We Are Not the Same

We Are Not the Same

(On Acknowledging and Understanding Cultural Differences)

One day during breaktime at work, a coworker and I had a small chat about racial discrimination. She said that we should not think about different colors or things like that because we are all the same.

I boldly responded, “Of course not—we’re not the same.”

She was surprised and dumbfounded.

I supported my response with “We’re not the same—you have a whiter complexion; I have tan complexion. You have curly hair; I don’t. You most likely prefer Italian food because you are a Canadian Italian, and I eat usually Filipino food. I may be an excellent user of the English language—even better than many Canadians, but you cannot expect me to speak English 100% all of the time simply because this is not my natural language.”

My point was, to insist that we are all the same is to deny our differences and our personal preferences—by doing so, we become more prone to misunderstanding other people. There’s nothing wrong in recognizing such differences—skin color, food preferences, favorite music, cultural gestures, etc.—because by knowing all these—especially the how and the why behind all these—we get to understand more other people especially of other cultures.

Customary Gestures Are Not Always Universal

I know a fellow Filipino who told me that he once got into a fistfight with an Eritrean because apparently the latter, a coworker of his, called him using a pointy finger. The Filipino got offended right away; he assumed that the Eritrean was belittling him. It turned out that the Eritrean did not mean to degrade him; he was merely calling him in a manner common in his culture. Clearly, the misunderstanding originated from the Filipino’s assumption that to call a person using a waving finger is automatically rude and offensive, failing to realize that while the gesture is usually offensive in the Filipino culture, it is not in the cultures of many African peoples.

If the Filipino was familiar with that particular customary gesture of many African peoples—calling someone with the aid of the pointy finger—then he would have not interpreted this as a rude action which made him react in a violent way. (In the Filipino culture, calling someone with the use of the pointy finger is often taken as derogatory and oppressive because the action is interpreted as the caller’s expression of arrogant authority.)

Speaking in One’s Own Language Is Not Always Equal to Rudeness

One coworker of mine hates how many Filipinos at work couldn’t help talking among each other (fellow Filipinos) in Filipino despite the rule that only English should be used at work. While it is the responsibility of all non-English-as-first-language speakers to use English at work, there would always be moments when they would unintentionally slip in some portions of their respective native language in their conversations for the basic reason that it’s their natural language. If an English speaker couldn’t understand this, then she would always assume that speaking in another language is always rude, which is not the case—because there would always be unguarded moments when a person, engaged in a conversation with a fellow compatriot or a fellow native speaker, will and will always switch in her naturally spoken language once in a while—and this is not rudeness—this is simply a case of acting and talking in her natural state.
To speak in the official language of the place where one works is one’s responsibility, but to expect a non-English speaker to be able to speak in English with 100% fluency, competency, and compliancy at all times is unrealistic; in fact, this may countercomplained as cultural discrimination.

Sa Madaling Salita
Kung palagi na lang nating hindi tatanggapin na ang bawat tao o lahi ay magkakaiba-iba sa maraming aspeto ng kanilang pagkatao e mas hindi natin maiintindihan o mauunawaan ang mga intensyon o ikinikilos ng ibang tao. Ang pagpipilit na pare-pareho lang naman ang lahat ng tao e katumbas ng pagtutol na tanggapin ang kanya-kanyang pagkatao, na lalong karaniwang nauuwi sa hindi pagkakaunawaan at pagpapatuloy ng diskriminasyon.

Or, in Simple Words

If we keep on denying that we are different from each other, we actually become more inclined to misunderstand or misinterpret the words and actions of other people. To insist that we are all the same is tantamount to the unwillingness to accept the individuality and idiosyncrasies of other people, causing the unwilling person unable to understand or even accept such differences.

The key to understanding is not only to celebrate our similarities but more so to acknowledge and understand our differences.