My ex taught me about being selfless, about considering the other over yourself, about being completely conscious of your effect on others. It’s not an American way to be. Americans put themselves first. We get our coffee before we give our kids breakfast; we tell our partners what we need from them instead of what we can do for them. It’s like what they say on the airlines, you get your oxygen mask in place before you put it on anyone else.
Of course this is a generalization. Some parents go the other extreme and put their kids above everything which is unnatural too but in general, as Americans our culture is about being “self-sufficient” which by definition means we take care of ourselves first.
My ex’s culture, which is a combination of being Hindu and the way he was raised in his family, is completely different. His culture is about supporting the community or family, about being a part of a whole where no one person is more important than the other and where your happiness is defined by the happiness of those around you. It’s being self-less not self-sufficient.
He once asked me “If I had a mango that I wanted to eat and the boy next door was hungry too, what would I do?” I told him that I would share the mango 50/50 with the boy. I thought I was being generous and he would approve of my answer. He just nodded and said “I would give the entire mango to the boy. One day if I was hungry, I know someone would give one to me.”
To me, that example is the best way to explain the difference. What I would do would be fair but I still made sure I took care of my needs too. The Indian way sacrificed ones needs for the greater good and knowing his needs would met if necessary.
Many cultures are this way. Think of the Native Americans who give all their possessions away, or the poor Haitian family who will give you their last scrap of food just to welcome a guest.
There is a calm and comfort in the Indian way. It’s like those exercises where you fall back and trust someone to catch you.