Finding Nemo

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Tale of Iroh (a.k.a. why we all hate each other for no reason)

In a popular animated show I used to watch (NERD ALERT!!! sound alarms), there is a character called Iroh who plays the part of the bumbling old wise man.  There are many things I like about the show, from the lush traditional Japanese soundtrack, to the watercolor backgrounds, to the great intricate story-writing.  But one of the things I like most are the great nuggets of Eastern-flavored wisdom that often tumble out of Iroh.  He has a great story arc and background.

Uncle Iroh
Iroh was a head general of a huge army, intent on taking down a large enemy city.  He was the "Dragon of the West", a feared and terrible leader.  During the battle, his soldier son was killed.  Iroh was shaken so badly, he quit the battle and returned home in defeat and shame.  Later, he accompanies one of the main characters who views him as a broken old man.  But it turns out Iroh is the strongest character in the entire show.  His quiet manner belies a man who is still fierce in battle, but now that ability is tempered with wisdom.  Iroh realizes the war is a mistake, that it is not right for his country to subdue the others around it.  He finds that the other nations have good people as well, that they each bring a unique talent and culture to the world.  Together the different nations balance each other.  But there is an even deeper understanding that only Iroh can see.  The different nations themselves used to all be one people.  Each nation is just a different manifestation of the original tribe.  The differences that people have today are just the result of their isolation from each other.  Iroh dedicates the rest of his life to helping others, ending the war, and bringing the different nations back together.  Iroh exemplifies both the Spark in the beginning, and the Flow at the end.  Together, he is the one man in the show who has balance.

This little nugget of wisdom stuck with me as I noticed the parallels to traveling, and the problems the world faces today.  We are all the same people, we share the same DNA, we all have hopes and dreams.  Each different culture brings their own unique take on life.  But physical separation and "tribal" differences have put up barriers between us.  Tribes rally around their flags and fight for reasons that may not have merit.  The saddest example of this is the genocide in Rwanda, where people identified with either Hutu and Tutsi tribes.  Archaeological evidence shows that the two tribes shared the same language, culture, food, and even intermarried.  But the two tribes, with so much in common, instead fixated on the very small differences.  This is captured eloquently in a paper by Kolsto, and goes back to Freud's idea of the Narcissism of Little Differences, which has been gaining favor again recently.

To quote from Wikipedia, " ... in a loving relationship there can be a need to find, and even exaggerate, differences in order to preserve a feeling of separateness and self."  The newer theories are that this simple idea is exaggerated many-fold when it comes to tribes and countries, until two groups who are very similar end up at war.

We will never all gain the wisdom of Iroh, but as a traveler I try to keep his little nuggets in my mind as I come across new cultures.

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