“Seeing heaven in a grain of sand is not a trick only poets can accomplish.” – Clifford Geertz
Ironically though, it did. One of my main takeaways from traveling to places that were immensely different from my own microcosm of the world, was actually coming away with an understanding of how similar we all are. As cliche as it may sound, it is something I think we tend to not realize or something we often forget. When you look at a culture from that very human level, you start to discern the similarities of our shared human qualities and emotions, even when you don’t know exactly what words are being exchanged or fully understand the ritual being performed.
As the anthropologist Clifford Geertz said in his book The Interpretation of Cultures, “man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, [taking] culture to be those webs and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.”
Although Geertz argued against the idea that one could define the essence of humanity by looking at the universal features of cultures, he said rather that “it may be in the cultural particularities of people — in their oddities — that some of the most instructive revelations of what it is to be generically human are to be found.” In this way, stepping into these vastly different cultures really helped me make sense of my own.
Like the phrase I often heard in SE Asia, we’re all “same same, but different.”