Kindness Across Cultures

It’s November, already! Being here in Singapore, I can’t tell you how much I miss the seasons. When every day is essentially the same — sunrise at 7am / sunset around 7pm, temps that never shift from Lows of about 80F to Highs of 95F — the time sort of slips away from you. It’s truly lovely here, don’t get me wrong! But oh, how I miss the shifting light as the days get shorter, the way the sunlight catches in the leaves of the aspens as they turn from moss green to gold, the red of the maples as they spread their autumn fire across the mountain sides, and those first nips of crisp autumn air that bite at your cheeks and make you want to put on your warmest, snuggliest sweater.

Ahhhh, the fun of autumn leaves!Thankfully, we get to experience these wonders of nature as this is our time of year to travel. This year we celebrated my parent’s 50th Anniversary with family and friends in France; then just a week later, we spent 7-days in Japan for a business event. I spent time with so many people from so many cultures – Swiss, French, Dutch, Filipino, Israeli, Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Venezuelan, British, and Japanese, along with many US cultures: South Westerners, New Englanders, Kentuckians, Southerners, and North Westerners.

I could give you a long list of differences between cultures, like the contrast between the Joie de Vivre my son and I witnessed on the Metro in Paris vs. the almost eerie silence (to them, a consideration of others) as you ride a bus in Tokyo, to the types of food that the Chinese enjoy and how they love sharing it. However, what always draws my attention, is the amazing number of similarities in people around the world – and especially at the ways in which people show love, kindness, and appreciation to others.

In Japan, we were honored to have tea with the Head Priest of the Shinto religion, Shigeho Yoshida, and his retinue in the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu in Kamakura (this is akin to meeting the Dali Lama in Tsuglagkhang Temple in Dharamsala). He gave us a brief history on the Japanese culture and the Shinto religion. After his oratory, the Priest presented our group with small, hand made wooden cups representing the Shinto belief in the sacredness of nature. In return, our host, an Israeli woman living in Japan for many years, presented (from the group) a small, silver cup from Jerusalem. She said that some modern day Jewish people will place in it a small plant, to help them remember the sacredness of the world that G-d made.

These two cultures are almost polar opposites in many ways — the Israelis are extremely affectionate, boisterous, and (they’ll admit it themselves) not afraid to argue against a point; the Japanese are reserved, they find beauty in silence, and there are more ways to say “it is difficult” than to say outright “no” in Japanese. Yet, both are exceptionally generous (although an Israeli might argue that point with you) – they both give gifts to share their culture and to show respect for others’ beliefs and efforts.

This same generosity and desire to show kindness through small gifts permeates so many cultures. One of my fellow bloggers (and someone I admire greatly!), Fayth Ross, challenged her readers to spread kindness through small surprises (you can catch her blog here for some great ideas!).

A young Japanese girl celebrating her 3rd birthday in traditional dress at Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū, Kamakura, JapanThrough my time with other cultures, I find the vast differences between peoples fascinating; however, as I consciously look for the similarities that we share, I see those things that make us all human, the kindnesses that people share across all cultures – like smiles, I’ve found them everywhere I go.American, Indonesian, Israeli, and Australian

American, Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Chinese - Smiles are Universal :)