I wonder while I wander

…musings about this wild and wonderful world


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Meeting the Other…

‘Each of [the] people, whom we meet along the road and across the world, is in a way twofold; each one consists of two beings whom it is often difficult to separate, a fact that we do not always recognise. One of these beings is a person like the rest of us: he has his joys and sorrows, his good and bad days; he is glad of his successes, does not like to be hungry and does not like it when he is cold; he feels pain as suffering and misery, and good fortune as satisfying and fulfilling.

‘The other being, who overlaps and is interwoven with the first, is a person as bearer of racial features, and as bearer of culture, beliefs and convictions. Neither of these beings appears in a pure isolated state – they co-exist, having a reciprocal effect on each other.

‘However, the problem … is that this relationship existing within each of us, between the person as individual and personality and the person as bearer of culture and race, is not immobile, rigid or static, not fixed inside him for good. On the contrary, its typical features are dynamism, mobility, variability and differences in intensity, depending on the external context, the demands of the current moment, the expectations of the environment, and even one’s own mood and stage of life.

‘ As a result, we never know whom we are going to meet, even though by name and appearance it may be someone who is already familiar to us. And what about when we come into contact with a person we are seeing for the first time? So every encounter with the Other is an enigma, an unknown quantity – I would even say a mystery.’

~Ryszard Kapuściński, Polish reporter, journalist, traveller, photographer, poet and writer (1932-2007)

Lately, I have been doing a great deal of reflecting on Otherness, diversity, difference, and culture. When we discuss The Other, who or what is it that we are really talking about? And who is the Self we are comparing to the outside Other? Each of us meets Otherness in our everyday lives, even if we don’t travel to distant locations and exotic countries. Sometimes the Other is disguised as someone we think we know, our neighbour, someone we think is the same as us, but who ends up surprising us. Each encounter in our lives, even those that seem mundane and ordinary, can be an eye-opening meeting with mystery and newness.

I feel like this theme of Otherness has been appearing in so many things I’ve read and in so many of my personal experiences in recent times. I think it is both a fascinating and important topic to explore and try to understand, as we live in such an inter-connected global society, and are constantly interacting with people of such diverse beliefs and background, either face-to-face or through various forms of media. If we want to live in a peaceful world, we can’t ignore the topic of Otherness.

It’s obviously a big topic – far too big for one post! I look forward to exploring the topics of the Other, Otherness, diversity and culture in upcoming posts throughout the next weeks and months and I hope you’ll join me on the journey!

We never know where the journey will take us or who we'll meet along the way.

We never know where the journey will take us or who we’ll meet along the way.

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Challenging our views…

I am currently a member of a parenting network online, in which members share stories and experiences and ask for parenting advice via email. I’ve learned some wonderful things from people in this community and I feel, without a doubt, that these are good, sincere, thoughtful and intelligent folks. I have really enjoyed learning from and getting know this lovely group.

That being said, I would like to share a brief exchange that occurred during an email ‘conversation’ between a few members of this online community, because I think it is an interesting example of the way people make decisions about what is true and false.

One person initiated this email conversation by mentioning a recent scientific study she’d read which looked at the differences between a large number people who were either breastfed or bottle-fed in infancy. The study measured differences in a wide variety of characteristics, such as intelligence, health, obesity in adulthood, among others. These characteristics were compared between breast- and bottle-fed children, both from different families, and within families (i.e. one sibling was breastfed and his/her sibling was bottle-fed). According to the brief summary this first person shared, the study seemed to say siblings fed with different methods showed no significant differences in health, intelligence and whatnot, although there were differences between children from different families, showing advantages for those who were breastfed.

Why might this be significant? Because it might mean breastfeeding is not be the sole cause of these advantages; instead, other factors like socio-economic status, wealth, education, culture, geographic location and ethnicity of parents may be the key. In other words, breastfeeding and better health or intelligence may be co-related, rather than breastfeeding being the direct cause of  all of these benefits.

Now, I have yet to read the entire study, so this is just a summary of what I was told it was about. As a disclaimer: I am not making any claims whatsoever in this post about the pros/cons of breastfeeding vs bottlefeeding! I am not recommending you do one or the other. That is absolutely not the point of what I’m trying to say here!

So, what is my point then? I’m glad you asked!

I was actually more interested in the reaction I saw to the mere mention of this study’s findings, coming almost entirely from people who hadn’t even read it yet!

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It’s a bit more complicated than that…

Confession: I have a tendency to think there is ‘One Right Answer’ to life’s big questions, and surprisingly enough (!), I often feel like I have that answer. However, I also know that it is utterly preposterous to think I actually have the answers to everything. On the contrary, I only know a tiny smidgen of all that’s to be known and understood in the universe, and things in life are rarely black-and-white. So, my ‘know-it-all’ self and my ‘I-don’t-know-jack-crap’ self are in constant battle. Sometimes it’s a bit exhausting to be arguing with one’s self all the time, but then again, it keeps me from getting bored!

So, that’s confession time out of the way. Now on to the more interesting stuff.

Recently I came across an amazing article about the evolution of adult milk drinking. Yeah, doesn’t sound that amazing probably, but trust me, it is. In a nutshell, for most of human history (or perhaps I should say pre-history) adults of our species could not really digest dairy, but somewhere around modern-day Hungary, perhaps about 11,000 years ago, there was a genetic mutation that kept that childhood milk-digesting ability working into adulthood, and that mutation was so advantageous for those who inherited it, that it spread like wildfire!

Still, about two-thirds of people currently living on the planet don’t handle milk so well… as in, drinking milk causes diarrhea and unpleasantness like that. However, the other one-third (roughly) can digest milk and it provides a valuable source of energy and nutrition. In some places, particularly in northern Europe, the percentage of adults who can digest dairy is up to around 99%! So, that’s a very brief run-down of the idea, but I highly suggest you check out this great article that explains it much better than I just did: Archaeology:The Milk Revolution (from nature.com).

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