Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes

Posted by Athena Parthenos

One of the comments that I often hear when my friends travel around the world is that they weren’t able to find decent Italian food outside of Italy. They complain about ketchup on pizza or carbonara pasta full of mushrooms. Although I know they are sincerely distressed by what they find, I also try to remind them that assuming they can eat good Italian food outside of Italy is rather presumptuous. Perhaps they should have tried to eat local in order to really appreciate great cuisine. This is just an example of how often we neglect to understand other cultures because we focus on finding distinctive traits from our own culture within another tradition. More often than not, people are quick to judge a country negatively because of its different culture, and one of the issues that surrounds many discussions (besides bad Italian food!) is the role of women in society. There are many articles that denounce the mistreatment and inequality that women experience or label traditions as bad and unhealthy. I rarely find articles  that portray a beautiful interpretation of the female role. For example, it would be nice to understand where the Quinceañera celebration for Latin American girls originated, or why Koreans don’t often call their wives by their first name.

I have always viewed this as a consequence of people interpreting things through the lens of their own cultural perspective rather than from a culturally objective one. I do not intend to argue over whether or not this view is correct; for now, I want to focus on the idea that there are different cultures in the world and that each is the result of hundreds of years of life, food, and language evolution. Each followed a certain path over time, and what we see now—good or bad, understandable or not—is the culmination of all that history. Women and how they are understood is one of the aspects that changes from one country to another. If you think about it, even within different western cultures, women are interpreted differently—we can’t pretend to have the same perception of gender globally, just like we can’t assume that we can eat amazing Italian food during a visit to Thailand.

So let’s switch sides. Today, while celebrating women internationally, we will remember that cultures are different and that putting yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand their perspective is invaluable. For once, let’s rejoice in the fact that the world looks like patchwork art—let’s discover its beauty. Neglecting a culture just because we think it’s wrong…well, that is what’s wrong. First, we need to look at what we don’t understand with a different pair of eyes. Only then can we give an informed opinion. So today, choose any country or culture that you are not too familiar with and learn something new about it (whether related to women or not). After you do that, share your new discovery with us on our Facebook page so that more people can learn new things!

Written by Noemi Clark, CEO at Athena Parthenos

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