Why I Embrace Cultural Diversity
"The differences between people need not act as barriers that wound, harm and drive us apart. Rather, these very differences among cultures and civilizations should be valued as manifestations of the richness of our shared creativity" quote by Daisaku Ikeda.
I had some interesting discussions with the visitors to the "Gypsy Portraits, Changing Expectations" exhibition during the Appleby Horse Fair. Many of the visitors were aware of the caring aspect of Gypsy culture and believed that it was because of their close family ties. I told them that it didn’t just apply to family members and I told them what had happened when I was walking down to the church on Saturday morning.
The short cut down the hill to Appleby town centre is a steep footpath (named LadyGarth) with a number of sloping steps near the top. I am so disabled that I have to use a walking frame with wheels at the front and sliders at the back, so I approach each step very cautiously.
A lot of people were coming down the hill from the railway station and I was letting them pass me.
Half way down the footpath is a seat and there was a family group of Gypsies sitting there. The man jumped up and ran to help me, though he had one shoe on. He had the other shoe in his hand. He helped me very efficiently. When we reached the seat I explained to him and his family about the exhibition and its purpose.
Respect for older people is not confined to Gypsies of course. It is silly to think of a person’s culture as being anything to do with their genetics. I have lived in seven different counties in England and each area has its own attitudes to many aspects of life. As a child, I was aware of the difference in attitudes to certain aspects of life in areas just a few miles apart.
A person who influenced me powerfully was a girl who I met at Southampton University in 1969. Her family were Hindu, lived in Iraq and went to a Christian school. She had a broad understanding of the similarities underlying different cultures. She taught me a lot and I became fascinated, and wanted to learn more.
I lived in North London for 15 years and made friends with people who came from many different nationalities and cultures. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn from them.
As religion is a major source of cultural attitudes, I was particularly fascinated to learn how different faiths affected people’s way of life. When it came to Buddhism, I knew about priests and monks spending much of their time in meditation to attain enlightenment but I wondered what was in it for ordinary people. That seeking spirit caused me to ask Japanese ladies whom I met in North London about their experience of Buddhism and I was lucky to learn about Nichiren Buddhism and the wise sayings of President Daisaku Ikeda who is the author of the quote above.
Respecting and cherishing people’s lives and experiences has taught me an empathy that gives me the skill to paint portraits that capture the individual’s essential self. It is something more than character but I would never claim that I capture the soul. Capturing a soul must be something like pinning a butterfly.
To sum up I will quote President Daisaku Ikeda again: "It is the spirit of mutual respect and the willingness to learn from others that bonds hearts together. In the words of a wise person, when you bow respectfully to the mirror, the image in the mirror likewise bows to you."