Day 18: practice common themes across cultures

thou shalt be steadfast and shalt not fear

thou shalt be steadfast and shalt not fear

At least once a week, practice the common themes that exist across races and religions on anĀ important issue.

This has to be reformulated.

First of all, I don’t know what a race is. Are Russians one race? Many races? Are Norwegians and the Sami two races? How about Jews, are they one race or many? If I don’t know what a race is, I can’t know when I have found common themes across races either.

Secondly, either you have to include atheism as a religion, or you exclude something like 10% of the world’s population. And anyway, why should the religious views be more important than the non-religious? What about those “common themes” across the globe that are not in any way connected to religious beliefs?

Thirdly, I’m not quite sure to practice a theme like this. Let’s take an important issue, say abortion, or schools, or criminal laws — how do you find a common theme in atheism and fundamentalist Islam on these issues? That people care about these issues? But many people don’t care at all; does that mean that at least 50% of people has to care about a theme to make it worth practising?

To save this task, I’ll reformulate it like this. Religion/race must be culture, in order to include more. “Practice common themes” must mean something like “do what many people do all over the world, and not just in your own culture”.

Hm. People laugh and cry, kill and save lives, obey and rebel, love and hate. We all have the same bodily functions, save a few with injuries, and we all (almost) walk around on two legs. We are all social creatures, and we all find meaning in other people — whether we shy away from them or try to be with them, our lives always centre around the presence or absence of other humans.

Are we getting closer?

An important issue is happiness, or the meaning of life, or wisdom, or some such vague but very important question. Across cultures, people think about happiness, try to find happiness and wisdom, try to lead their lives like they think life should be lead. I do that too. Every time I get annoyed with my kids, I think about how it should have been. My youngest son shouldn’t have eaten the last candy, his brother should have, he didn’t get as many. My oldest son should put his dirty clothes somewhere else than in the stairs. Every time something small and insignificant happen, I think about happiness and wisdom and meaning of life, albeit in a small and insignificant way, and I try to tell my surroundings how life would have been much better if they only did things the way I want things to be done.

For some reason, they don’t always agree. On the other hand, disagreeing is taking a stand, and taking a stand means having thought things through, however instinctive and irrational.

Happiness, then: many people all over the world think a lot about happiness. But is thinking enough of an activity, can you practice thinking in the same way as people in other cultures? Perhaps it would be better to practice the things that many people find happiness inducing?

Are we getting closer?

People all over the world tell each other stories, they dance and sing and eat together. And no matter where you are, and who you meet, you’ll always be able to smile and get a smile back. You’ll always, even in the middle of the deep rain forests of Papua New Guinea, understand another person’s body language — you always know when he’s threatening you, or when he’s being friendly. You show the same signs of happiness.

Societies, cultures, religions, “races” all differ when it comes to how they behave, how they remember their dead, how they treat their children, how they eat, how they respect authority, how they salute each other, how they spend their day, how they value nature or long hair or clothes or silence or anything you can think of. It’s common that they treat each other with respect, but often only friends, and exactly what is implied in “respect”, varies a lot. And when it comes to happiness, well, it varies enormously just within one culture, or even within one individual. Sometimes i makes me happy to sit in a silent room and think. Sometimes it makes me happy to visit an amusement park.

Does that mean that you should practice the common theme of trying to find happiness? But that could mean anything — and in that case, it doesn’t mean anything.

We’re not getting closer. A common theme across cultures is that we’re humans. But I can’t avoid being human, so how can I practice that once a week? A common trait is that we value our families and prefer eating to starving and feel better when we are not sick. But of course I do that, too.

You could say that a common trait is being religious, and that Christians should realise that Muslims and Buddhists and just about everyone else are religious in more or less the same way, the same feelings towards spirituality, thinking about religion in the same way — and that this is the lesson one should learn from this task.

But it takes a religious person to be convinced that his way of thinking is better than all other just because it is. For a non-religious person, that’s the first premise: nothing is sacred just because someone says so, everything can turn out to be wrong. (It’s not always an easy premise, your gut tells you that you are always right — but that’s what you have a brain in your head for, to override your “second brain“.)

No, we’re not getting any closer. I am a human and I do human things, like every one else. I am a human, no more, no less, along with all the other 7 billions of us.

You’re a human, I’m a human. Isn’t that enough as a common theme?