Defining Cultural Insanity
I try to write on Mondays about something that strikes me as being culturally insane. Generally I rely on news servers to pick up stories that interest me, but it is odd to be determining what seems off in a broader cultural discourse when you are a participant in another culture.
Cultural awareness is a tricky thing because people tend to rely so heavily on stereotypes that do not acknowledge either the tensions or realities present in someone’s life. Today, someone inferred that an American cultural value is individualism because I used the word “I” extensively when talking about myself.
While it is true that Americans tend to be a more individualistic culture than the Chinese, asserting that an American has little to no group awareness pulls into over-generalization. My life, in particular, has been shaped by becoming rather proficient at crossing an array of cultural boundaries as simply a survival skill. I am an engineer conversant in social sciences. I am a woman exceptionally aware of technical professions. I grew up in the Midwest but find Bostonian cultural norms much more pleasant. I converted to a Christian tradition focused on the whole instead of focusing primarily on a sense of a personal relationship. I rather purposefully avoid cultural silos of all shapes and sizes. Constantly I participate in conversations that most people simply lack interest or need to do so.
My world has been understood within a constant frame of motion since I graduated from college. Few, if any, people I know personally have had the same sort of trek that I have had. What kind of American are you? It is a very strange question, both in its formulation and in its implication. So many of the “broad cultural skills” function incredibly simplistically.
And perhaps I find myself at a place where an incarnational approach suits my understanding. What does it mean to enter into another’s experience? How do I surrender my preconceived notions? How can I be flexible enough to adopt my approach to whoever happens to be in front of me?