My father-in-law had two wives at the same time.

It was traditional for Chinese men to have several wives, Cathy said she didn’t know it was unusual until she came to art school in England.

All her friends at school in Singapore came from similar families and girls would usually ask each other “Which wife is your mother?” and they’d answer first, second, or third, depending.

So Cathy’s dad was relatively moderate, having just two wives.

But I’d never met anyone who had more than one wife, I was divorced because in the west we only have one wife at a time.

When I first went to Singapore her dad took me to breakfast, he didn’t speak much English and I spoke no Chinese, so the conversation was stilted.

When I came back Cathy asked me how we got on.

I said “I was bit uncomfortable, I’m not sure how I feel about a man having two wives.”

Cathy said “Well my father’s not sure how he feels about his daughter marrying a man who’s divorced.”

I asked what she meant, she said “Well in Chinese culture, when you marry a woman it’s for life, you don’t just throw her away when you find a new one.

He’s worried that’s what you might do with me.”

And that made me look at the whole thing from a different angle.

Where I come from women and men are equal, so men don’t have to look after women for life.

But where he was from it wasn’t that way, so when you make a commitment to a woman it is for life.

If you want another wife, you must still look after the existing wife or wives.

It’s very interesting to stand outside your own culture and look back at it from the outside, from a perspective of someone who wasn’t brought up the way you were.

All the things we take for granted are suddenly open to question.

I had an Indian friend in Bombay, he was in the process of arranging a prospective husband for his daughter.

I asked him why he would do that, he said that was the way it was done in India.

He would meet a matchmaker who would make a note of all his daughter’s particulars: work, education, interests, aspirations, etc.

The matchmaker would note the family’s details: wealth, social standing, expectations, etc.

The matchmaker would have lots of other candidates and would see who would make a good match between the two people and the two families.

After a suitable match was found that both sets of parents agreed on, the couple would then meet and see if they liked each other, if they did the marriage went ahead.

The girl’s father told me that this was how he and his wife had been married, and he would eventually do the same for his sons.

I said to me this felt strange, that all the preliminary courtship was decided between people other than the couple involved, and not by attraction.

My friend said that to him the western way seemed strange.

That entire marriages were based on nothing more than sexual attraction, which didn’t seem much of a basis for a lifelong relationship including children.

Sexual attraction was trivial and short-term, it was pleasant but fleeting.

In India, sexual attraction was seen as a small ingredient in a good, stable, long-lasting marriage.

And yet, in the west, we act as if that was the only important part.

He said, no wonder divorce rates in western countries were so high, when everything was based on such a slender thread.

Again, it caused me to look at everything I’ve always taken for granted and re-evaluate it.

Surely that should be what we do when we start on any new project.

Look at it as outsiders and be willing to question everything.

Not come at it out of our own prejudice, not out of an answer, but out of a question.

Otherwise, how can we ever learn anything new?

As Adlai Stevenson said, “The trouble with most people is they approach every problem with an open mouth”.