Lessons and Learnings from Friends in Asia

When I published ‘What a Great Start to the Year, Not’ it opened up some really interesting discussions with friends in Asia, as well as one person I’ve never met who believed the victims of Charlie Hebdo deserved to die. While horrifying to me that anyone could think this, in our online discussion, I came to appreciate their perspective – even if it is a perspective I could never agree with. We all have a right to free speech yes? For me, no one deserves to die for cracking a joke. Others don’t agree.

But this is where I had an epiphany. I had the great privilege to grow up in Australia when the golden age of expressing one’s opinions became OK. So taking the piss out of god, religion, each other, etc… well it was completely acceptable. Sure we could offend each other – ask my Mum and the Nuns at school about that – but there was more humour and irreverence to it than anything else. It was part of life and being Aussie remains all about having opinions, with the green light to argue yours vociferously. It’s gotten me into trouble around the world sometimes….
Nothing is off limits in Australia (we do talk politics, sex and religion), and if you know an Aussie, you know this is true. But generally, people were not hateful in expressing their views, that wasn’t part of the culture I grew up in. You do hear more hatred today, but overall, Aussies still remain opinionated, but generally most are kind. However not every country is like this, not even fellow Caucasian nations – especially the US. My American friends found me a bit weird on this front. Well probably on quite a few fronts.
However, after publishing my blog, when I spoke to my Asian friends - some Muslim, some Hindu, some Buddhist, some Christian, and some agnostic o aetheist - they said to me that Charlie Hebdo publishing the cartoons was not OK, not OK at all. They also completely disagreed with my take on it – even though we came to appreciate where each other was coming from. But they couldn’t ever agree with my perspective even if they could see why I thought the way I did.
While none of my friends would ever go into a magazine HQ and murder people, they were all consistent on one thing – respecting another’s faith is something that cannot be played with. Never. In their view, the cartoonists went too far, and with a very large percentage of the world’s population living in Asia (62% last time I checked, and the Muslim population is around 32% of the world’s Muslim population) it appears that many fundamentally disagree with Charlie Hebdo. Obviously I am not declaring that I speak for everyone in Asia, however my decade of great discussions about all sorts of stuff – but especially religion – leads me to believe this view is probably fairly consistent. Do tell me if I’m wrong please?
If I was telling someone my impression of Asia, I’d say the people have a quiet dignity here. A fundamental respect embedded in cultures. Of course, many outside believe the region is not vocal due to totalitarian regimes or communist governments, but it’s actually not that at all. People here just don’t think they’ve got the same God-given right to say whatever the hell they want like we do and they keep those sorts of conversations closer to home - if they have them at all. Hey elders are still respected around here. Not bad that.
This fundamental respect can be misplaced (i.e. respecting a dickhead boss because they’re your boss because hierarchy still matters), and it is annoying to be around this sometimes, but let me be clear - it certainly doesn’t mean people won’t fight for their rights. They do. However it’s this other hard-to-define-thing I’m talking about, something I’ve come to admire and be conscious of living and working in this region. With my colleagues, I want them to speak up, disagree, and argue with me, but it takes effort gaining the trust to get them there. It’s been a valuable learning ground for me.
Don’t get me wrong, we see horrific violence between faiths and races in Asia, as well as racism that is mind-bogglingly appalling and entrenched, however it is the other side I’ve come to love living in the region, the qualities that come forth during peace time. I appreciate it’s hard to get your head around this if you’ve only ever visited or never been here, but it’s a very different place in our world, a place I adore.

So what do we do about this constant problem we’re facing? Do we silence ourselves? No I’ll never do that, but then I work hard not to say anything that crosses lines, or at least, I never intend to. On this blog I’m always trying to discuss ideas with kindness at the core. I might not always get it right, but I try hard, because I believe humour, kindness and love must be at the core of all I do.
Do we silence our media? Of course not. But then, do you trust the media anyway? I’m pretty ambivalent about the majority of the world’s media that’s for sure. Thank god for social media I say – we all have access to so many more viewpoints. That’s the game changer.
Or can the world’s governments’ solve it? I’m definitely not confident that’s ever going to happen. Too much vested interest and all I see is a lot of dick wagging and chest pumping.
No we, the common people, have to solve this one.
So what is it we can do? Well….
  1. We’ve got to acknowledge that we live in a truly global world and anything created digitally reaches any corner of the globe instantly. Those distributing viewpoints therefore, have a responsibility to all of mankind for what they share. Perhaps the censorship we place on ourselves as good humans is a place to start? Most of us have the ability to self-censor, even when we think the other’s ways/ideas are crazy. But I really hate the idea of censorship in any form – it kills me to even write the words – however we’ve got to make a change. Buying a magazine in your country 20 years ago was different. Now it’s global, and while the extremists put Charlie Hebdo on the map (I’d never heard of it before the attacks a few years back) I think the time has come where someone needs to take responsibility for the real sensitivities beyond geographical boundaries. We’re just not all the same my friends. Although please understand I’m not saying this for the extremists. Screw them. They’ll find any excuse to kill people. I’m saying it for the great people I know who are really offended by what is being said. They’re just asking for a little respect
  2. I also think that both ‘sides’ of this argument need to acknowledge we just don’t make sense to each other. One side is saying: ‘what, can’t you guys take a joke? We don’t care when they take the piss out of our faith.’ And the other side is saying: ‘no we can’t take a fucking joke about this your morons. Do not offend my faith. Do not offend my prophet.’ We need to acknowledge fundamental differences that are splitting our world apart, and work out how we live together, while respecting different view points
  3. Religion – ahhhh that’s the core. I walked away from my Catholic upbringing many years ago. It wasn’t easy to walk away – it had a tight grip of my fear/guilt centre - but I did it. Having taken that journey, I often look at religious people and think, can’t you see what I saw? Can’t you see how much bollocks this is? Especially the women, oh yes, the women. All of us, celebrating a god/religion that tells us we’re inferior – and yes, all monotheistic faiths are counted here. Why the fuck would I be part of a religion that deals in sexism? But not all people think the way I think, and while I did walk away, I have to be respectful to people who do hold their faith dear. There are many in my circle and that is their choice and their right. However, another challenge, especially for the West, is we have new generations coming though who’ve never had any religion in their lives at all, so the head scratching they do when the extremists go off in the name of god makes things even more bloody confusing. What the hell?? We are all in a very different place when it comes to our faith, or lack of faith, and that is an enormous challenge to overcome, because we all confuse the fuck out of each other. BUT we have to find a way
  4. Finally, let’s face it, Europeans are unique, but more importantly, the French are completely unique. They don’t give a crap, they are who they are, and they just don’t play by the same rules the rest of the world follows. I love them for that, many people don’t – remember the ‘Freedom Fries’ debacle? They push boundaries, always have and they’re not going to change. But I don’t want them to, so how do cultures like this contribute to a peaceful and unified world, while retaining their magnificent qualities? How do we all keep our uniqueness and all be working together side-by-side for a peaceful world?

To me, this stuff isn’t easy and solving it isn’t easy, but I will never accept that we cannot solve it. Please don’t tell me it’s impossible, because I don’t accept that in any situation, and if I do, we’re all doomed. Equally, I acknowledge that this is just my simplistic perspective on a very complicated challenge, but we’ve got to sort it out. We MUST. Good people, normal people, average people are getting caught up in this stuff and all that’s happening is we are becoming more divided and hateful.
I see fear becoming the central driving force of our world and that fear is a fear of each other – our human brothers and sisters. I can’t stand this. I often despair that we continue to head down this path to self-destruction, because I know we’re better than that. I know we’re capable of lifting humanity to a whole new level of specialness, but we can’t do this travelling the same road.
I also think we’ve got to stop thinking we’re right and they’re wrong. I don’t believe in wrong or right, good or bad. Life just is, and we’re all experiencing our individual journeys within the whole, and right now, we need to focus on the only thing that matters – making sure this beautiful world is cherished and loved, before Mother Earth wakes up and says “fuck the lot of you, I’ve had enough”. That’s where we’re going and it’s the only thing we should be thinking about – honouring the great mother that nourishes all of us.
Can we do this do you think? Do you still have hope? I suppose, by writing this, I’m saying I do. Anyone with me? Any ideas? This is serious shit we’re facing. We’ve got to solve it. No one will do it for us.
I would love to hear your views.
Yours, without the bollocks

Andrea
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