Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Casting Errors

There is a strange phenomenon that I come across every once in awhile that makes me wonder if the universe really is benevolent.  All of us come into the world having had certain choices made for us:  our place of birth, our parents, our nationality, our first language and the very first culture we are exposed to.  This is all pure chance;  our very existence is the culmination of a series of events over which we have no control.  Sometimes, it seems to me, this cosmic crapshoot leads to a number of casting errors.

I'm talking about people I meet who I think are horribly out of sync with their culture of origin.  These are not necessarily rebels - on the contrary many of them go to extraordinary lengths to try to fit, but they don't.     The people around them are singing in the key of C but everything in their hearts wants to sing in C#.    It's not about political opinions or economic advancement or marrying the right person. I'm not talking about people with mental health problems either.  It's really more fundamental - something about their essence, character or basic personality just doesn't work in the world in which they have emerged.  They are out of tune and every single day of their lives they are confronted with a sense that there is something wrong with them.  This can lead to belligerent resentment or just discreet misery.

I've met people like this in all the countries I've visited or lived in.  People who are vaguely discontent, openly unhappy, quietly desperate or not at all "at home" where they are even if they were born there.  Most never consider that they might have other options - the world we are born into is, as far as most of us are concerned, the whole world.  Intellectually, we may be vaguely aware that people in other places do things differently, but we are not convinced that people elsewhere have radically different ways of thinking. Ways that are not better or worse than those of our home culture but they just might be a good fit if we ever dared to try them on for size.

It is so hard to take that mental leap.  It requires what in Zen is called a "beginner's mind," one that is open to all possibilities.  Just because we were born here or there, citizen of X or Y, does not mean that this is the best place, the right language, or the appropriate culture for us.  Whether we are happy or unhappy, at home or not in our culture of origin, until we open ourselves to the idea that there are other worlds that might suit us better, we are all captive nations whatever our nationality or culture of origin may be.

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