This weekend, I had the opportunity to attend a silent retreat at the Abby of the Genesee in Geneseo, N.Y. This lifestyle was something I had never encountered before; life revolved around Holy Hours, when the monks and interested retreat participants gathered in the chapel for prayer. There was simplicity to the flow of the day, in everything from the meals that were served to the living quarters.
All these things, combined with slight sensory deprivation, allowed for a shift of focus that was personal to each person and his or her particular needs, a shift which would be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve anywhere else.
Returning to Mercyhurst Sunday afternoon was like entering another world. The difference in lifestyles between Mercyhurst and the Abby was at such odds it was almost comical.
It was not until later that I was able to look at these two circumstances in a larger context. If two lifestyles could be so radically different that one experiences minor culture shock moving from one to the other, and at only three hours away, how much more radical would that shift be when comparing cultures around the world?
We have all seen evidence of what assumptions and misunderstandings can do, both in personal relationships and across the broader cultural spectrum. Without these differences, the world would be a much more boring place.
It’s when these differences become a barrier rather than a point of connection that problems arise. Unfortunately, in the 21st century, we are more likely to raise our defenses, both personal and political, in the face of something or someone different than we are to embrace differences. While this approach is certainly praiseworthy in certain situations, such as in the face of a definite threat, the overuse or misuse of such a policy is shown to be devastating.
Even on our own shores, this issue is present. Our government nearly shut down this past weekend because two parties aren’t mature enough to put aside petty differences for the benefit of the American people; teenagers commit suicide because they’re told who they love is wrong and are hated for it and men and women receive unequal treatment because of historical norms.
The disparity between cultures and individuals will always remain. However, it is how they are approached—a simple approach of openness and understanding—that will make the difference.