In which your host wanders off track and eats a burger made from a sacred cow

A couple years ago I encountered the "wisdom" of William Arpaia. I won't cover his history — do a search if you're inclined. One of his "quips" went something like this: Everything I need in life can be found in my own back yard. This led me to think that one of many ways you can characterize people on a fundamental level is those who find comfort in their established ways and see no need to look further vs. those who look beyond and wonder what other ways might be like.

I think back to one of the great epiphanies of my life. I think it must have been in junior high school — say the early 70s. We were studying mythology, Egyptian, Greek, Norse, and so on. It suddenly occurred to me that the people in those ancient societies were every bit as sincere in their beliefs as most Americans are in their Christianity. Same goes for other cultural things like diet, attire, and behavior.

Anyway, at that point in my life I felt a shift within my mind. The world is full of billions of people, and they all have different ways of living, thinking, and believing. And there is no objective criteria to say my ways of living, thinking, or believing are any better than any of the billions of others. I know now that I stumbled upon what is often called Cultural Relativity, a concept that seems to be reviled among American conservatives, who apparently take it as a given that their ways are automatically better than anyone else's. Once I found myself with this new attitude, I suppose there were different ways I could react. I could have huddled in my room and shivered in fear of all the strangeness out there. I could have opted for what is generally termend "tolerance" of other ways. But to me tolerance has a rather negative connotation. When you tolerate something, you put up with it even though you don't like it. That is not at all how I felt. I'm fascinated by differences — I think they're what makes human life so interesting.

(As an aside, this is a large part of what drew me to science fiction, with its exploration of alien societies and hypothetical human ones.)

I'm not so blindly self-confident that I believe my fascination with human diversity will shield me from the culture shock that lies in my near future. I expect there will be difficulties. But in a way, I'm looking forward to that as well. I am confident it will all make me a better human being. As different as we all are, I really believe that the more we get to know each other, the more we'll find we have in common, in spite of superficial differences. Call me a fool for believing something like that if you like, but I think it's true.

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