I feel like somehow the universe has conspired to educate me about other cultures and expand my mind. Or maybe I just "put it out to the universe" without realizing it. In the last week, I've had some really fun conversations with strangers from fairly diverse backgrounds.
1) The most shallow but funny conversation happened last week with an older black guy who was waiting at the auto shop for his car to be looked at. He told me that he'd been hit by a drunk that morning after dropping his grandchild off at work. He told me some other horror stories about crazy Ypsilanti drivers, including the time he was sitting in his car at a red light and got hit by a cop. "They're worse drivers than we are!" he said.
2) Last night, I hung out with a guy from India who reccently came to the states as a contract I.T. worker. We talked for a little over an hour, and I learned a lot about his take on Indian family life, racism (he thinks it's worse in the U.K. than in America, but I noted that he hadn't spent much time in the South) and a variety of other topics. One interesting thing I learned was that he became an atheist after witnessing the 1992 ethnic and religious riots in Bombay
(now Mumbai) when he was a student there. He said at that time he had the most Muslim friends of any Hindu he knew, and he was really scared through the whole thing. He thought it was ridiculous and awful and had no use for religion after that.
3) I was at the auto repair shop AGAIN today and had another incidence of having a total stranger just start talking to me. He was a nice Vietnamese man who had spent some time under communist rule. He saw I was carrying a copy of "The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living" by the Dalai Lama and talked to me for about a half hour about Tibet, Buddhism and how I handle Jehovah's Witnesses who come to the door (I just don't answer the doorbell, typically).
This last incident flowed from a recent interest in learning more about the Dalai Lama. I'm not Buddhist, though I respect a lot of the teachings of Buddhism and especially the Dalai Lama's forward-thinking approach to harmony between science and Buddhist thought. A few years ago, I read Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama
. I loved the fact that-- unlike religious leaders from many other traditions-- when science contradicts his faith, he's more likely to revise his philosophy of religion than to reject the science. I'm also fairly interested in brain science, psychology and the idea that we can choose to be happy and content even when outside events and circumstances are trying or tragic.
Fast forward to a few months ago: I watched Seven Years in Tibet
which was a flawed film but gave me some information about the history of Tibet's conflict with China. More recently, I watched 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama
. The New Age music and the documentary maker's somewhat overly-reverential tone made it more of a 3-star film than a 5-star film, but the cinematography of the Himalayas, the streets of India, the ceremonies and festivals was spectacular. I also love listening to the Dalai Lama speak- he sound a bit like Yoda with a hint of PeeWee Herman. (As an aside, is it really sick and wrong of me that when they showed old black and white footage of him at age 19-20 I thought he was kind of hot in a nerdy sort of way?) I also learned more about the politics of the Free Tibet movement and Chinese communist disdain for Tibet's religious tradition and so on. Also, did you know that both Google and Yahoo! agreed to censor
the results of searches for keywords like "Tibet" and "Dalai Lama" to only show Chinese government-approved pages?
It's been strange, fun and educational. I wonder what's next...