Reflections on Culture
I’m writing this month’s newsletter from the frozen north! Well it’s actually not frozen. In fact there are the glorious signs of Spring in the air, but it’s still pretty cold air!
In the previous month I had been teaching in Germany and the U.K.
This has given me an opportunity to reflect on culture. It’s a complicated “thing” is culture. Made up of so many diverse ingredients……..what makes a culture? How much of what we experience of the culture of a place, or a country, is in fact shaped by our assumptions, offered up as stereotypes……….?
"The Germans are precise, and organised and “don’t do feelings”.
"The British aren’t warm, their sense of humour is off-beat and difficult to pick up on if you aren’t from there, they love to moan and complain".
And what about the culture of being human? In what ways does it fit with these cultural stereotypes, and in what way does it transcend them?
One thing I’ve noticed is that strangers don’t greet each other in Germany and England the way they seem to do in South Africa. Greeting each other is part of the culture of South Africa……..except you can soon fall into a trap when thinking about “South African culture”, because whose culture are we talking about in South Africa, exactly?
Certainly, in the work I’ve done in South Africa in the last 16 years, I’ve often heard people refer to “not being greeted” as a source of dismay. Whereas in England people can look fairly askance when you greet them! Known for my friendly face, I’ve been consciously practicing to see if cultural stereotypes can, and do, fall apart in the face of a Thinking Environment? Like any piece of “research”, the assumptions and beliefs of the researcher cannot but impact on the results. But I’ve been enjoying myself anyway.
Eye Contact and Interest (Attention, Equality & Appreciation) People love eye contact. They love connection. They love the fact (whether they consciously know it or not) that when you ask them for help, you look at them as they offer the information you seek. People at the check-out till seem to suddenly break into a smile I’ve not noticed them giving the people before me when I arrive at the till and ask them how they are, and then look at them whilst they respond.
Of course, the world over, people will say “fine thank you”, but I’ve noticed the fact that, as I maintain eye contact with them whilst they answer, it seems to wake them up slightly. Suddenly there’s a human being in front of them, and they are a human being too.
The automaticity of their actions soften into service, and, maybe I’m fooling myself, but I like to think that little moment we’ve shared has entered in to their DNA, and mine, like a little molecule of appreciation that lives on after I’ve paid and left with my groceries.
Thank you for taking the time to help me. Thank you for your assistance. You’ve been really helpful. I appreciate it. And a phrase I’ve learned from South Africa, that I love to deliver: “have a good day further”, or “enjoy the rest of your day”.
It’s such a lovely expression of equality: you have mattered to me in this interaction. Who you are has made a difference to me. It’s so simple. And yet, when delivered genuinely, and with aforementioned eye contact, it’s been so lovely to watch the impact of this on the person I’ve been interacting with.
That pause, that moment taken to make the connection and offer the acknowledgement, instead of just picking up my receipt and turning away to rush off into the rest of my day. London, in particular, is made up of people rushing to and fro.
Usually with a furrowed brow and a palpable sense of “get out of my way” in the quality of their gait. Ease can be just a fragment, a moment of time taken to pause and appreciate the human interaction, but in a world where no-one much is doing it, it seems to me its impact is profound in ways that outweigh the time taken, the consciousness required.
Talking of cultural stereotypes, there’s a “shut up, and get on with it” stoicism that could be said to be archetypal of the English. Add to this mix the preference of introversion, which fits in neatly with this type, and you get a recipe for marginalising feelings.
I’m well known for my flagrant release of feelings, but it’s amazing how seductive and destructive is the assumption that showing them reveals some kind of flaw of character.
I came up against the valuing of competition as a belief, a way of identifying oneself, when I was facilitating in Germany.
I am filled with dread at how toxic competition can be, and yet this encounter has left me enquiring into competition as a value for the expression of freedom – an essential human right?
And so on, I can go, inquiring into the culture of being human, and the way in which any one of the Ten Components can provide me with a lens through which to be self aware, and through which to engage with others.
What I keep experiencing, over and again, is how generous It is to be aware of one’s fellows, and to pay attention.