I write in my book (At Home on the Kazakh Steppe) that it’s those “cultural differences that make me gasp, make me shout, ‘oh no’ that are of most interest to me.” And, living in historically nomadic, predominately Muslim, and proudly communal Kazakhstan, it was easy for me to come up with many examples of cultural differences I met every day.
Lately I’ve become interested in the cultural differences that
might make me gasp right here at home.
Before I proceed, I’d ask you to take just a moment and see if any particular ones come to mind. I know readers to my blog come from many countries, and I’ll be interested at the end to learn what LOCAL challenges from cultural differences you find in your own backyard. Any that have made you gasp?
These might stem from different religious practices, different ethnic heritages, different regions of our own country (which, if you go back far enough, is also an ethnic heritage difference, often), different gender, age, marital status, level of education. You get the idea.
Cultural differences are all around us. Often, we’re just used to them and no longer bat an eye. But sometimes the jump out at us, startling us in the least, filling us with curiosity perhaps, or filling us with fear or anger. These instances are occuring at a faster and faster pace.
Today’s post is intended as a primer, a How To essay on what to do when you find yourself in one of those “oh no” moments. And you will, if you haven’t already.
So, sit for a moment and see what comes to mind. Write them down too if you can.
Really, I will.
OK. Let’s move on.
In my case, my own backyard (and for about 200 acres beyond that) contains only wildlife. So, for today’s blog, I’ve looked for cultural differences that made the news in the USA this past month. I found two, both dealing with different notions of parenting. Today I’ll post on one of them.
I wonder if it’s one you also noted.
These photos are from NPR.org’s “most emailed stories” collection which picked up the story from Cosmopolitan Magazine (January 15), where it had garnered 1,176 Comments and over 24,000 Shares.
The article was entitled, What’s Right About A 6-Year-Old Who Breast-Feeds
Small print: my interest here is not on who or what is right or wrong. That’s too easy. My focus is on recognizing when a cultural difference is staring us in the face, getting clear about our initial reaction and owning it as ours (and not “she made me feel this way”) and understanding what value of ours we felt the behavior crossed.
Keep in mind too that some differences are “idiosyncratic,” meaning it’s a difference at the individual level, not at the level of culture. To be a “cultural difference,” there must be others engaged in the same behavior and with whom the participant feels a sense of tribal connection. Social movements qualify.
For example, when I breastfed my sons, I felt a bond of connection with other nursing mothers which I did not feel with mothers of bottle-fed babies. I wanted to be a part of this culture, this tribe of breast feeding women. Women who bottle fed were the “other.” And yes, where there’s a culture, there’s a “not-in-the-culture” as well, by definition.
As ever, I’m interested in exploring ways to co-exist with “other ways of doing it,” whatever the “it” might be. I’m curious about when and how we find it particularly difficult to accept the other point of view.
So, back to our breastfeeding six year olds. Here’s another photo from the same thread:
From the article entitled, Why This Mother Is Still Breast-Feeding Her 6-Year-Old Daughter
In my day (I love saying that, let me do it again) In my day, the big fuss regarding breastfeeding was over where and how much covering was required. The thinking was that breast feeding shouldn’t be too obvious, too public.
My, how times have changed.
Here are some questions to get you started. Think to the first time you saw one of these photos.
1.Did you gasp?
2. Could you name your initial emotional reaction? (e.g., mad, sad, glad, afraid, bored)
3. Was there a value of yours involved here? If so, which one?
4. Did that change as you learned more?
Parental responsibility, I think, is an arena that hits close to home. Next week’s post will continue in this vein, but with a different story line to start from.
You can read more about this story at these links.
HOW ABOUT YOU? What local cultural differences have challenged you? Did you think a bit more about how (and why) you “do it differently?” Did you identify a value you hold that felt threatened here? Did you arrive at a different or deeper appreciation of your own value, or a better understanding of why you do it the way you do?