Groups create individuals. It is not until you realize that you are a product of your society that you see how normal you are, and it is only until then that you can start to become a truly unique individual. Just two years ago, I went on a trip to a place I’ll never forget: Japan. I experienced a different world, where everything seemed different—the ancient shrines and temples, the contemporary structures and towers, the lush yet manicured vegetation; in short, the overall distinctiveness of their culture. I had suspected Japanese culture to be static and uniform due to the typical American portrayal of Japanese people and culture. However, I found it to be quite unique in its integration of the western with the traditional, the new with the old. Further, I deduced the Japanese people’s calm, peaceful and polite behaviors as having come from their willingness to accept and incorporate aspects of other cultures.
“Nou aru taka wa tsume o kakusu,” or as the Japanese proverb would be translated, “A sagacious hawk hides its talons,” expresses the idea that talent is something that you should not brag about. This contradicts what I understand to be that of western values: that talent is something that you should take pride in and even be boastful of—as they say, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” Not to say that one or the other is wrong, but in embracing this different concept, I’ve come to understand the virtue of humility.
In the past, even in the face of diverse opinions that said otherwise, I intentionally sought to adhere to my principles. But, ever since my trip to Japan, I have come to question my own principles and open up to others’ so that I can better make assessments of morality in general. This was all because of the Japanese people’s mores of respect, which is expressed through even their simplest gestures of hospitality.
This respect has brought about unity, as it is shown in the collectivism that characterizes Japanese culture as opposed to America and its individualism. Appreciating others’ unique qualities often serves as a medium for our own personal growth. It is through my exposure to human interdependence that I have become, ironically, the unique individual that I am today.
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