Can We Only Know Our Countrymen?

It is very difficult to know people and I don’t think one can ever really know any but one’s own countrymen. For men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they are born, the city apartment or the farm in which they learnt to walk, the games they played as children, the old wives’ tales they overheard, the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poets they read, and the God they believed in. It is all these things that have made them what they are, and these are the things that you can’t come to know by hearsay, you can only know them if you have lived them. – W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge, 1943

Due to Canada Day and Independence Day* today’s post will be shorter than usual.  I’d like to discuss this quote with all of you, though. My response will be in the comment section.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with W. Somerset Maugham?

Are you the culture you grew up in, the food you ate, the stories you were told as a child?

If you agree with W. Somerset Maugham how do you reconcile that belief with life in a pluralistic society?

*As a dual citizen I get two celebrations in the same week! 😉


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2 Responses to Can We Only Know Our Countrymen?

  1. I agree that all of these things can have a profound impact on how we see the world.

    I can’t speak for anyone else but I’m not exclusively defined by my culture, (lack of) religion or any other adjective or adverb that describes my actions or beliefs. Of course all of these things are part of my identity but I’m also simply Lydia. 🙂

    As for not really knowing someone until you grok their history and experiences – I’m not sure what I think about that. It depends on the person. I grew up  in the same church, attended similarly rural schools and lived in the same community with people who I could still never honestly say I understood. For whatever reason we grew into wildly different individuals even though we started out with many of the same influences. 

  2. Overall, I’d say I disagree with Maugham on this.  I am sure all this does influence our lives, but I also feel that people who travel, through reading or in actuality, people who are empathic, people who want to know others are certainly capable of knowing more than their own limited environment.  And as you said, Lydia, some of us simply never did “belong” in our childhood settings, or at least didn’t really understand those around us.  People are individuals some more individual than others, and personally, I think I have much more in common with individuals I’ve met along the way who had very different upbringings from mine.  Anyway, I am definitely not the culture I grew up in or the food I ate, etc.  Enjoy your two celebrations!

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