We see it everywhere and point it out to our family and friends. We roll our eyes as Facebook folks share memes that seem absurd or conspiracy minded. We gather online in forums and argue using smarty-pants connections and obscure quotes hoping to prove why the culture we are trying to create vs this other one, is better for the economy, our children and the earth.
Once we get on a roll it becomes harder and harder to pull back and see the big picture. We tend to start weeding out the people and arguments that don't back us up, and we instead create a culture of fighting for rights and fighting for truth and fighting for freedom and fighting for beliefs. We create a culture of fighting, because we are fighting to create a culture of likeminded people who will live peacefully ever after. (Yes, I'm generalizing.)
I suggest that by adopting the habit of truly hearing others, and learning from ourselves--remembering things we used to believe and the people we used to be--we can create a culture of passionately discovering rights, sharing truths and encouraging freedom. We are not likely to create a world of hand holding and Kumbaya fireside song sharing, but a culture that sees such outings as important rather than cheesy is not at all out of our reach.
I am a Canadian white woman with a tree hugging granola crunching soul, married to an older black man who has never gone camping and thinks orange soda is healthy. We both hate guns, don't drink and chose not to spank our kids. Our home is a very comfortable place where passionate arguments are sometimes learned from and always respected. We live in a very small town in Texas and, admittedly, are surrounded by a culture that doesn't match the one we create in our home. It might be easier for us to live here if we chose to conform, judge or fight.
I try to do none of the above. Instead, I insist on being me with volume. I chat with my fellow townies and discover why they make the choices they make. I share why I make the choices I make. When my boys come home and complain that Obama wants to take our guns I ask them why they think so and explain what I believe to be the truth, and then ask them what they think. I try to create a culture of thinking for ourselves, learning from others and ourselves, and sharing what we learn without apology or assumption.
I find this fairly easy to do because I have a habit of remembering the me I used to be, and appreciating all of the triggers that have helped me change my mind along the way. Growing up in Toronto, Ontario (Canada) I was quite color blind. Prejudice regarding race and religion were not a part of the culture (in my eyes) but prejudice against special needs was. We saw them as cute and pitiful and their families as heroes and martyrs. However, my mom was special needs and saw things differently. No one had quite pinned her diagnosis--schizophrenia, autism, depression and genius had been tossed at her--but there was no doubt that she was different. So when she adopted four special needs boys and insisted the world not pity them but rather believe in them and adore them while having expectations, the culture in my home clashed noisily with the culture outside of it. For years I took turns being angry or embarrassed of my mom, and then angry and unhappy with the world. But because I love my brothers--and because my mom was right-- I eventually was able to see the inherent inequality and subsequent cruelness that was present in our "adorable disabled folks' culture and attitude. It would have been easy to just keep on rolling my eyes at my disabled mom and pat my brothers on the head, since everybody else was doing it. It would have been easy to fight with the world (as one of my sisters did) by yelling and standing face to face in anger with anyone who would dare suggest that my brothers would only ever be able to learn "so much' and that the hope and expectations my mom was inviting could only harm them. But how could I yell at people who only believed what I had been inclined once to believe? And how would yelling at people make the world more accepting for--and enticing to-- my brothers, whose autism already gave them social discomfort?
My mom taught us never to allow our beliefs and limitations to come from others. My mom created a culture of following clues with curiosity and intention, and a flexibility regarding letting go of previously held beliefs when the clues took us places that proved us wrong.
Yesterday my husband and I were sitting in the tax office, waiting our turn, when the friendly woman sitting beside me began chatting. In mere moments she had explained why she feels spanking young kids is important, making sure they know you can hurt them when they are older is necessary and encouraging them to live at home with mom when they are in their thirties means you love them.
I considered rolling my eyes and not chatting, knowing full well that we are very different women. But we had time, and how can I express my beliefs or look at them in the light if I don't share with this woman who had the whole room nodding in agreement? So I offered why I don't like spanking, why I have allowed my teenage boys the freedom to move two states away following their hopes and dreams and why I would never have a conversation that included the need to hurt them physically.
The whole room was listening. This woman and I did not fight, though I'm not sure we ever agreed on anything except that we love our children and want what we feel is best for them. It was a lovely chat.
That is the culture I hope to encourage in the world. One where we don't keep quiet just because we may be disliked, one where we don't yell just because it feels big and important, and one where it's okay to change our minds and learn that maybe we are doing something wrong. One where we can forgive ourselves and others for believing things and doing things just because everybody else was, as long as we are willing to rethink our positions when something or someone triggers questioning of that belief. The history of the world has seen an ever changing list of "everybody's doing it', much of it paining the sensibilities of most of us living in the now. I think it's safe to assume that much of our "everybody's doing it' that we're immersed in now will seem inhumane or foolish to future generations.
Gun laws, disability services, debt ceilings and media blaming are games people play. They are the symptoms, not the humanity within. I don't think it's a bad thing that we play the game, as long as we remember that we're playing.
When my mom visits families around the world, offering them tips on how to help their mentally challenged loved ones, she reminds them, "You keep what you keep your eye on." Don't be distracted by the symptoms. Create your culture with intention. Remember that it will be ever changing, and that that's okay.