narratives, who died in 1997. His more famous ones include Hawaii, Chesapeake, The Source, Texas and many others.
Michener had also stayed several times at the Oriental on his journeys through Asia. I must confess that I have never particularly liked Michener’s books. I’ve read three or four of them, and they always seemed rather bloated and convoluted, not to mention historically inaccurate. But I did like his quote on the wall in the Bangkok hotel: If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay home. Yes and Amen to that!
Now after living over half my life outside the United States, and continuing to spend big chunks of each year in Asia, I am more than ever convinced that these words from Michener are important keys (and values) to building cultures of peace and understanding. So here are some resolutions based on his quote, put in the positive.
1) Love food that is different than what you would normally eat. Stretch yourself! Someone said once that the greatest breakthroughs in negotiations, or relationships, happen over food. How true that is. We can learn to love food that is not our own. For me, one of the greatest gifts to getting to spend time with people of other cultures is being able to enjoy lots of different foods. You may not travel, but you can still stretch yourself to love someone else’s food, and that is actually a big statement of your desire to love them also.
2) Pay close attention to other people’s customs and culture
Instead of ignoring someone’s customs, we should resolve to pay closer attention. What is that person’s love language? How do they communicate what is important to them? Again this is not just something we can do when we travel, but every day wherever we are as we mix with different cultures. And of course we know that all around us, wherever we live now, are people from other parts of the world or regions of the same country.
3) Don’t be afraid of other faiths, but take opportunities to learn more about them
2017 was a year of continued religious strife globally, where fear of the other often was the prevailing theme. Have we learned that we can be very passionate about our own faith and want to share it, yet still be also passionate to learn about others and what they believe (or don’t believe?). What opportunities in 2018 can we take to learn more about our neighbors and their faith or absence of faith?
4) Don’t avoid people that are different, but move towards them
One of the most memorable things I have ever heard anyone say was to not move away from people, but move towards people. Whether this is in a conflict, or a misunderstanding, or just in a situation where they are seemingly very different. One of my own breakthroughs in loving Muslims was when I lived in a Muslim community in India for several years, and through intense daily contact learned that Muslims loved their children deeply, faced life challenges just like I did, lived and died with great joy and great grief. How can we move towards people in 2018 in new ways? Especially people that are different than we are?
Michener writes that if we reject, ignore, fear, and avoid, we might better stay home. And “home” here doesn’t just mean that we shouldn’t travel to other nations and cultures. It means that we will and should stay in isolation, in a smallness of heart that builds walls and not bridges.
That’s not what I want to be in 2018. I want to have a huge heart, one that doesn’t reject but embraces, one that doesn’t ignore but notices, one that doesn’t fear but loves, and one that doesn’t avoid but moves toward.
Anyone join me?