Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Outside In

It is impossible to fully understand a culture outside of your own. Since learning about Nagaland ("Where is Nagaland?") back in May, I have been picking up pebbles. This process has significantly relied upon articles and conversations about British colonization, 19th century Baptist missionaries, and the struggle for Independence from India starting in the 1950s. In a recent post, I wrote about the ridiculous nature of this strategy and how funny it would be for someone to come to the United States for two weeks and start each discussion with a question about the Revolutionary War. At that time, I assumed that no one would ever do that. I stand corrected.

I was just reading "Swadeshi Now", a newsletter from the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence. On the front page, there is an interview with Guy Frishman, an Israeli college student who has been interning there for the last six weeks. One of the first questions was, "As an Israeli citizen and current peace activist, what have you learned or discovered about Americans?" His response started, "The concept of 'America', the values that stand behind it and the message it brings for the future has much varied and shifted from 1776 until today." I am embarrassed to say that I had to Google 1776 just to confirm the significance of that date. I don't remember the last time that I thought about claiming independence from British rule.

As an outsider, how much can you learn about people by their history? As an insider, to what extent does our history accurately define us?

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