This is the article that I wrote to Czech web cultural magazine Proti šedi (there in Czech).
Let’s think about ourselves like humans made by layers. It is the way the Yoga or the Vedānta knowledge traditions analyze we human beings, for example. It seems to me that such analysis is a good way to understand even other kinds of layers we have, like superficial ones. A cultural layer, in this case. How much we are influenced by all the cultural stuffs that we are exposed to? And how much of them are really valuable? To be a foreigner can give us good answers to these questions, because when we are a little bit out from our zone we can see what is genuine and what is not. Not about the others but about ourselves. This “way to see” can be learned.
To be a foreigner in this case is only a way to call someone who can observe what is the reality, which is not so easy. Of course our cultural layer is part of our reality, but it is also possible to say that this is the last layer we have. It means that many times we label ourselves by this cultural layer. But who are we indeed? Can we say we are some behaviors and habits coming from this layer? It is just we move from a place we are used to living and dealing with some behaviors and habits, which we realize an amazing difference between who we really are and all these behaviors and habits. One habit or one way we behave can be changed according to the culture we adopt, even if we never leave the place of our original culture. But not everything can be changed.
When we are in this position to see what can change and what cannot, when we are in front of something greater than us and our conscience begs us for choosing do not get rid of the responsibility we have in knowing what is right and what is not, it is exactly the moment when we realize what really matters; or in one different explanation: what is accidental and what is essential. Every cultural influence we have are accidental, it means we can change them according to our choice or the place or time we are, and if it is so, the cultural layer is not enough to say who we are. On the other hand, there is the character, which is individual and do not depend completely on culture, we can be in a specific culture, with specifics habits and behaviors, but even then to have a kind of character that has nothing to do with the culture we are, it seems, then, we can say that the character is more essential, because it depends on learning to be excellent. It is the character, determined by reason, which many times will choose the kind of culture (habits and behaviors) we want for our life or want to live in. Then, while we are introducing to each other putting many cultural labels on us to show who we are, it is exactly the character, which cannot be seen so easy in the first moment, that will show who we really are. In the end, it is not the fact to be a Brazilian or a Czech, a punk, a rock’n roll guy or a classic one, or to have that taste or this, travel to many places or to live in one or other way that determines who we are, it is more about what stays, the character. It is like an axle that is fixed (character, essential) for the wheel turns without stopping (cultural influences, accidental). And a wheel with an unfixed axle doesn’t turn well. Each day more it seems to me that the character has nothing to do with the place we came, how we were born, the cultures we adopt, a social or physical environments, heredity or anything else, but with our responsibility to become a better person, it is about the way to become excellent.
It is from the character that we start to do one of the important practices in the Yoga tradition, called svādhyāya, a self-meditation (self-study) about who we really are.