Tuesday, May 10, 2011

In Love and Struggles

Unfortunately, academic competitions never fail to bring out the worst in people here in Mongolia. You'd think they'd conjure up spirits of camaraderie and studiousness. Sadly, however, you would be wrong. Many adults are rendered catty, howling 'unfair!' and 'dishonest!' at any final decision that they decide is unjust or not in their favor. Exactly this happened during an afternoon not too long ago. Subsequently that day a close Mongolian friend of ours attempted to get her longtime friend and single mother fired for not judging in her favor. I have even seen teachers bully young students from other schools and classes who are competing against their own kids. It has been painful to watch many of my close friends being sucked into tornadoes of immaturity as they let their ugly colors show during competitions. This transformation of friendly to foul points directly towards something I have been spending a lot of time struggling with ever since I came to Mongolia.

Let me back up. In middle school we studied Arthurian legends and at one point a theme arose that has given me much food for thought in the years that have passed. It's the concept of loving an entire person; the fact that if we are to love someone, we must not just accept but love all of them, flaws and all. We cannot just chose bits and pieces of our friends and fellow man; we must embrace all or nothing. At the time it didn't make too much sense. I liked boys because they were cute and funny, their dumb comments or bad hygiene I simply pretend did not exist. Even today I'm still not sure if I'm completely on board with this idea; it's a tough one to swallow completely though admittedly it is an idea that bares worth thinking about.

Applying this long ago studied theme to life in Mongolia is something that I put much effort into. I really want to love the people around me. I really do. And most of the time it's easy to embrace my Mongolian friends and students. However, my mind rebels on occasion. Things that I have been taught from the very beginning of my life butt hostilely against common conceptions that the vast majority of Mongolians deem to be true. For example, as discussed in previous posts, blatant racism is completely acceptable and often even expected. What is equally as rampant and revolting to my senses is the ubiquitous homophobia. And then there is the above discussed unnecessary immaturity among adults.

For clarity's sake, I am not trying to demean or complain. These are merely cultural differences I have observed, and they are not uniformly practiced, though they are commonly accepted and the majority adheres to them. And I must accept this. However, turmoil bubbles up inside me on occasion when I think about our culture's conflicting beliefs. Sometimes it is difficult to look at people who believe so differently from you in a positive way and I find myself occasionally struggling to respect the thoughts of the people around me. Images of my best friends of different races, nationalities or sexual preferences flash in front of my eyes and I feel a stabbing guilt that I have betrayed them as I share loving moment with my Mongolian friends. How can I do this to the people I care so much about back home, the people who have supported me and encouraged me unconditionally? I feel like by turning a blind eye to the fact that many of my Mongolian friends don't accept my loved ones in America or even believe their lifestyle exists I am also stabbing my dear dear friends in the back. It really kills me; I feel like a coward. If I am to love the people I have come to know here, how can I love these differences? Can I please love them without embracing ignorance, immaturity and culturally bread hate? Or am I bound to love that too when it occurs in my friends?

However, it's not like this is an issue that doesn't occurs in America. And through having family members with extraordinarily polar beliefs from mine, I have grown up having to tolerate opposing thoughts in other people. However, conservative politics and brutal disgust for others are in fact very different. I have strove to apply the same glossing over of differing opinions I learned from people back home but it is consistently difficult when I am so personally connected to the ones unjustly despised. I try to not become incensed when these things come up in conversation, and they don't often thank goodness, and on the whole I've done quite a good job of not ripping anyone a new one. Indeed, these issues don't spring to life every day but just knowing they are there under the surface, dormant but existent, is enough to make me uncomfortable. I have attempted gentle conversations with my friends about tolerance and more productive ways to express anger. But I don't know how fruitful these chats have been.

In writing this I am not trying to be negative, nor I am trying to out an entire population as a country of haters. This is merely an expression of cultural differences and the frustrations, sometimes small, sometimes massive, that I find therein. In facing this issue it has behooved me to remember the words of Wade Davis when he said: "The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you: they are unique manifestations of the human spirit." So with patience I try to face this issue. With understanding, albeit on occasion forced, I feel I must at least try to love those who surround me and the differences that lie within them.

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