Empathy is an important quality for a person to have – it is the ability for us to observe another person’s plight or struggle, and understand the feelings associated with it. The more empathic we can be, the more we can appreciate others and see things from their perspective – this sort of things makes us better “people persons.”
Across the pantheons, all of them, we see undeniable similarities in spirit, struggles, and fears – in joys and aspirations as well. No matter where you come from, there’s a story in your cultural history that speaks to a fear of the forest, or the jungle, or the baren tundra, for example. There are stories that talk of beasts and mosters, of strange magical creatures, of magic men and women, of heroes and towns that need saving; all of it exists across all of it. This should say something about us, we humans, and it should say it very clearly: we fear, love, desire, and labor for the same things – we are incredibly similar to one another.
It’s not obvious that this is the case though, is it? We’re very individualized nowadays, aren’t we? It’s very easy to think, for example, that your Chinese neighbor may simply not understand the motivation or reasoning behind his Puruvian neighbor’s approach to parenting, or politics, or faith and belief. “They’re just too culturally different!” you might say. And when you say things like this, or think things like this, it becomes very easy to otherize someone.
Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to
“They aren’t like me. They’re different. They’re different because they’re a different culture than me, or a different race, or a different religion from mine.”
This is harmless at first, but the more widespread it becomes the more firm a foothold can be gained by ignorance in all of its forms.
We share these stories with the belief that if you can be informed and entertained by a myth or folktale from another culture, you can come to appreciate differences as merely differences in language or delivery, and stop thinking of them as barriers to compatibility. Likewise, if you can see some of your own fears and desires reflected in the stories of a culture which is not your own, you will have more difficult time thinking of those cultures as very different from your own.
It’s not a grand way to make the world a better place, but it’s our way, and it’s why we’re here.