Many Cultures – No Right Way

I’m constantly frustrated by the way people all over the world think that their own way, their own religion, their own values are right and that all others are wrong. What gives any of us the right to believe that? If any one of us had been born in a different culture, then we’d probably have the values of that culture.

I look at the aid organisations trying to promote gender equality in Bhutan, when in many cases it’s the introduction of western values that has created an inequality. There is a division of roles here, but women in Bhutan were traditionally the land and home owners. It’s only since Bhutan opened up, started using a money economy and created office jobs that men have come to be the wealthy gender. The problem has been created by the west, but it’s not up to the west to dictate solutions. Some of the most interesting and influential people I’ve met here are women and they are working in their own way to re-establish the gender balance.

The equality situation in Japan is similarly complex. Looking from a western perspective, men have all the power and the women are oppressed. But when you understand the situation better, it’s not so clear. Men work long hours to earn money for the family, but it’s the women that decide how that money will be spent, where they’ll live, where they go for holidays and how much pocket money the man is allowed to have for drinking.

The whole human rights movement seems misguided to me. Sure, we can all look around and see imbalances and injustices in the world, but we never have all the information and certainly no right to enforce changes. How have the Afghans benefited from the US invasion? Many of them would probably have said that they were hard done by before, but I doubt they’d feel better now.

Change may be inevitable, but it has to come from the people involved. Even a demonstration of the way things could be better just confuses the situation. The above example from Bhutan shows that. When a culture takes on aspects of another culture (it’s never possible to take it all at once) then some gain, but many and often a majority, lose. People need to make their own choices and their own rebellions.

The only way to true peace and to the elimination of suffering is to be tolerant of people’s different values and cultures and to be ready to help when asked. Enforced change is no more than a different kind of oppression.

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