Bangkok, Thailand

May 8, 2016

Different

This weekend, I made my way to Wat Arun, one of Thailand's oldest and most revered temples.

It's been under reconstruction for the past three years, and even though they're still working on the towering central spire, it's now open to the public.

Visiting a temple in Thailand is a fascinating window into the culture and values here.

At every major temple I've visited, there are signs in Thai and English from the "Buddha is respect" campaign, telling visitors that getting tattoos of the Buddha or wearing the Buddha as jewelry are deeply disrespectful things.

There are other signs telling you not to touch certain objects - and there's always a dress code.

Long pants, and covered shoulders. No exceptions.

The reason is respect, and given the sheer number of tourists who treat the entire country as if it were a resort, I understand the overt signage.

The temples aren't there to be a tourist draw. They're deeply important and sacred places for the Thai people that - as a kindness - they allow non-Thais to visit.

But even with the campaigns and efforts to convey the sacredness, in most temples, you're still left with a split - Thai people interact with them as temples, and foreigners interact by taking pictures, talking, and gawking.

This trip though, a woman caught my eye. She was a foreigner, but she wasn't waving a camera around. She moved slowly, methodically, engaging with the temple at its pace, and moving with genuine and deep respect.

I noticed her because that's how I tend to interact with these spaces, and we kept slowly crossing each other's paths.

She's different, I thought.

On the way home, I got to thinking about different. Really different.

There are strong narratives in every society about how we're supposed to do things. How to look, how to act, how to live our lives. Often, we fall in line, or if we don't like the narrative, swim upstream, and do exactly the opposite.

But watching different today, I was reminded that there's always a third path - to ignore the stories, and just make up our own. To live in the ways that are authentic and true to ourselves, even if they don't look like everyone else.

If we follow that third path, we will stick out - but not in the clashing, look-at-me ways of direct rebellion.

No, something subtler, simpler - and more beautiful.

-Steven

p.s. The best thing I saw all week was this fantastic company, that's awesomely using technology to compensate for biases in hiring. I'm so happy there are folks like this in the world. :)

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