Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Laughing Makes the World Go Round - How humility and laughter lead to a more open existence

Off to do laundry, or boldly showing off a new trend in cranial protection?

An important practice for traveling (as well as living an open-minded lifestyle) is shedding yourself of cultural lenses. These, of course, are the viewpoints and understandings we have of the world based on our upbringing. We use them to perceive and judge our current surroundings. Shedding our lenses, seeing the world with open eyes, helps us to see the beauty in everything, even if it doesn't fit the framework of what we previously have come in contact with. While we all seek to become the type of person who can blend in like a chameleon, does that mean we shouldn’t be taken back when we see something truly bizarre? Truly bizarre, that is, according to the lens in which we are trying so hard to remove? For myself, I believe that being able to acknowledge something that challenges your familiar footing, knowing full well that this is normal for everyone else around you, is perfectly acceptable, as long as you can palate the same dish once it is served to you.

Here’s an example: yesterday, while driving to a waterfall in northern Thailand, I saw two students riding together on a single motorbike (see above). This, of course, while not something I see a lot in the states, is very normal for Asia. I, too, was riding on a single motorbike with a friend at the time. What deviated from my normal image of Thailand, striking me as bizarre and humorous, was that one of the students was wearing a helmet, while the other was wearing a full-size washing bucket to protect his noggin. I’m not talking a small, nearly-fitted bucket. I’m talking something that could nearly be used as a kiddie pool. While this made me giggle, the truth is it isn't the first time I've seen bizarre headwear while traversing the streets in Southeast Asia. Does that mean, though, that even if it tickled my funny bone, I shouldn't enjoy a little giggle at something that seems so different to me in an attempt to become more culturally appropriate? I don't believe so.

Those who have the ability to be laughed at for things they do and love, but may be wacky or bizarre to others, have no problem doing the same when they see something bizarre and wacky. The reason being is that it comes from a place of love and humility, and a place of understanding. Do I fully understand why this Thai kid was wearing a bucket instead of a helmet? No, but I understand that he was doing it for a purpose, and that he does him and I do me. And here in lies the beauty of diversity; acknowledging that we are all different yet exist in the same place. The truth is that that this truth is funny. The immense differences between one culture to another can be downright hilarious. They can also be beautiful. They can be inspiring. The can be intriguing.  If we can see this, and be humble, then we quickly realize the differences and diversity is what makes the world stay interesting and wonderful. 
I didn't get my letter, but I snuck onto the Hogwarts 
Express anyway. If you dress like this, be prepared to be 
laughed at.

In Thailand, I’ve seen full families on a single motorbike. In fact, this is a regular occurrence. I’ve seen people rope enough materials to fill a truck bed on the back of their scooter, as well as a man drive through a brick and mortar restaurant during dinner time because it was the fastest route to his home. It’s bizarre to me, but it’s normal here. This is a small example and not only OK but, in fact, it's great. On that same note, I’ve seen westerns walk through the street shirtless (not a good idea), do acro-yoga in the middle of a park to the amazement of local folks, slack line, juggle, or participate in other eye-catching, yet strange behavior, that made Thai’s stop, stare, and giggle. Without the giggles from the Thai folks, and some humility on the hippies playing, this culture interaction may not have occurred. We are all weird, not only to different cultures but to ourselves. So why not bath in this gloriously strange concoction we are all a part of? 

Part of being a good traveler, let alone a good person, is being able to acknowledge a different way of thought, interact with it, but also be OK with realizing it isn’t your cup of tea. Without knowing your own lens, your own culture, this is impossible. Along the same lines, with only knowing your own lens, your own culture, this is still impossible. There is a Aristotle quote that states “…it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it,” which perfectly describes this phenomena. You don't have to accept every culture, thought, or way of understanding as your own, but for any sort of balance to occur, you need to learn to interact with them.  As stated a few times before, what it comes down to is humility. Humility renders the ability to laugh at ourselves for our short comings or bizarre habits. It opens our hearts, allowing us to laugh at and with others firmly rooted in the basis of mutual respect and gratitude. 

Being alive with an open mind is wonderful, but don’t starve yourself of being wowed by something so different, so foreign from what you know that it brings you to laughter, tears, or awe. Just know that as mind boggling as this sight may be, your next action may render a reciprocal result. Maybe this mentality isn’t for everyone, but if I ever stop begin wowed by jerry-rigged repair jobs, full families on a single motorbikes, or seeing a dude rocking a wash basin on his head instead of a helmet, I know I've taken a wrong step somewhere, and need to regain my footing. 

Where I come from the police street performances aren't normally fun for everyone, they typically involve beatings...

Photos courtesy of author and friends