At one point in our conversation, I asked him about some of the differences he has noticed between American and Indian cultures. He said as nicely as he could, “Here, you say ‘Thank you’ far too much!” Admittedly surprised, I asked if these statements, which we consider “good manners,” don’t hold the same reverence in India. His answer continues to keep my mind processing. He replied, “In India, we are expected to be good people. It’s not necessary for us to say, ‘thank you,’ for something a person is expected to do.” And as I began to think about it, I had to intentionally put aside everything I’ve ever been taught about manners and proper etiquette; those things that for the entirety of my existence, have been ingrained in my mind as the correct way to interact. Only when I allowed myself to consider something through a different lens than my own, did I start to understand something truly beautiful about Indian culture… being “good people” holds the same level of societal expectation as does doing something as simple as hanging up your coat when you take it off. The Indian student was right, there’s no need to express gratitude every time we do something as natural as hanging up our coat. Doing so would be tedious, and it would quickly create a sense of entitlement that can’t possibly be good for this world.
In general, humans tend to believe that their way of seeing the world is the right way. In our defense, if we didn’t think we were right, we’d believe something different because why believe what isn’t right, right? The problem with this, however, is exactly what happened to our Indian exchange student as he lived his own worldview while living in the land of “Minnesota Nice.” Several people have told him that he is rude. Why? Because our society believes that someone is, in fact, rude if they don’t say “thank you” after a person does something good for you. If someone holds a door open for him and he walks through without expressing gratitude, many of us would interpret that as rudeness on his part. But he wasn’t rude at all, he was simply living within his own worldview, what he’s always known. There are two perspectives on the table; one expresses gratitude when someone holds a door for you, and the other negates the necessity for gratitude because that sense of goodness is expected of the door holder in the first place. At some point, we need to realize that other perspectives are just as important as our own. In fact, our faith is founded upon such a realization.
For Christians, great reverence is placed on the Bible; it’s where we find direction from God. However, the interpretation of that direction is direly important. Some might say, don’t interpret the scripture, take it as it is. But the Bible was written under an entirely different worldview than any of its readers. It’s nearly impossible to take it at face value because we don’t know what that value might be. To truly understand why an Indian student doesn’t say “thank you” when you offer him an apple, we have to look deeper than the surface of our own understanding. Likewise, to comprehend the Bible, to live its message and uphold its values, we need to know the context and meaning (or worldview) of its authors. To be good stewards of our faith, we must be able to think outside of the box—the world is much larger and much more complex than we can possibly comprehend. Will I continue to express my appreciation when I feel grateful for something someone has done? By all means, yes, that’s my worldview. But I’ll also be a little more diligent about not holding my worldview as more important or superior to another.