This post can be a little controversial. Many of my readers are Indians. 🙂 But the purpose of this post is not to be judgmental of a culture, neither it is to over-generalize human behavior. I want to help others in understanding some valuable aspects of American culture in which I have have been immersed for the last 10 years. These have brought out the best in me and have proven to be beneficial for my personal well-being.
I completely understand that each culture has its positives and negatives. Hence just to balance the scale, my next post will be about what Americans can learn from Indians. 🙂
But before I start with my list, here is the story of what inspired me to write this blog post.
I first met her in the first year of my engineering college. During those 4 years, we got to know each other better through our common classes, and the time we would spend together in our on-campus housing and cafeteria. We now stay in touch via online tools. Needless to say we have known each other for quite a long time.
While I feel I have always had the same personality, I also agree with my friend that I might seem like a totally different person. Granted that she knew me in the same 4 years of my life which did not at all bring out the best in me. In contrast the comparison is probably the years that are bringing out the best in me.
As I started thinking what caused this transition, I realized that the influence of American culture has a lot to do with who I am today. Other than the expected development which many people receive through higher education, financial independence and age, being exposed to this culture has tremendously helped me in expressing my strengths and accepting my weaknesses.
Obviously, there are people who do not embody any of the aspects which I am going to list. But the characteristics I have included here are what I generally find among many Americans.
Here are the 4 aspects of American culture that I admire and value the most, and believe that every Indian should learn to bring these in their life as well.
1. Speak your mind.
I have always been the person who expressed what I felt without hesitation. Growing up in India, which is a group oriented culture, people tend not to express themselves frankly in the fear that they may hurt the other person. Naturally, my frankness was often interpreted as my arrogance. Most of my family members discouraged me to express my opinions in the fear that I will become too opinionated and boastful of my thoughts. Even my thoughtful analysis of a situation or a person was not always acknowledged.
When I came to the USA, it was exactly the opposite. Not expressing your opinion was considered a sign of weakness. It was hard for me to establish credibility without voicing what I believe in. It was new found freedom!
While I was and still am absolutely comfortable in accepting that I do not have an opinion on a every topic, I do speak my mind on the subjects which I care about. I learned how to express my opinions in the words that people understand and do not get hurt or offended. My speeches and writings are a great example of how this has benefited me.
And yes, there is absolutely no need to hurt anybody intentionally. But keeping what you really feel in your mind is not the best way of live – for yourself and those around you. The burden of maintaining a facade is much too big to carry around daily. By being honest about my emotions, I started attracting the company of those with whom I naturally get along. Those honest and deep friendships in turn helped me discover more about who I am, what I value, and what do I want from life. Being true to them meant being true to myself.
The only caveat that comes with this lesson is that you must strive to develop the best interpersonal skills. If you treat other human beings with respect and compassion, you will naturally find a way not to hurt them.
If you develop good communication skills, you can learn how to say something that the other person may not like hearing but will appreciate that you told it to them directly.
2. Share your blessings.
This is THE most important lesson I have learned in the USA. It has made such a profound impact on the way I live my life that I tear up every time I speak about it.
I have learned that you do not have to rich to be giving. No matter how little you have, you can still do what you can to spread the light in somebody else’s dark world.
I was a Master’s student in Dayton, Ohio. I was one of the many international students who did not have a car. Now that I know how little most Americans walk, not needing a car does sound strange. But at that time it was just normal. I lived less than a mile away from the college campus and all other basic places like grocery and a few restaurants were close by. My needs were small and I never felt paralyzed without a car.
Winters can get tough there but nothing that I or many others could not handle. Then one winter, a friend who was also a student at that time, called me.
“I am buying a used car, and I want to give you the one I currently own as a gift. All you have to do is to come with me to get the papers signed. I just cannot see you walking through that snow during winters.”
I could not believe my ears. She was also a full time student, working her way to pay for college, and taking care of her family. I thought of many, many ways she could have used some extra money if she sold the car. But despite my trying to convince her otherwise, she was determined to gift me that car.
This small act made such a big impact on my life. Ever since then I have vowed to share my blessings with others. I donate to the causes I care about, fund public TV and radio, volunteer my time and skills to non-profits, and volunteer my listening ear to a friend in need and advice to those who seek. The lasting sense of satisfaction, happiness, and peace of mind you receive from giving is an added advantage.
The generosity of one of my dearest, life-long friends is what I experienced firsthand. But this attitude of giving is not as rare as one would think. Many Americans make it a point to give during Christmas time. A friend recently celebrated her birthday by raising money for an organization which supplies clean, drinking water to those in need. Another friend runs marathons to raise money for his favorite charity. The fantastic concept of public TV and radio survives in the US only because of numerous donors. These are people just like you and me – not super rich but those who count their blessings and want to share with others.
India is a country of more than a billion people. If only every person will vow to help just one other person in their time of need, imagine how much difference it will make. Even our wealthy people do not donate as much as they can. Why don’t we have our Bill and Melinda Gates spending significant parts of their earnings on philanthropy?
I cannot change others but I can change myself. The goal of my life is to give to others more than I take from them. Giving can be of any form – money, time, inspiration or my skills. But I will give!
3. Don’t judge people from what they wear.
Ask yourself how many times you draw a conclusion about the person in front of you based on what they are wearing? I know people who instantly assume somebody’s social, economic, and intellectual status by looking at what outfit they have on. Well, many Americans do not do this.
This is not to say that Americans do not have a sense of style or do not care how they dress themselves. But they are definitely more lenient in cutting you a slack if you are not dressed appropriately. They may think you do not take care of yourself, but they will hardly ever assume your profession or financials based on your attire.
I have seen CEOs who do not stand out in a crowd, and impressive professors with tattoos. They could not care less about what others think of them because for the most part people who really matter, do not care.
Once you go beyond the persona, and start looking at people’s personality, you discover hidden gems. You meet so many wonderful people. You start making exciting friends and helpful colleagues. Not to mention the burden you remove from your own dressing up routine. It does not have to be perfect every single time.
“Simple living and high thinking” should not be just a phrase to learn in school. It should become one of our guiding principles. Dress up if you like to do so but do not judge others if they don’t.
I am impressed at how ethical American people inherently are! People work for 8 hours a day even when nobody is watching. They return extra change they may mistakenly receive from a cashier. They pick up a plastic bag floating around on a road and throw it in a trash can. Students do not cheat on their tests. Some farm stands work on honor system. You pick up the vegetables you want, prices are mentioned there, you put whatever you owe in a can kept at the stand. Nobody keeps a watch but most customers do not cheat.
I am sure there are some who are not as ethical, and there are criminals who are outliers. But for the most part, people are honest and care about being ethical.
This behavior saves so much headache for everybody. You do not constantly have to be vigilant of your belongings. It also indirectly saves money and time. Can you imagine how smoothly a nation would work if employees – for the most part – do the work they are supposed to do, if employers do not delay the salaries, if cashiers do not steal, and police are not corrupt?
Life becomes much more productive and stress-free.
These are the top 4 values I have learned from American culture. There are more. Maybe I will talk about those some other time. The strong influence of this culture has made me who I am today. I am the same old Manasi but America has brought out the best in me. This blog is one of the tangible outcomes. It is an effort to live by these values – to speak my mind, to give inspiration, to spread what I learn in the school of life.
I strongly believe that every Indian – heck, every person – should learn and embody these 4 values. World would be a much better place with more and more people following this path.
Which of these values have you seen in other cultures? My friends in India, do you agree with what I said or do you think I have made a mistake in understanding my own culture?
Let me know your thoughts in comments. I would love to hear your views. And make sure you read the other half of this intercultural exchange.
© 2016 Manasi Kakade. All Rights reserved
Thanks to bshafer for the featured image.