I understand that in many parts of Africa, men and women don't see women's breasts as sexually attractive. They are seen as glands for feeding babies. I listened to a radio piece not long ago which described an African woman's reaction on being told that western men found breasts exciting. "You mean that western men are like babies!!??" She could just manage to say this amid fits of laughter.
I heard an interview with an author (whose name escapes me) from one of the southern USA states. This black lady grew up in an environment where toilets were always outside the house. She described how she still finds it hard to get used to the idea that modern society can accept the stink of fecal waste from bathrooms inside houses - and in particular from an ensuite right beside where you sleep!
I'm merely making the point that it is not always as obvious as we think to see other people's ingrained traditions. But with a little patient listening, dialogue and thought one can easily enough begin to understand.
I watched a Questions and Answers program a few months ago on RTE which got me thinking on similar lines to the above examples. One question asked reaction from the panel to Enda Kenny's initiative for making immigrants to the country feel more welcome and integrate better. A simple and jokey opening contribution from the DUP's Jeffery Donaldson passed without any comment from others in the panel, but it stopped me in my tracks. This is a paraphrase but it went like....
"Well, I speak for my own people in the North who were also immigrants to this island and we have felt the need for an initiative like this for the last 400 years!"
Wow! All many of us southerners can think about the families from the plantation of Ulster is that they were invaders. Did we ever consider that maybe they saw themselves in the 17th century as immigrants who were unwelcome? Yes, before I hear howls of protest from nationalists - there are two sides to this story, I'm well aware of the history of it all (and indeed my mother was a nationalist growing up in NI who could tell many a sorry tale). But I'm just making a general point that ordinary families only integrate and fuse into a society when they feel they are welcome and both sides respect each other's viewpoint. Hostility breeds more hostility and you often end up with ghettos and polarisation.
We need to forget about a united Ireland until we unite in welcome and fellowship and seeing the other viewpoint. The unionists and nationalists in NI have more to share and enjoy than they perhaps realise. It's the small things - as always - which offer clues that it is slowly happening. A great example was Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams jointly signing a request to have the UK Government's Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain and his staff vacate their Stormont offices. This was wonderful in itself, but equally good was the little human story behind closed doors afterwards which as far as I can detect was only barely reported....
Gerry Adams it seems quipped to Ian Paisley that he never thought he would see the big man so eager to get the Brits out! In reaction we are told that Ian howled with laughter in his well known and unique way. Laughter together, what a wonderful start.
Different outlooks, but in truth - not so different really.