Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I am aghast at the flack that some Americans have made over the bow.... It's as if we think the whole world revolves around everything American. Back in the mid 1950's my family lived in Japan and my parents taught us proper manners and expected us to behave in respectful and mannerly ways while in Japan.
We learned all the social graces and were taught that even though we didn't do these things in America, things, like using chop sticks, bowing and so on, it was a way of showing respect while interacting with Japanese people. Just trying Japanese customs or attempting the language made the Japanese so happy and impressed with us.
Later, as a teacher, when I took American students for a month- long experience living and going to school in Japan, they, too, were educated about proper Japanese etiquette. It was important in building a strong relationship with the Japanese people, to be willing to do things that showed respect and understanding between our cultures.
It is hard for Americans, who are so use to everyone adapting to our ways, to go to a foreign country and adapt to their ways. At the beginning of that exchange student experience, as we were waiting to be processed into the Narita airport, having our visas and passports checked, we were directed to stand in the line marked "alien." One of my students asked me why we were standing in the "Alien" line. I ask him if he were Japanese and he answered "No!" "Then you are an alien," I said to him. He was shocked by that notion, because much of the first week or two of acclimating to a new culture, with many things so different than his own, he felt the alienness of this new culture.
President Obama grew up living many years in Hawaii where many Japanese live. Hawaii has many diverse cultures that share a common space. It may not have occurred to people who have never been to Hawaii, that all those diverse cultures living peacefully and prosperously,with all their many differences are actually American citizens! I had the good fortune myself of living in Hawaii, too, as a child. The President represents us well to the world because he was taught at an early age to respect people and cultures different from his own. This is something that he is modeling for our children and adult citizens alike: a return to culture, manners, respect. The American citizens who have been critical of his show of respect while he travels around the world representing our nation, seriously need to grow up and learn a few manners and respect themselves!
One day very soon we will see how important it is to realize how much our human species is more alike than different. Just as every cell in our bodies work in harmonious resonance with one another for a common good, we humans must grow up and join one another in mutual respect and harmony for a common good.
To bow to another is to express our recognition that the Divine lives within each of us equally. We cannot understand that the Divine lives in another if we have not already recognized that the Divine lives in us as well. Namaste!