Most of us have a ‘mother tongue’, a language that we inherit, as it were, simply by being born in a family where that particular language is the major medium of communication. We grow up speaking that language fluently. We think, and even dream, in that language.
If one lives in a monolingual context where one’s interactions are only with people with the same mother tongue, one might feel no need to learn any other language. That might have indeed been the case for vast numbers of people in the past, in different parts of the world. But in today’s ‘global village’, where people from different linguistic backgrounds are so closely interlinked, to know just one’s mother tongue and no other language can be a severe handicap. If one wants to interact with people who don’t understand one’s mother tongue, one has to learn their language or else should know a third language that is intelligible to them too and that can serve as a common medium of communication.
Today, knowledge of, and even expertise in, many languages is considered a big asset. The more languages we can speak, read and write, the better for us. Knowing multiple languages can enable us to interact better with people from different linguistic backgrounds, which works to our advantage as well as theirs. Moreover, knowledge of other languages provides us access to a wealth of wisdom and information that is contained in the literatures of other languages. On all counts, then, being multilingual is a great blessing.
The same holds true with regard to knowledge of religion. Most people are born into families that are associated with one or the other religious tradition. They inherit their religion, just as they inherit their mother tongue, simply by birth. They are socialized into believing in their religion, which may provide the basic framework for their view of the world.
If one lives in a mono-religious context, where the only religion is the one that one was born into (as it were), one might not feel the need to learn about other religions. But today, possibly every country, city and town in the world is multi-religious.
For millions of people now, interaction with people from religious backgrounds other than their own is a daily reality—be it in their workplace, in the market, in their neighbourhood or simply while commuting from place to place. In such a context, knowledge of multiple religions is a great asset, just as is knowledge of multiple languages.
Familiarity with different religions can help us relate more comfortably with people from diverse religious backgrounds whom we interact with. An appreciative understanding of their religious traditions can help us understand them better and enjoy good relations with them, just as a good knowledge of their languages can. The more we are able to appreciate the goodness in their religions through proper study, the more at ease and at home will we feel with them and the better we can get along with them.
Moreover, good knowledge of religions other than the one we might have been born into or otherwise associate with can provide us access to a treasure trove of wisdom in their spiritual traditions, which are a common heritage of the whole of humankind. Learning about, and benefiting from, the goodness contained in various religious and spiritual traditions can greatly help us grow as persons and facilitate us on our life’s journey.