You arrive at church just as the service is beginning, or maybe you even arrive a bit late. There are no more seats. In America, that would mean you stand throughout the service. In Greece, nobody stands very long because everyone who has seats shares them.
You accompany your loved one from the ER to his newly-assigned hospital room. It’s a double room, and you subconsciously feel bad, because another family is in the room, and they want to talk with their loved one, while you want to talk with yours, and each group will be something of a nuisance to the other, intruding upon a private situation, and you have to remind yourself you have as much right to be here as they have, so if they don’t like it, too bad.
It isn’t that way in Greece. There, you arrive in the double hospital room and the other family is glad to see you, glad for the company. They introduce themselves and inquire about you and your circumstances, and instead of two separate conversations, it’s all one big one, everyone included.
You stand in line in a Greek shop but there is no jealous guarding of ones place. Instead, someone ahead of you suggests you go first, because you are carrying packages and she isn’t.
It has made me realize something of the extent to which I have been victimized by the rampant individualism so characteristic of my culture. Somehow it ends up putting us into competition with one another instead of cooperation. Somehow it trains us to approach others as rivals, whether for the same seats or the same hospital space or an advantageous place in the line or on the bus. It renders our stance toward others as basically hostile. You are going to take what you want/need at my expense, unless I beat you to it, taking it for myself at your expense.
No wonder people in our culture don’t want to live near each other, as is natural for human beings. Instead, people dream of moving out onto 3 acres (minimum) where they can have “privacy” and not be “bothered” by any neighbors.
It reminds me of that old story about the people in hell, who were sitting at a sumptuous banquet but starving to death, because their forearms had grown so long the people couldn’t get their forks anywhere near their mouths. The people in heaven had similar forearms, but they were all sharing in the feast by feeding each other.
Sunday, December 16, 2007