|Somewhere between Stockholm and Paris, November 2011.|
One of the most fascinating things I've experienced while living in Japan is how I came to discover ethics and values stunningly different than my own.
When one grows up in a country, a region, a family, a whole value system is built over time around beliefs, ethics, morals. And we all believe our own value system to be universal since it's the only one we know. For example what is right or wrong, what is love, what is being polite...
Of course, when you move to a new city or meet your partner's family, you might encounter some differences in the value system. To me, nothing compares taking a flight and land across the globe, where I found out that my values were all but universal.
One concrete example of these difference in the very definition of fundamental notions between cultures is, as I experienced, what we call "being an adult", in other terms being mature. At first glance, it doesn't seem to be that big a deal, but I think this is at the core of our childhood and education. Children learn to become adults, through politeness, social conventions, making the difference between right and wrong...
"Being an adult" according to my French education
Being an adult is being capable to handle onself without external help. Adults are able to live, fulfuill their own needs and their family's, insert themselves in society and are capable to make their own decisions.
In other words, being adult means being independant and self sufficient, as opposed to a child who needs emotional and financial support from his/her family.
"Being an adult" accoring to the Japanese people I met
The next day, a Japanese friend of mine who knew her told me that we, this group of French people, were childish because we weren't able to understand her shyness and make her feel comfortable at the party. He told us were have been selfish and didn't take her emotions into account. Whereas for us, if she wasn't self sufficient enough to make the effort to integrate herself to the conversation, it was her problem, not ours.
This is where I understood the fundamental difference between my definition of "being an adult" and his. To him, being a adult means keeping your emotions inside and try to understand other peoples' emotions, in order not to make them feel uncomfortable.
In other words, being an adult means being capable of empathy, to put other people's need ahead of our own, as opposed to children who are selfish because they are only capable to handle their own needs and emotions.
In the end, what does "being an adult" mean?
It's just that my education and this Japanese guy's education didn't stress the same parts of what "being an adult" means. Now I wonder, why is that? Is this the reflection of what society is waiting from us as adults? What is the origin of these cultural differences?
What do you think about this? What does "being an adult" mean to you?