"Why can't you just enjoy a meal?" was my companion's comment as we left the restaurant--an unexpected criticism from an unexpected quarter. "Why, I thought the meal was just fine," was my response. "Then why are you always saying, as you just did: "Wasn't too bad," or "Could've been worse." It seemed normal to me. Still, instead of shrugging it off, I decided to adjust my language to be more positive.
Decades later, while listening to Prairie Home Companion, I realized that I had been speaking my native language: Minnesotan. The movie Fargo only confirmed it. "Wasn't too bad; could've been worse" is Minnesotan for what, in other parts of this country, is, "That was good." Unwarranted shame caused me to lose part of my ethnic heritage. (Actually, when considering the possibility of cannibalism in the long sub-zero months of snowed-in winters, things could have been worse.)
The reverse was true while teaching in Turkey. When catching a student helping another student cheat, the students not only got a "0" but a stern lecture. When it happened to my star pupil, instead of a lecture, I spoke of my disappointment and asked "Why?" His response? "I could not turn down a friend." It slowly dawned on me that although I learned to speak Turkish, I had not fully learned to speak cultural Turkish. In that culture friendship was a higher value than not cheating, the reverse of my own culture. When I did learn to speak that part of the culture of Turkey, students still received "0" for cheating, but only thirty-seven percent of the words and temperature of my previous lecture.
It is not easy to always remember, but when I have enough sense to ask "Why?" rather than just negatively respond to the words, appearance or actions of another, I find that there is usually an inherent logic operating. Discovery of that increases both my understanding and my tolerance. It keeps relationships open as well.
Given the learning that has come from this experience, I
have decided to forgo the lawsuit against the person who derided
--Robert H. Tucker
22 February 1999