National character and temperament reflect much of how we feel about each other. Let's take a positive look at cultural differences and see how to respect them.
My WIFE and I along with our 10-year-old daughter were waiting for the number 4 bus on King David Street in Jerusalem. It was the first week of our stay, and we were still filled with the excitement of being in this historic city. The already full bus pulled up to our stop where nearly a score more shoved their way on to the bus. We were literally pushed aside. Our daughter began to cry, fearing she would be separated from us. It took a few days to get accustomed to boarding Jerusalem's buses. A few days later, I waited outside one of the ubiquitous banks that dot every section of Jerusalem. There were two people in front of me — about 20 or 25 behind me. When the manager opened the bank doors, the rush was on. To transact business one must take a number card and wait his or her turn. Remember, I was number three in line. By the time I recovered from the surprising onslaught, the number card I drew was 18. When I related these exasperating experiences to my friend Zvi Dagan who manages the International Cultural Center for Youth (ICCY) in Jerusalem, he smiled. He advised me: "When you come to Israel, you must learn to live as an Israeli. One thing you will soon get used to is standing in line and being shoved just a little." It wasn't long before we were standing firmly in the ever-present lines — and we might have even shoved back once in a while. We had to understand the people — how they lived and reacted. Once we did, we could share their culture, personality and national character. "What is there," we wondered, "about their character that made them this way?" Another friend answered the question: "It is a trait, which you may at first object to, that has given my people the ability to withstand more than 3,000 years of hardship, trial and persecution. Don't worry that we should shove a little."
I'll never forget the first time my wife and I traveled together to Europe. It was 1964. In Rome, we rented a car and proceeded to make our way around the city. There are few cities in the world where driving is more precarious than Rome. My wife has not forgotten to this day those harrowing hours in Italian traffic. But I wanted to experience Rome as the Romans. After a few apprehensive and tentative moments, I was responding to fellow drivers. I loved it. But my wife would much prefer a cab, bus, subway, walk — anything but face the oncoming traffic with me at the wheel in a strange land. For the past 20 years we have been fortunate to have international travel as a part of our job. When we have traveled we have had the unusual opportunity to become acquainted with the culture, personality and character of peoples from these many lands. I have talked with numerous business people and tourists — especially Americans — who have traveled abroad. They take their U.S. airline, stay in a luxury hotel and eat American food. They see the cities and countryside through the large plate glass windows of a 50-passenger tour bus. A hectic 14-day schedule takes them from city to city, nation to nation. Near the end of the tour, the places they see look almost exactly like the places they have been. Sadly only photographs and postcards serve to remind them of their trip. Too many people have not taken the time to know and understand the many and varied national person ali ties of the nations of the world.
Stereotypes — Real and Imagined
We all have our preconceived ideas about national character. The efficient German. The Frenchman and his wine. The Italian lover. The austere Russian. The meticulous Japanese. The relaxed Polynesian. The condescending American. The imperturbable Englishman. Perhaps some of our perceptions are true. But those qualities don't always have to be negative. For example, not all the British are overly formal. One of my close British friends is a member of the noted old Reform Club in London. If you saw the movie Around the World in Eighty Days, you may remember the opening scene in which several stereotyped, stately English gentlemen planned the 80-day venture. It is true these English clubs are quite formal — but there is a time and place for quiet formality and elegance. My British friend recently took my wife and me to the Reform Club (it has only permitted women the past few years). It was a perfectly delightful evening — filled with laughter, wonderful food and tremendous British hospitality. And I assure you my friend is quite proper and cultured. Once you view the people in England against their historical and even geographical background, then one can begin to understand the character of people who must be admired for their perseverance and droll sense of humor. Americans can even have fun appreciating the difference of driving on the "wrong" side of the road. I have had the privilege of spending two summers in Germany working with our Bonn office manager, Frank Schnee. We have conducted two nationwide lecture and counseling tours, and he has shown me a Germany that most American tourists do not see. With opportunities to stay in private German homes, to eat and talk with scores of families, I have developed a great love and respect for Germany and the character of its peoples. Most of the rest of the world characterizes the Germans as organized, obedient and, in certain generations, militaristic. And with some justification. Perhaps that does reflect the traditional character of some of the people some of the time. But the polka dancing, yodeling Bavarian, the hard-working steel worker from the Ruhr, the jovial Hausfrau and the wonderful children that really make up Germany are the ones I have come to love and respect. One of the more memorable families I visited a few years ago gave me a glimpse into the more traditional military character of some Germans. We were guests in the home of a family who lived not far from Frankfurt. I noticed a number of military memorabilia in the home. In the course of time the conversation turned to that subject. In World War II, the head of the home had served in the elite German Sturmabteilung — the Brownshirts. I was shocked. How could this man have been part of that war machine? But it is part of his past and he has had to face it and deal with it. He told me how it happened. He was 17 at the time. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, his minister of Propaganda and Enlightenment, had inspired thousands to don uniform. Stirring speeches and music filled the air. "You do have to remember," he recounted, "that Hitler had brought Germany out of depression. He promised so much.. One day the Brownshirts marched into our little village. A band played the stirring 'Horst Wessel Lied' and the first thing you know most of us young fellows had joined." Of course that in no way justifies anything that happened. But I think I understood for the first time how a young man could get involved.
Opinions Real and Distorted
It's strange how war can distort our perceptions about the character of a people. Many Americans were led to believe, after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, that the Japanese language had no word for love. But it's not true. There are several different words to convey the feeling and emotion of love in the Japanese language. The Japanese are a polite, kind and loving people when their efforts are channeled in the right direction. Plain Truth editor in chief Herbert W. Armstrong has enjoyed a long and warm relationship with the Japanese people. Every summer a group of Japanese exchange students studies at Ambassador College in Pasadena, California. Mr. Armstrong has met with every Prime Minister of Japan for the past 13 years, not to mention Emperor Hirohito and Prince Mikasa. Mr. Armstrong has a special friendship with several members of the Japanese Diet — they affectionately call themselves his Japanese sons. Another often — distorted character image is the historic image of the Arab world — one that has come to us all the way from Crusader days a thousand years ago. For the past few centuries Arabs seemed tucked away in the desert regions of the Middle East. Only in recent decades has the world become fully aware of the power, culture and influence of the Arab nations. A Middle Eastern friend of mine is a Palestinian Arab who left Jerusalem after the Six Day War in 1967. Having both Arab and Jewish acquaintances and friends has given me perspective on the problems both peoples have faced in centuries of turmoil. I deeply understand the joy of Israelis who could once again worship at the Western Wall of the ancient Temple Mount. My Arab friend has helped me see the sorrow of his family and people as well. His ancestors had lived in that land for centuries. After 1967 he found himself a refugee. Once reasonably well-to-do and a landowner, he now lives in another country. How wonderful the day will be when Arabs and Jews — and all peoples — can dwell in their own lands at peace and harmony. For nearly 6,000 years the preconceived and stereotyped ideas we have of each other, the cultures, the temperaments and character differences of peoples, have resulted in jealousy, hostility, aggression and war.
But What Is the Answer?
When the apostle Paul first announced God's truth in Athens, he was a Jew traveling to the educational and cultural center of the Greek world. There was a great gulf between Jew and gentile — to some degree it still exists today. Jesus had already revealed to Peter that God had placed no spiritual distinction between Jew and gentile (Acts 10). God would choose to call individuals out of all nations and tongues. In Athens Paul announced: "And [God] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation" (Acts 17:26, Authorized Version). God did not make all peoples of one color. Nor of one culture. Nor all with the same interests and abilities. Nor all to express the same music and art. Nor all to speak the same language. God's boundless universe and the infinite varieties of created life forms on the earth are further reflected in the manner in which the nations express their abilities and character. Mankind was created in the image of the great Creator God. In Genesis 3 we also see a powerful spirit being on the scene — one who had rebelled against God earlier. He was there in the beginning to pervert the human potential for culture and to lure human minds into error. The apostle John more than 4,000 years after was to say of this being — Satan: "The great dragon was hurled down — that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray" (Rev. 12:9, New International Version throughout unless otherwise noted). Satan had so perverted society that within 1,500 years of the creation of the first human pair, "the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence" (Gen. 6:11). Careful reading of Genesis 6, accompanied by discoveries of archaeologists, shows that the ancient world had so degenerated that God decided to start the human family all over again. The ancient world, says the biblical record, was destroyed by a flood. But God carefully preserved animal and human life by instructing Noah to build an ark. Through the three sons of Noah and their wives, God preserved the three major racial groups he had designed at creation. Not long after the Flood, societies once again, under the influence of Satan, began to return to the degenerate customs of the pre-Flood world. A despot named Nimrod gathered into cities people under his leadership and soon set himself up as a god. God then divided the world into different languages and directed migrations of peoples to populate this vast earth (Gen. 11:7-8). The process would take many centuries. In the course of time, the world has become what we know it today, with many nations and cultures. Each nation with its own distinct personality and character. Unhappily, not every facet of national character is good. Nearly 6,000 years of satanic deception have taken their toll. But as already stated, not everything in cultural diversity is evil either. Character and cultural differences are what make our world so interesting. In spite of many differences there is a common respect and appreciation we should all have for each other. That is how it is going to be in the world tomorrow. Historically, national differences have filled the world with bloodshed and violence. Mankind has gone to war over color differences, character differences, natural resources, territorial possession, religious schisms and many another reason. What a shame we have not learned to live together in peace and harmony. But as one of God's prophets said: "The way of peace they do not know" (Isa. 59:8). However, there is a wonderful world of peace coming. Jesus Christ is going to return to earth as King. of kings and Lord of lords, and as Prince of Peace (Rev. 19:16; Isa. 9:6). It is not yet the world tomorrow. It is still the world today. It is a world of national pride and jealousy. It is a world of differences and hostility. It is a world on the brink of human destruction. The editor in chief of The Plain Truth, Herbert W. Armstrong, has been called an "ambassador without portfolio for world peace." It has been his desire, and it is the desire of this magazine, to make a clear contribution to human understanding. We know no mortal can bring world peace. God will do that. But we can and should appreciate fellow human beings. And whatever limited good human beings accomplish should be respected. Through the Ambassador Foundation, peoples from all over the world have been brought into contact with each other and have grown to respect the truly admirable abilities each possesses. Not long ago Chinese acrobats from Beijing (Peking) performed at the Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena. The audiences were thrilled by the intricate moves that seemed to defy gravity. Somehow no one seemed to worry that night that cultural and ideological differences have separated American and Chinese peoples for more than 35 years. On that same stage at other occasions Irish folk dancers, Scottish pipers, a Jewish violinist, a Korean cellist, Spanish and Italian opera singers, Russian ballet stars, Mexican dancers and guitarists, African tribal dancers — performers from all over the world have shared their abilities and their cultural diversity, their personalities and character. Perhaps in these areas of life our common ancestry comes to light.
Looking to the Future
One thing we humans seem to be experts on is the ability to see another person's or another nation's flaws. Those qualities that irritate are magnified. Many chafe under the strain of Rome traffic, complain about the shoving in Israeli lines, ridicule dietary differences and make funny remarks about German efficiency. These same humans may, in turn, love and respect the cleanliness of Switzerland, the cuisine of France and recognize the German — made Mercedes Benz and BMW as among the finest quality automobiles in the world. We applaud the music, admire the art and love the scenery of almost every nation. The conclusion we should draw from of all these differences is to admire the good qualities, overlook the not-so-good and look to the future when a time of world peace will once and for all remove the bad qualities and bring the people of the world into harmony with each other. A beautiful passage of Scripture was written on this subject more than 2,700 years ago. Micah prophesied: "In the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.'... He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Mic. 4:1-3). The good news is that in the not-too-distant future, God is going to send Jesus Christ to the earth to establish his kingdom. And there will be a change in the whole of nature. Isaiah shows "the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them" (Isa. 11:6). If God will change the nature of wild beasts, it should be equally evident he will also transform, by the addition of his divine nature to humans, the present divisive national flaws of peoples. A millennium of peace, prosperity, yes, and of admiration and respect for individual national character, is foretold. Meanwhile in the world today, we would all be a lot better off if we concentrated on learning as much as we can about the admirable qualities of so many different peoples In so many different nations.