Acceptance of differences
Last week I met an Orkuter in real life. I have had discussions with him at Orkut for more than two years. I would like to tell you about this experience of meeting an Orkuter with whom I totally disagree with regard to most political topics. I will call him Simon in this post, as I did last time.
I always like to meet Orkuters in real life, because I like to see the difference between impressions that people give in the online world and in the offline world. In the online world the physical world is absent, I don’t know how somebody looks like (only from a picture maybe), I don’t know if he smiles much, I don’t know with what kind of accent he talks.
Almost everybody I met so far was the same or nicer in real life than I expected, the same counts for Simon. So the question which intrigues me is: can I really get to know somebody whom I have never met in real life? And the question is even: Is it true that the real nature of a person is more visible in the online world? People who are not familiar with the online world are often worried that people present a more beautiful image of themselves than how they really are. I also heard my former sociology professor say that contacts in the online world are just superficial and that they never last long. I don’t agree with him of course. Two and a half year is pretty long and who knows how much longer it will go on, the discussions and the friendships. Some discussions are at a high level, certainly not superficial.
But of course there are differences between the online and the offline world. As I said before, I noticed something which Levinas described as that the face of the other is missing. I don’t talk to a person who is standing in front of me. I talk to a profile with a description and an image. It can easily happen that I forget that this profile is in fact a real human being. I can call the other whatever I like, troll, moron, devil. The other cannot slap me in the face when I say that. Maybe I don’t even realise that I am insulting / hurting him or her. And another thing is that because of the lack of physical space, there is no territory. I cannot say: you are here in the Netherlands so you have to respect the laws of our country and adapt a bit to our culture. There are no general laws / constitution, there is no dominant culture to which the “foreigners” should adapt. There are no foreigners. It is as if we are all together on Mars. This means that India and Pakistan are located in the same space, and Israel and Palestine, and Muslims and Islam-haters, and Jews and anti-semites, etc. This while it can easily be the case in the offline world that people are not so often confronted with people with totally opposed views or people whom they consider as “the enemy”. Among like-minded people you can repeat everyday how stupid the others are. At Orkut the others are listening to that mudslinging all the time and they are shouting back .
So this is why there are often many serious insults posted at Orkut and many hard fights. It is nice to see how much friendlier the contact is with most of them in real life. I don’t know which world is more real, the offline world or the online one. Both worlds are real. But it helps to realise that for many Orkuters there is a difference between how they behave in both worlds.
I wrote before about our totally opposed views: http://levinasandculture.blogspot.com/2006/05/justice-and-tolerance.html
I said then:
“What I personally find one of the most difficult things, and which is something of which I can see that others are having difficulties with it as well, is to be tolerant towards people who have ideas which are in my view very harmful towards what I consider as justice.”
And that counts for Simon, I think that his ideas are harmful, when people act according to these ideas. In that text I try to show that Simon's remarks are racist, that between the lines you can read the assumption that black people are more often lazy than white people. Of course Simon denies that, but he didn’t convince me that it is not racism.
So in the beginning I was wondering: do I want to be friends with somebody of whom I consider some of his ideas to be racist? Would I want that if I were black or if I were a Muslim? And my answer was yes but I didn’t really know why. I think now that the reason why I can accept him as he is, is because he totally accepts me as I am.
Our views are as far away from each other as possible, with regard to almost all political topics you can think of. The only thing we agreed about last Thursday was that children who like to work with their hands and who are good at that, that they should not endlessly be forced into an intellectual abstract education. And we also agreed that in an anarchistic state there would be different communities and there would also be communities for women who like to wear burka’s, so they would be free to wear them then. But that’s it, for the rest we are totally opposed.
So why do I find it so important that he accepts me as I am? That he likes to meet me and talk 2.5 hours with me although he thinks that my ideas are completely crazy and stupid and bad. It means that the degree of agreeing with ones opinions is completely separate from the judgement of a person as that person. I can be considered to be a completely mad lunatic liberal but the personal judgement is not based on that category. We can be friends despite our differences because we accept from the other that the other person has got these views. If he would try to convince me of his ideas and if the level of friendliness would go down the more I stubbornly refuse to change my mind, it would be over soon. Simon can be very convinced of his being right, it is not that he listens to what I say because he would be at the point of changing his mind, not at all (and the other way around it’s the same). But still he accepts the differences. That is true tolerance and open-mindedness, to treat the other as completely equal no matter what his or her opinions are. That’s very important to have a good respectful (intercultural) relation between the one and the other, as Levinas describes it.
Is it really offensive? It is not the prophet Mohammed (p.b.u.h.) who is on it, just a random Islamic leader (imam) together with a Christian and a Jewish leader. I think this picture is not offensive towards the three Abrahamic religions, it is just to show that it is not easy for the three religions to bury their differences.
Most members of the human race fall into two categories - those who live in the past and those who live in the future. Most live in the past. Many of these are the people who achieve very little in their lives and are so fearful of the future that they dare not strike out to get anything. They are the under-achievers who hang onto bad episodes in their lives and either relive them time and again or look at new situations as similar potentialities. They say things like "all men are deceivers" or "all women are interested in is money" or "I can't do it. I tried before and it didn't work so why bother!". Due to bad experiences in the past they believe that all future events will turn out the same way if they dare to go after what they want.
The other type of person lives in the future. This type tends to create more of the things they want in life. They have a vision of where they want to go and exactly how they are going to get there. They work diligently at making concrete plans and they pursue those plans with a persistent ferocious appetite for success. These people are the high achievers - The Richard Branson and Bill Gates of the world. These people have much to teach us about setting and achieving goals.
However, there is a third type of person who almost goes unnoticed. They are the person who takes life in its stride and yet achieve most of what they want. I am sure you know of such a person in your life that just seems to saunter through life and yet they always come out on top. Or a person who you hear of that has decided to open a shop. You meet them a few months later and they have three shops all doing well! So what makes these people so successful and if they aren't living in the past and aren't living in the future where are they living?
I suppose you guessed it! Whether they are consciously aware of it or not they are living in the present. It is in the 'living' present that we have our greatest power. Everything happens in the present. You live your entire life there - even if your mind does not!
By becoming more aware of the present and by 'accepting' it as it is we are much more in control of our emotions and focus. When we live in the past we are fearful of making bad choices and/or getting hurt. We do not wish to recreate the past again! When we live in the future we can also be fearful of what might happen. But even if your future vision is full of power and worthy of working towards many people can, and often do, get stuck there. By constantly reaching for bigger and better goals they fail to enjoy what they have in the moment.
If you wish to start living a life that is almost effortless begin first by living in the present. Accept your situation the way it is and then you can enjoy what you have. Your focus changes from a memory of what was or a vision of what might be to a realization of what is. You become much more empowered to then see the beauty of life and also look at where you wish to make changes. But to make changes you must first accept the situation as it is. Trying to escape from your present only increases your focus on your problems by creating resistance to what is. Accept your life as it is now. Make no judgement, just accept it and then you will be free of doubt, worry, pain and fear. For you only experience these things when you live outside the 'moment'. subliminal