It's always very humbling to find out how much you still lack in awareness when it comes to being respectful of others in the world around you. You think of yourself as being fairly aware and try to take into account various beliefs and ways of living yet you still take things for granted and make assumptions that are wrong.
A prime example of that happened to me just the other day. I've set up a writer's group for the people who are contributing to the Epic India web site. It's for the usual thing; a place where people can post announcements and where I can list any items that people want reviewed. I don't know if other groups have this option, but Google groups allow you to restrict access to those eighteen year of age or older.
In a semi-serious, semi joking manner I labelled the group adult only. I was trying to pass on the message to my people that I didn't want any childish behaviour on the board. But there was something I hadn't taken into consideration. Some countries block sites labelled adult only routinely in attempt to maintain their strict moral codes.
Which is exactly what happened too one of my writers. He's living in one of the Gulf of Arabia states that are particularly strict about enforcing a Muslim lifestyle and as long as the adult designation remained on the site he wasn't going to be able to take part in the group's discussions.
When he wrote to tell me about it he was very apologetic, which of course there was no need for him to be. In fact when I wrote him back to tell him that I was changing the designation, I apologized to him for not having realized that the possibility of that existed. Here I had been going on about a multicultural international magazine and I do something without considering the full implications of my actions in other cultures.
Well, you say, how were you to know that the country this guy lives in was going to do something like that? To me that is the wrong question, I should be asking why didn't I know or consider the possibility that someone in the group would find themselves in that situation?
No I don't think I'm being too hard on myself either. Think of what we expect people to know about us. The least I can do is remember that Muslim societies aren't as open in some ways as ours and act accordingly. It's called understanding and respect for the way others live, something noticeably thin on the ground in our age of intolerance and unreason.
It doesn't matter what it is, groups with an adult designation, a house rule that demands all heads be uncovered all the time, or making everybody recite the same prayer in school, it all comes down to the same thing. Make allowances for other people's differences and they will respond in kind. It's amazing how just a little respect goes a long way.