Our society sometimes dictates who we are as an individual and often manipulates the way we act – things that are considered acceptable and morally upright. I knew from the very beginning that differences exist between people, however, there are issues that keep us trapped in our boxes especially if it’s about religion, culture and identity.
I remember a conversation with friends from Afghanistan and Egypt. That night, I was so keen to ask questions about Islam that were totally sensitive but I insisted because I wanted to hear the answers. I asked, “Why do you marry your relatives without assurance of love?”. He answered, “When my mother asked me what I want in a girl, I said it’s up to you mama. I felt that it’s the best way to give back to my parents as a sign of courtesy. I remember one day, I went out for a haircut and when I got back, everyone was partying at home because I was already engaged with my cousin. Later on, I learned that love can start after marriage and I don’t consider it a surrender.”
Another statement that really caught my attention was the late night conversation with my roommate from Bangladesh. We were so passionate discussing about culture and social norms that sometimes keep us away from “freedom”. He was conservative and committed to Hinduism but I totally disregarded that idea for the sake of honest conversation. I asked him, “Do you think you can leave your family if the person you are to marry isn’t the person you love.?” He replied, “As a human, I have thought of doing that but I always go back to my commitment to Hinduism – the respect that I am ought to deliver to my family and religion. Sometimes, social norms keep you away from being hurt.”
I know that in these conversations, the things they said were totally opposite with the world I used to know. I had the chance to argue but I did not grab that opportunity, I learned to listen. I realized that their realities weren’t the same as mine. I was not in the position to dictate how their realities should be like. If there are times I didn’t understand, I ask questions and if the answers I hear are not enough or the sense of dissatisfaction becomes my agrument, I always remember to hold back. It’s not that I wasn’t capable of challenging their thoughts and ideas but the silence I gave to them in every words they said served as my appreciation and respect.