I recently took a spin through Chinatown with my friend, Michael. He and his lovely wife, Min, have been schooling me on Chinese culture. My friend, Allan, is grateful for the help. Being from Beijing, Allan has been showing me the ways of the Chinese for almost 5 years now. With my endless questions, Allan can use all the reinforcements he can get!
Allan, Min, and Michael have shown me so many incredible aspects of Chinese culture, a culture we so sadly know precious little about in the U.S. P.F. Chang’s and electronics do not a culture make. Chinese manufacturing is largely responsible for our lifestyle in this country, and yet we have not taken to their literature or philosophy as readily as we should. It’s a shame, really. Their wisdom has so much to offer us as we make our way down the road to enlightenment.
One aspect of Chinese culture that I adore are the proverbs. In a handful of words, they encompass so much learning. Michael hit me with one the other day that’s been on my mind ever since. “Ji tong ya jiang” – in English it literally translates to “chicken talks to duck.” Both birds, found in the same geographies, and no matter what, they can’t understand each other. How many times a day do we have this same conundrum with others? You say something to me, I say something back, sometimes in the same language, and neither of us have a clue what the other said.
So how do we get beyond chicken talks to duck? In other words, can we learn empathy and understanding? Yes, I believe we can. It’s not easy, and if we aren’t born with an innate sense of empathy, I think it always remains a challenge. Not impossible, but indeed challenging.
Here are 6 ways to get some empathy and gain a better sense of understanding of others:
1.) Volunteer – spending time on a project with others, and particularly helping others who are struggling, instills us with a remarkable sense of understanding. It forces us to walk in another’s shoes.
2.) Travel and seek out the locals. I can’t stand resorts and fancy digs on vacation. They create such an unnatural barrier between tourists and locals. They impede understanding. So whenever I’m traveling, I get out, way out, of my comfort zone.
3.) Read literature, listen to music, eat food, and see art that’s entirely foreign to you. A peoples’ culture comes alive in their art. It tells their history, their trials and tribulations. Give it a whirl and you’ll discover things about others and about yourself that you never even imagined.
4.) Learn a new language. Inexpensive language classes and conversation groups exist in almost every major U.S. city. You really want to understand another culture? Literally try to speak with their words and you’ll learn and earn their hearts.
5.) Take up the sport, exercise, or meditation of another culture. Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, karate, cricket. A nation’s pastime is an enjoyable way to more deeply understand their culture.
6.) Stop in at the church, synagogue, temple, ashram, or mosque of another culture. I’m not saying you have to believe in what’s being preached. Just listen. Culture the world over is deeply rooted in religions. Learn how a culture prays, where they turn to when times are tough, and understanding their daily lives becomes easier.
The image above is not my own. It can be found here.