NETHERLANDS: Where Do We Draw the Line?
As a trainer in intercultural communication and mom to multilingual children, I am always taught to accept other cultures, various ways of thinking and perspectives of looking at the world.
I may of course have a lot to learn about tolerance but I like to think that I’m doing a decent job at understanding all the different viewpoints. But there is a place where my tolerance stops.
One thing I have no understanding for is woo and quackery. The argument, “but indigenous tribes in enter-remote-location-here have been using this plant for ages and it cured all diseases” is useless when scientific research shows that said plant doesn’t work at all or can even be poisonous.
Unfortunately many people believe this stuff and it can have dangerous consequences. And then it gets worse.
Advocates of female circumcision claim that it’s a part of their cultural heritage and without it women feel they are not “real” women. But any cultural tradition that is based on suffering and disfigurement of the human body should be gotten rid of very quickly and no amount of cultural appreciation will suffice for me to accept such a tradition.
Let’s also remember that culture, while it brings people together and helps them get along better and makes sense out of their environment, can also smash our individualism and make us unhappy.
But as dangerous and untrue these claims are, it gets worse. Women get killed, raped, disfigured and humiliated every day. They are afraid to go out on the streets in the evenings; they take great care in picking their clothes out of fear of being proclaimed “indecent”.
In many parts of the world, people kill each other over cultural, religious or political differences which are often minor. In some parts of the world, certain people are considered worse than other people.
Should we just accept it as it is, saying, “It’s another culture, we shouldn’t do anything about it, we should just appreciate our differences”? I agree that cultural diversity is great- and I myself benefit tremendously from it. But shouldn’t we be drawing a line somewhere? And if so, where should we draw it?
In her book, “Medaliony”, Polish writer Zofia Nałkowska tries to make sense of what happened during WWII in Poland. She could have put blame on the Germans, the way many Polish people did and still continue to do today. But she didn’t. Instead, she wrote, “People prepared this fate for people”, or in a better translation, “humans prepared this fate for humans.”
I guess that line should be drawn when it’s not about cultural differences anymore. When the action in question can’t be explained by traditions, cultural heritage or tolerance. In short when it’s about humans hurting or killing other humans.
A common criticism of the understanding cultures approach is that deep inside, we are all the same. Of course there are some things that are universal: we are all humans, we have hearts and brains and skins. We’re so afraid that if we start mentioning our differences, we will start comparing ourselves to others and consider some of us better.
I beg to differ. Of course we are all humans and some of the things we do are universal. But the truth is that we are an extremely varied species, on a wide spectrum of sizes, skin colours, temperaments and cultural and social backgrounds.
Saying we are all the same eradicates the wonderful differences in us and I think that’s a shame. We are all humans and all different, and if one human kills another human it’s a tragedy.
Sadly, such tragedies happen all the time. Recently, the three boys: Eyal Yifrcah, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel disapeared and were later found dead. The #BringBackOurBoys campaign, while beautiful, did nothing to revive them. Then, the flight MH17 crushed in Ukraine. Expatica Manager Antoine van Veldhuizen was on that plane. He and other victims of the plane crash will be hugely missed and the Netherlands are in mourning.
We like to say that humans are great with making sense out of tragedies. They need to feel that they suffered for a reason. Again, I beg to differ. Suffering and pain don’t make sense. We can certainly make sense out of them but to do so means to accept that and this is something I’ll never ever do.
Humans killing humans doesn’t make sense. And no amount of cultural appreciation classes or tolerance will convince me otherwise. Before you see someone as a part of a certain culture or religion, you’d better see the individual human first.
Our differences shouldn’t divide us. They should bring us together.
But above all, being different is no excuse to kill other people.Because nothing ever is an excuse to kill, nor should it be.
Instead, killing other people should be considered the shocking and saddening tragedy that it is and nothing should ever change that.
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Olga Mecking, The European Mama, from the Netherlands.
Photo credit: DIBP images. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.