so there are many of us, and in union with the Messiah we comprise one body, with each of us belonging to the others.
Romans 12:5 (CJB)
Belonging to the others – This verse is a difficult one to translate. Have you ever read it in the KJV, or the NASB? It doesn’t quite make sense there, but in this version, it gets pretty close. We all belong to each other in this one body. There is no “I” in “team”.
Our pleasures, our desires, our wants… they just aren’t important in a community. Our actions need to improve the whole – the community – the body. The Greek word here is allēlōn and is reflexive in every way. We each belong to one another. In a sense, we are defined by one another. In this environment, individualism fades away and the community becomes the focus. This is eastern (and Hebrew) thinking, and it opposes the western world.
Richard Nisbett explains this in his book, The Geography of Thought.
In Chinese there is no word for “individualism.” The closest one can come is the word for “selfishness.” The Chinese character jén – benevolence – means two men.
The Geography of Thought, p.51
So in Chinese, the closest relationship to individualism is selfishness. On the opposite side is selflessness which is jén, and means “two men” (relationship). In America we can describe ourselves without context. I would use adjectives that I imagine would be the same no matter the context. But eastern thought only describes oneself with specific relationships and context in mind.
The person always exists within settings – in particular situations where there are particular people with whom one has relationships of a particular kind – and the notion that there can be attributes or actions that are not conditioned on social circumstances is foreign to the Asian mentality.
The Geography of Thought, p. 50
Nisbett also notes that this worldview is taught from a very young age. In western cultures, little children’s books might say things like “See Dick run. See Dick play. See Dick run and play.” But in Asian cultures, their books say things like, “Big brother takes care of little brother. Big brother loves little brother. Little brother loves big brother.” It encourages community – not individualism.
In Japanese, the word for “self esteem” is serufu esutiimu. It’s a transliterated word because there is no equivalent in Japanese that captures the concept of feeling good about oneself.
We belong to each other. Our very being is defined by our relationships. Does this drive your decisions in life? I know it requires a complete change in worldview, but give it a try. Take on the mind-frame of the culture of our Messiah.
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