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“Every day we’re told that we live in the greatest country on earth. And it’s always stated as an undeniable fact. Having grown up with this in our ears, it’s startling to realize that other countries have nationalistic slogans of their own, none of which are ‘We’re number two!” (David Sedaris) With Americans suffering from nationalism, they cannot achieve their full potential to make the world a better place. The idea that America is “the best country” is reinforced with the recent election of our President.
To build cultural empathy for others, Americans need to read the Ramayana to learn further about Hinduism and Its ideals through the lenses of responsibilities, loyalty, and honor.
Americans need to manage their own responsibilities in order to sustain a high functioning society. In the Hindu religion, to achieve dharma (full enlightenment) you have to fulfil your set duties and responsibilities. Through the different beliefs of Hinduism, Rama is ideal, and he takes care of all of his responsibilities.
Rama’s dharma is to protect and take care of his wife, Sita. When Ravana captures Sita, Rama begins to feel like he has not only let Sita down, but himself as well. He feels selfless, “It created a hopeless ache in his heart and he said to himself, “There is no meaning in my continuing to live.’” (Ramayana 108). Near the end of the book, Rama saves Sita completing his set duties showing that he is an ideal person. This shows that if Americans were able to apply this same concept to their lives, they would better themselves.
Americans could focus on either smaller tasks or larger tasks. As long as you are completing what you are set to accomplish, you are fulfilling your duty. When one completes their own responsibilities, one begins to open their eyes into helping others. The whole Ramayana has this concept of good vs evil. Rama conquers his second feat by taking down Ravana the evil ruler. Rama learns and thinks of a way to defeat Ravana. Rama recalling Ravana’s weakness, “While he had prayed for indestructibility of his several heads and arms, he had forgotten to strengthen his heart, where the Brahmasthra entered and ended his career.” (Ramayana 146). Rama clearly uses his knowledge to fulfill his Dharma. This shows that the end goal can be reached through completing responsibilities. However, with known responsibilities comes dignity and honor.
In America especially, there is a lack of honor causing a lack of dignity. While Rama is fighting Ravana, he gets Ravana very weak. Ravana is clearly defeated, “His crown was shattered, he stood before Rama, and Rama said, ‘You may go now and come back tomorrow with fresh weapons.” (Ramayana 136). Rama is putting honor over his obligation to kill evil. He has to kill evil, but will do it honorably. Putting honor over ones, biggest desires will gain them respect and help build cultural empathy. Americans specifically lack dignity. Andrew Fiala writes about this best in an article for The Fresno Bee, “We are informal and easygoing. We care more about cheap laughs than deferential esteem. Social media encourages thoughtless, reactive crudeness. And it degrades traditional notions of privacy. Dignity is destroyed by speed, stupidity and familiarity.” (Andrew Fiala). With a lack of dignity, we distance ourselves creating lack of understanding. Americans will then dismiss others problems because of this lack of understanding. Lack of dignity in American society, “is a serious problem for our democracy. Many Americans no longer trust our institutions, including government, business and the press. We have come to believe that no one is objective or professional – that everyone is in it for themselves.” (Andrew Fiala). If no one takes anyone serious and everyone is self-driven, there will not be any sort of nation together. Having dignity and honor also means having a sense of loyalty.
Staying true and loyal through life will help with building trustful relationships to support each other. Loyalty is the staple to every single relationship. Building relationships is how you build cultural empathy. In The Ramayana, Vibishana, Ravana’s brother, firmly believes that Ravana is crazy, and that he is abusing his powers. Vibishana continually tries to convince Ravana that he is not making any sense, “Still, next day Vibishana visited him privately and tried to hold him back with further arguments. This infuriated Ravana.” “I will now go away as you order. I tried to tell you what seems befitting. You are still my leader and chief but I leave you. Vibishana crossed the seas and reached Rama’s camp on the other shore.” (Ramayana 128-129). Vibishana joins Rama’s army and after fighting Ravana’s army, Rama and Vibishana end up victorious. If what you stay loyal to is justified, you will end up successful. Rama stays loyal to his brother Lakshmana and likewise. Lakshmana finds out that Rama might not be king and is furious. Rama means everything to Lakshmana, “And there is no meaning in my existence, and in the possession of my limbs and sense intact, unless I establish you on the throne as your right, irrespective of what a female serpent has tried to do.” (Ramayana 52). Lakshmana fully sports and clearly shows his loyalty to Rama. This is important because Rama and Lakshmana end up contributing to a very successful exile. Loyalty often contributes to other’s success. Being loyal shows that you care and that you will be there.
In order for Americans to build cultural empathy, Americans need to open up to the ideals that the Ramayana teaches. When learning about the Ramayana’s values through Hinduisms main beliefs, it helps one get a better sense of self and a better understanding of others. America suffers from nationalism, an idea that America is better. Americans need to open their eyes to be able to see other’s differences. This will tremendously help America with a complex but simple idea, empathy verses sympathy. Cultural differences are always present. These need to beacknowledged and understood by Americans. As a generation, it is our job to help move the world forward in the right direction. This will happen through the ability to understand others.
Fiala, Andrew. “A Nation Lacking in Dignity Means Our Children Have No One to Look To.” Fresnobee, The Fresno Bee, 7 July 2017, www.fresnobee.com/living/liv-columns blogs/andrew-fiala/article160036834.html.
Narayan, R.K. The Ramayana . Penguin Classics, 1977. Sedaris, David. “A Quote from Me Talk Pretty One Day.” Goodreads, Goodreads, www.goodreads.com/quotes/109500-every-day-we-re-told-that-we-live-in-the-greatest.
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