When I was younger, I use to associate only with those who thought and behaved the way I did. Everyone else was dismissed as not my kind of people. I pigeon-holed them into different classifications as to why I did not like them. I had a lot of reasons, almost all of them invalid. I judged them and found them lacking anything important or of value to me. When all you care about is yourself, you focus on how to use people, rather than how to reach out to them.
Opening my mind and my heart to other possibilities, and learning to see life through other people’s viewpoints changed everything. As it says in the I Ching, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Last evening, my wife Heidi and I had dinner with our Chinese friends to celebrate the lunar new year. According to Chinese astrology, the Year of the Horse has now galloped out of our lives making way for the new year which is called the Year of the Sheep, Ram or Goat. I found it amusing to think of people in those categories. Sheep are followers, rams are determined and outgoing, and goats are the clever ones.
We met our Chinese friends about fifteen years ago when they first came to Canada. Through an immigrant society, we volunteered to sponsor them for six months to introduce them to Canadian customs and holidays. We have had the privilege of doing that with families from other countries as well. In their case, we have remained good friends.
Being brought up in a communist regime, our friends are atheist. At the other end of the spectrum, we have friends who believe that all creation took place some six thousand years ago in seven twenty-four hour days. We also have friends who strongly believe that God came from Venus. Throw in those who worship in a variety of ways and whose political leanings stretch from the far left to the far right and you will have an inkling of the world my wife and I share. This is a very different perspective from when I would have written them all off.
I accept them all. I enjoy them all. I do not argue with their beliefs.
Heidi and I have learned a great deal from these interactions. Understanding how other people go about their day, what they value, what their culture has taught them, and why they believe the way they do all help us to treat them with respect.
The Lunar New Year Festival, also known as the Spring Festival, is all about being with and honouring your family. Surely that is something we should all celebrate.
This is also Black History Month in the U.S.A. and Canada. Regardless of whether your skin is black, white, red, yellow or purple, this is a history we should all be familiar with. It is a story drenched with sadness and oppression but out of it has emerged great leaders and new freedoms.
Yesterday was International Mother Tongue Day when people celebrated the language of their roots. It is good to know and recognize where you come from, to have a sense of personal history. At the same time, it is wise to learn and adapt to the country you immigrate to.
Try being friendly with someone outside of your normal circle. Be the one who smiles and extends your hand first. Heidi and I have been blessed with many rewarding experiences in this manner.
“A friend is one to whom one may pour out the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that gentle hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”
― George Eliot