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  • Omar Khan

A Round-up of Musings on Cultural Oddities

Everyone thinks they're "normal" and their culture or religion are "self-evidently" laudable. If you ask them what other cultures they've actually immersed in, or tried on for size, we usually confirm that we are all, by and large, a product of our biases or venality. Why compare? Experience! And then of course, stick with whatever you like.


If your first thought as you experience something is your "judgment" about it, worry about what you may be foreclosing in experience, or insight, or appreciation, or engagement. To be an arbiter of taste, you first have to develop some, and that requires, once more, enough experience to be able to discern, and only then to start discerning! Anyway, I'd rather know you by what you love, than what you deride (not always true, but by and large).


If being "large" in "small" courtesies is too taxing, then beware the type of culture and environment we are helping to underwrite and to sponsor. At a US Embassy today, a mother and a daughter were caught without the full amount they needed for a passport renewal (they misread the proverbial "small print"). Seeing their distress (given the impact on long set plans), I gave them the difference (it wasn't a large amount). I gave them an address to drop off the money to, to repay me as they insisted. By the time I got back 30 minutes later, 5 minutes after that, they dropped off the amount. If they hadn't, I wouldn't have missed it, and their relief would have been nourishing enough. This way after a warm exchange, and their timely integrity, I had to smile and realize all is not yet lost. 


Cultures are rich storehouses of wisdom, as well as cobwebbed accretions of stultifying nonsense. Leaders at all levels have to be able to sift between "roots" and "chains." Champion and nurture the first, challenge and decisively break with the latter.


If anyone argues that our aim is to kowtow to all cultural prejudices, rather than welcome cultures as they express their genius and welcome them equally as they evolve in meaningful ways, then we have fallen afoul of primitive relativism. If everything is "relative," so is that very claim! In another vein, I salute Mark Twain when he pointed out he was all in favor of "temperance" but not "intemperate temperance." Amen!

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©2019 by Omar Khan