By Richard H. Pfau
(Nepal 7 Peace Corps Volunteer, USAID Worker, and ( भिनाजु/Bhinaju)
When you first came to America, you may have been surprised at some of the things that Americans do. They often give you things with their left hand. They eat something and then use the same impure hand that they ate with to take more food from a dish. They blow their nose in a handkerchief and put it back in their pocket or purse. They say “Thank You” much more than Nepalese do. And although not widely kno+wn among Nepalese, most Americans even wipe themselves with their right hand after they go to the toilet! And yet most of the time they seem friendly and considerate and nice. So why do they do these things? Why do they do things that sometimes seem so impolite, dirty, and even disgusting, but then also do things that are nice most of the time?
Interestingly, everything that they do, think, and feel is based on their nervous systems. The same holds for you too and everyone else. In all of us, our nerves affect our muscles and what we do, as well as what we see, hear, taste, feel and think. Our nerves affect whether we see something as normal or strange; polite or improper; nice or not nice. But those nerves are basically the same in people all over the world. If so, if we are biologically so similar, why do we sometimes act and feel so differently?
The answer lies in how our nerves are organized. When we are born, our nerves are basically the same—mostly unorganized. However, some are organized enough to enable all of us as babies to breath, swallow, and cry when we are uncomfortable. But most are unorganized. Then we start to learn. And our nerves begin to organize into patterns – patterns that permit us, for example, to recognize people around us, to do things like hold objects in our hands, to walk and say words. And that learning is when differences between our behavior mostly begins. As children, we imitate our parents. But our parents speak different languages, and so we learn those languages. Our parents perform certain rituals that we learn to imitate—how to greet people, celebrate holidays, and carry out religious rites. We, as Nepalese and Americans, learn to behave in other ways that are different too, such as how our right and left hands are used to give things to people. If we do things in ways that our parents and others approve, they may smile and even say something like “good”! If they think that what we do is not right, they may correct us or even punish us until we learn to do “the right thing” in their minds at least.
In this way, as Nepalese and Americans, we end up with somewhat different values, duties, goals, and standards that are built into our nervous systems. In other words, our nerves reorganize themselves so that we learn to behave in appropriate ways. Also, besides behaving differently, as a result of our different experiences, we sometimes even see things differently – such as what is polite, proper, and correct behavior in different situations. That learning, resulting behavior, and perceptions are built into us in the way that our nervous systems are organized and reorganized as we grow up and have different experiences from one another.
In short, we do things, perceive things, and feel things as a result of the ways that our nervous systems are organized—and each of those ways is different in different people because our experiences during life are different. As a result, your environment may trigger a reaction on your part at any given moment, but what you do at that time depends on how your nervous system is organized. The same holds for me too, and everyone else!
If you are interested in such things, have a look at the book Your Behavior: Understanding and Changing the Things You Do, written by yours truly. It will help you understand why we behave as we do. Details can be seen online at richardpfau.com. Copies are available from Amazon.com, through local bookstores, and from me if you call or send an email (Phone: 1-860-465-8163; E-mail: email@example.com).