One of the curious experiences I have in Japan is students thanking me for liking some aspect of Japanese culture. If a student asks, for example, "do you like Japanese (insert anything here)," and I say, "yes, I do," the student responds with "thank you" as if I had personally complimented him or her.
Some people may say this is an inappropriate response in English and not really what the student means but, trust me, the fact that they are complimented is crystal clear by the sound of their voices and the looks on their faces. They are delighted to hear that I've embraced some aspect of Japanese culture (or at least one they believe is uniquely Japanese). To me, this is a very strange thing as I would never respond to a favorable comment about America as if it were a compliment. If a student tells me he researched Pennsylvania (my home state) and said that it looked like a beautiful place to live, my response would be, "yes, it's very nice," not "thank you."
The recent exchange in the comments section in my previous post reminded me of this situation because a comment was made by a Japanese person hoping to provoke an argument or defensive reaction from me regarding my ability (or inability) to read Japanese fluently. Why is it that this person should care what I'm capable or incapable of? In what way do the choices I make in my life impact him, particularly in regards to what I have and have not studied? The only way in which it relates to him is if he has an insecurity about his culture and needs to know others are embracing it as a means of validation. I believe this same need is one of the reasons some of my students are so gratified when they hear I like something about Japan.
I don't mean to imply that the Japanese have the market on insecurity. In fact, you find that people all over the world are constantly judging others about lifestyle, career, intellectual, and other choices not because the choices that are made have anything to do with them but out of a need to feel superior to others (which is a manifestation of insecurity) or a need to have their own choices validated and confirmed as the "right" or "best" ones. If no one chooses to value what you value, then perhaps you have made a bad choice or failed to enhance yourself as a person.
A very long time ago, I was one of the types of people who felt people should do this or that in their situation even if it was a situation I was not a part of and even if the choices they made had no negative impact on society or on me personally. In order to validate those judgments, I could weave an intricate lattice of connective issues to somehow force the situation to seemingly have an impact on me. I could look at someone who dropped out of high school and decided to work pumping gas and convince myself he'd made a wrong choice or was stupidly limiting his options in life and tell myself, if he failed, I'd be paying taxes to pay welfare to support him. This is, of course, a crock. Anyone can fail at anything and there are actually a lot more menial, low-paying jobs than there are jobs for highly-educated professionals. A person who wants to be a college professor is far more likely to "fail" at finding a great career in his chosen career than a gas jockey.
Sometimes I think we spend the greater part of our lives distracting ourselves from what we really should be working on and prioritizing in life because we want to focus on the quantifiable over that which is unmeasurable. We can easily attach value to job titles, educational levels, material possessions and salaries but we can't measure our own psychological or spiritual evolution as people nor can we easily measure it in others. In particular, we can't measure it against other people and come out feeling we are better than them because the very act of doing so indicates a lack of maturity and spiritual awareness.
In the end, the languages you speak or read, the degrees you can put on your resume, and the money in your bank account mean nothing next to the people you have had a positive influence on in your life and the spirit you've shaped as you head onto whatever you believe lies ahead. The same goes for everyone else so you can't judge their value or whether on not to respect them based on external appearances or quantifiable choices. What is really important about them is how many paths they've crossed and left others happier, more enlightened, or fulfilled as a result of that. Of course, this isn't as gratifying as judging them for the car they drive, the school they went to or the work they do, particularly when you've got ego issues that need a little boost at the expense of others.
Rather than use other people as a springboard for judgments meant to make you feel better about yourself, it's better to let them live their lives as they want to and be happy they inflict no harm on anyone because of the choices they make. I'm hoping that I'm crossing Takechanpoo's path and making his life a little better in some way as a result. If not, I wish him well and hope that he finds a way to let go of his anger against non-Japanese people and finds some contentment.