My Message of Cross-Cultural Understanding

Discussion in 'Et Cetera, Et Cetera' started by Principessa, Oct 28, 2007.

  1. Principessa

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    Queen Rania of Jordan

    From the speech to be delivered tomorrow at The Women's Conference 2007, hosted by California First Lady Maria Shriver and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    Thank you all for making me feel so at home. As someone who comes from half a world away, I appreciate the warmth of your welcome. But I am not surprised, because yours is a state that has the entire world within its borders -- a state that treasures diversity because you live it every day.

    As an Arab and a Muslim, I am here today to share a message of cross-cultural understanding. And I am confident I have much to learn from you as well. Californians are proven champions of bridging cross-cultural divides. With no ethnic majority... more than 200 languages... and the daughter of such an iconic Democratic family married to a superstar Republican Governor... this state is clearly a fertile environment for cultivating common ground. In our time together, I would like to share a few stories from my life so far.
    And I hope that somewhere within my stories, you will hear something that sounds familiar.

    Because I am convinced that we are all much more alike than we are different... that the experiences that shape us, no matter where we grow up, bring out the same very human responses -- of tears and laughter, fear and courage, uncertainty and enlightenment. My hope is that you will see part of yourself in me, just as I have seen myself reflected in other women's lives around the world.

    My first story takes place when I was five, in nursery school in Kuwait. It involves a quintessential product of American popular culture. And while I cannot say I learned everything that I really need to know in kindergarten, I did -- thanks to this cross-cultural exposure -- have what Oprah would have called an "Aha" moment.

    My mother used to send me to school every day with my lunch in a lunchbox. Maybe your mother did that too -- or maybe you are the mom getting up a little earlier than everyone else to pack up the fruit, cut off the crusts, and draw a smiley face on a note. I still remember how good it felt to open up my lunchbox each day. I always knew I would find a hummus sandwich inside... and the familiar, dependable texture and taste that made me feel secure and loved.

    One day, I sat next to one of my friends and watched her open her lunchbox. But what was inside? Not a hummus sandwich, but... peanut butter and jelly. And I thought -- how revolting! Or, in my five-year old lingo, "Ewww gross!" I had never seen food so strange. In fact, I felt a real sense of pity for my friend, that she was stuck with some weird peanut paste, instead of my mom's hummus.

    And then one day, my friend suggested I might like to try her sandwich. I didn't want to hurt her feelings, so I braced myself and took a small bite. Do you remember Scooby-Doo, how Scooby would literally float off the ground at the thought of a Scooby-snack? Well that was my reaction to peanut butter and jelly. I thought it was heavenly.

    And maybe you have had an experience like that too, where something you thought was foreign and strange revealed itself to be wonderful. Or when a judgment you had made on the basis of looks turned out to be totally wrong.

    Even a five-year old can start to grasp the importance of an open mind.

    Now, I do not want to over-dramatize the impact of peanut butter on my life. But so often today, in a world grown smaller, we are forced to confront new things - new people, new cultures, new ways of behavior -- that are different from what we are used to. And change can be scary. People often seek refuge by circling the wagons -- clinging tightly to what they know and trying to wall out what they do not.

    Yet, when we do that, we diminish ourselves. We deprive ourselves of life's richness. And at worst, we perpetuate ignorance that breeds prejudice and fear.

    I am afraid we are seeing that trend today in the tensions between East and West, with each side encumbered by stereotypes of what the other must be like. To hear some in the West, all Arab women are backward and oppressed... while some Arabs assume all American women are desperate housewives seeking sex in the city.

    And some caricatures are not nearly as easy to laugh off... Arabs and Muslims as terrorists, for example, ... and Americans as people whose ultimate aim is to suppress Islam. If we are to get beyond stereotypes like these, we will have to really get to know one another. To taste the proverbial peanut butter -- and hummus -- instead of limiting ourselves to preconceptions.

    And we should view this as a wonderful opportunity, not as a terrible burden. Because the more we try to stand in one another's shoes and appreciate one another's perspective, the more dimension, depth, and texture we'll ultimately add to our own.

    Now, let's fast forward about 17 years. It's 1993 in Amman.
    Picture yourself as a fresh college graduate, embarking on your career.

    You have got your bachelor's degree in business ... and a great job with Citibank. You're looking forward to building on your education and experience.

    Then, imagine you go to a party one night and you meet an incredible man. He's dashing and kind... sophisticated and brave... handsome and humble. A real prince.

    Well, in my case he was!

    And all of a sudden, I found myself facing a future I had never prepared for. We all know the story of Cinderella. But real life is not a fairy tale.

    It seemed overwhelming. I was just 22. I had had a normal childhood. My closest encounters with royalty had been in the pages of People magazine. So you can imagine how anxious I felt when, shortly after I met my husband, my soon-to-be father-in-law King Hussein invited us over for lunch.

    I have to confess, I envisioned a five-course banquet at a twenty-foot table. I was almost as nervous about using the right fork as I was about what I would say.

    But I need not have worried. The King's favorite food was take-out falafel and pita bread from one of those amazing little hole-in-the wall restaurants that only a local would know.
    Now you may be thinking - this Rania has sure learned a lot of life lessons from sandwiches!

    But it was quite an experience to be meeting the king over a casual meal of falafel, just like any other Jordanian family might serve, with no protocol or pretense.

    And when I think back on that moment now, it underscores for me the importance of the first pledge we have taken today - of showing up in our lives as ourselves.

    Because whatever title or office we may be privileged to hold, it is what we do that defines who we are. It is how we treat others. What values we embrace. What example we set for our children. Each of us must decide what kind of person we want to be, what kind of legacy we want to pass on. It is not the rank or the role that matters. And it is not what we have. It is what we give.
     
  2. Osiris

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    Excellent timing. I think we all can learn from her words.
     
  3. Principessa

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    I kind of wish I had read this earlier in the day. :redface::wink:
     
  4. Osiris

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    I wish you had too. I'm sure Rob_E does as well. Do you know how much server space you could have saved him? :biggrin1:
     
  5. Principessa

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    All things considered I think I did rather well at retaining my composure. I didn't once tell him to STFU. :tongue::biggrin1:
     
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