Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How India changed me…for good

Yes, living in another culture can change you both permanently and, if processed fully, for the better. After being back for three months and having a little time to reflect, here’s an incomplete list of how six years in India changed me.

Using the rear view mirror less. (Carpe moment!) When driving in India, you generally ignore what’s behind you and focus fully on what is throwing itself across your path. There’s plenty to watch out for (camels, cows, carts). It helps that top speed was about 35 mph, but still. When I’m meeting with you, I’m now better at seizing the moment (not just the day) and focusing on the conversation instead of living in the past or future. Also, if you want to meet and give me two options, I’ll take the soonest appointment possible because I suspect that a strike, civil unrest, flood, power outage, etc. could affect the later appointment. Sooner is more likely to happen…and if not, we can try again later. Similarly, if I see root beer in the store (or anything I’ve been searching for), I’ll buy extras right now. Perhaps your whole stock. You may not have more for a while.

There’s more than one way. When my internet was down at home, I knew a tall passing truck had probably torn down my cable (again). But there was always a USB modem. Or walking to a cyber café. Or parking beside a nearby office with wi-fi and my laptop in hand. There are many ways to get things done, and in India you’re forced to explore and exploit those. Good for people like me who can find routine becoming a rut.

Limited options aren’t bad. The cereal aisle had 8-10 types. There were four kinds of pop (soda). If you could buy cheese, it was normally either mozzarella or cheddar. Limited options can streamline and speed up life. You survive just fine. You save time and energy by not obsessing over the infinite choices.

Pondering the network of relationships. In my culture where the end generally justifies the means and independence is valued, I never learned to forecast the relationship domino effect. I now think more about how an action might help or harm a relationship and – more than that – other associated relationships. Since the majority of the world’s cultures and businesses operate on caste/class/circles of influence, this is a great skill to enhance.

Never too close for comfort. I’m now aware of the huge amount of inhabited but empty buildings sitting around the USA. Most homes are empty during the day. Churches, synagogues, and mosques are only full during periodic meetings. In India, we had friends live with us at times, plenty of visitors, helpers coming and going, and more. Most families have relatives living with them or live-in servants or guards, so the house is always occupied. Places of worship are used for community meetings and more. You could say it feels more crowded, but it now appears to me to be a better use of space and wise stewardship.

I’m sure there are more ways I’ve changed. Give me a few more months or a lifetime to think about it.

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