Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

Tag: culture

Are our cultural differences becoming less significant?

Cultural differences quote on desert background.

“The old differences separating one system from another now are becoming less and less important, less and less easy to define.”

From ‘Myths To Live By’ by Joseph Campbell

In my opinion, cultural differences were becoming less important.

The more we all were able to see each other, travel, read and experience cultural differences, religious and political differences, etc., the more we seemed to see our human similarities. It was rough at first, but felt as though things were going to get better. Maybe those differences wouldn’t be so important.

It seems, though, that in response, those that hold power in the old systems are getting worried. That worry translates into power grabs and sometimes violence. It’s a dangerous time to be living in, mostly because it seems so easy for one group to turn on another.

A common tactic, which we are seeing now, fifty years after Campbell wrote this book is to set up divisions, throw out land mines of opposition. False information, gossip, and scare news, are thrown around in ways far easier to accomplish than ever before, especially now that those that live in cities are being ordered to stay at home and not gather with others. People from outside the cities are ordered to stay out of city centers. We all get our information through “social networks” and the national and worldwide news media, through our phones and computers, with no way to confirm what we’re seeing there with the actual physical world around us, except those of us that refuse to comply with those orders.

We humans crave order to our universe.

We can’t stand not knowing what the plan is, who’s in charge, and what the rules are. In general, we’re much happier building up illusions and myths about the world around us, than facing the chaos and uncertainty that real life is. Strange isn’t it? I wonder what kind of evolutionary help that was. What was it about creating stories about the world around us that made it more likely the next generation would survive?

My opinion? The more you can know about others, the more you move outside your own circle, the more you realize that we’re all basically the same with wildly different ways of filling those identical needs of food, relationship, and procreation. Cultural differences slowly become far less important.

The more we stay separate, the more walls we build, the easier it is for us to be used as tools. There is, and always has been, a small group of people that believe they know what’s best for everyone else and are happy to take care of the rest, by force if necessary. And there is also a much larger group of people that simply want to live their lives without the burden of independent thought.

There’s a third group, though. One that wants to be left alone to live their lives as they see fit, take their own chances, and accept responsibility for their own choices. They want to explore the world of people and thought on their own terms, using their own resources. They don’t need a mythology to control the world around them. They want to embrace those cultural differences, the chaos, and live within it, as part of it, with no one to blame for the outcome but themselves. They believe anyone can, and would choose to, live this way if they were only shown it was possible.

I used to believe that third group was growing in size, as I feel Joseph Campbell probably did when he wrote this book in 1972. But this past year has put a lot of holes in that thinking. Maybe we aren’t so evolved as I had begun to thing. I’m still watching and waiting to see what happens. I still have hope that it’s only a minor setback.


Want to read this book? You can get it on Amazon HERE.

Unintentional Lessons From Childhood

“She raised her hand when she felt like talking and didn’t think that was notable until Mr. Behan told her parents in the parent-teacher conference that he was glad to see a girl raising her hand.”

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

As I read any book, I make notes. I underline perfect sentences, things that start me thinking, and sweet “ah-ha” moments. After I finish reading the book, I go back through and look at my notes, pulling out things that trigger a reaction in me. Sometimes, just days after I’ve finished reading, I can’t remember why I marked a certain passage. Maybe it struck me but didn’t stick? It must not have been that important, a passing idea.

Sometimes a sentence jumps out at me, I’m brought to some revelation about my current situation, or it reminds me of my childhood, and I write about that. This passage did both!

I’m not sure if you know this, but I live in the desert. The rural part, not the city part. I’m not totally in the middle of nowhere. I can drive into town any day of the week. I can drive into the city, and I often do. It’s not that I’m physically that isolated, but the town is small, and it is the desert. People tend to move here because they like being alone. We come together as a community for special occasions, like the 4th of July or a music festival. We complain about “traffic” and crowded parking lots when there are more than a few cars nearby. Unless you are part of some sub-group, it’s not the hub of social activity.

So…what’s your point, Michelle?

I know, I’m getting to that!

Let’s see…summed up… I’ve found myself a bit hungry for social interaction lately.

Since my boys have flown the nest, I’ve been at a loss about how to find a new social circle. How do I meet new people now? BC (before children) I met people at work. With kids, it was playgroups and then homeschool events. I started to get involved in our local community center but with the shutdowns all of that is on hiatus until further notice.

So, what do I do? I looked to the internet, Facebook groups be precise. I found a few that looked promising and joined. That was the easy part. Then, when I started scrolling through the posts, I noticed that people were posting an introduction, a picture and some description of themselves and why they were there. I read them, found them interesting…but could not bring to post one myself, even though I longed to do so. I literally broke into a cold sweat just thinking about what I would write. Why?

Then I saw this underlined in my book and it dawned on me. It’s like raising my hand in class. I never could do it. Even as an adult, in any kind of classroom like situation, an office meeting, anything, I couldn’t raise my hand to say something no matter how much I wanted to. I’d sit there, heart racing, mind trying to put together just the right words to express my thoughts…and do nothing. I have the answer! I have something important to add! I can help with that! But nothing could get me to raise my hand.

Why? Because raising your hand draws attention to yourself, drawing attention to yourself if not lady-like or attractive. And that is the worst crime of all. Where in the world did I get that idea? I assume I got that message from my mother’s family growing up. I can hear their words like family mantras, “don’t make a scene,” “don’t be ugly,” “keep your voice down,” etc. There was no evil scheme to keep a child down, it was just the way they were raised, so they passed those social and cultural rules on to me.

The women in my father’s family were different. They were loud, brash, and wild. Since my parents divorced when I was very young, and back then fathers didn’t get 50/50 custody of their kids, I didn’t see them often. I mostly saw them on holidays when they were at their most boisterous. Recently, I’ve dreamt about being more like what I perceived them to be: confident, proud, intelligent, unrestrained.

So here I am, 47 and looking for new friends on the internet. I joined a group of like-minded people in an attempt to socialize…and I’m paralyzed with fear at the idea of introducing myself, even from behind a screen. What the hell?! I need to get over this right quick. There’s a huge difference between running into a room, doing crazy things, screaming “Look at me!” and contributing to a group social dynamic.

Our children learn some strange lessons, ones we didn’t mean to teach them at all. I wonder what unintentional lessons my children learned from me.

Are Words Magic?

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Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash

“I’m just doing what I want to do,” he said. “Don’t call it by any other name. I’m just doing what I want to do – and that’s all my mother ever did, too. Just what she wanted to do.”

-The World According to Garp (p155)

I’ve heard a lot about “identity” over the last…oh, man…twenty years?! The two things I’ve discovered and decided to stay with until I find evidence to the contrary are these:

  1. What you do is not who you are.
  2. How you feel is not who you are.

I will not “identify” as anything but a human being. My “tribe” is human, as far as I can tell. There are so many facets that make up who we are and even if you had the same interests and background as I do, the odds are we still wouldn’t see the world the same way. We’d still interpret events differently because we are different people.

What’s the danger of defining your “identity?” The moment you start thinking of yourself as one specific thing, as part of a group, you put yourself in a box. You limit yourself.

Christians don’t do this. Mothers don’t act like that. Introverts don’t like these things.

The statements can go on and on forever until we’re chasing our own tails trying to be what the consensus of descriptions say we are, but who we are is not any of one of these things or any combination of them.

A personal example? If a homeschooler is what I am, what happens when I am not anymore? What am I when my child expresses an interest in going to school, my child’s father doesn’t want to homeschool, or I just find myself unhappy homeschooling? Suddenly, I have to change who I am. My whole worldview has to be adjusted. “I am homeschooling my children right now,” gives me more flexibility.

Michelle, that’s just semantics. You’re nitpicking about word choices.

Am I?

In my opinion, words have magic in the strangest ways. Even when we think we know what we really mean when we personally use a word, the culture we live in, the meanings that other people in our social groups give things, tend to creep into our thinking.

It reminds me of a witch’s spell and magic incantations. Ancient cultures believed that words could do magic. From Pagan rites to the Bible’s Genesis, words are powerful. We think we are beyond all that superstitious nonsense, but maybe we’re wrong. Words are potent. They can change how we perceive the world.

We should use them wisely. Instead of naming your group or identity, just do what you want to do, what feels good to you, and be honest with the people around you.

I am Michelle, a human and I’m on a path of my very own.

Our Time is Not Infinite – Go For a Walk

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Photo by Alberto Casetta on Unsplash

Most days, when my husband finishes work, we go for a walk. Sometimes it’s just down to the mailbox and back, a little more than a mile. Other days we feel like we should go farther and make the long loop around our block, about almost three miles. It’s good exercise for us, physically and mentally. Mentally is what I want to emphasize here. There’s nothing else to do but keep walking. We can’t read, check social media, do the dishes, or go out to the yard. We just walk and think which leads to talking.

The longer our walks, the deeper our conversations go, and sometimes there are long stretches of silence as we go along. After a longer bit of silence, my husband will say something like, “I’m thinking about water quality and beer flavor.” I laugh because he knows the quieter it gets, the more I wonder what’s up, and he always tries to make my life easier no matter what we are doing.

Our long walks give us time to think and to explore ideas, talk about the kids, what we’re reading, things that have happened during the day. We always feel closer when we walk often.

It’s just the two of us walking now, but we’ve been walking since the kids were little. When we were home, we’d walk to the park or down the street to Disneyland. We’d walk on our vacations and camping trips, covering miles of trails and RV park roads. When we lived in the city, we’d take our tent trailer out to the desert and camp in the wilderness. We’d take long walks away from camp, as far as little legs would go, take a break and then circle back. The kids always led the way out, BB guns and canteens strapped to their backs, and then dragged behind us on the way back.

Discussions abounded on those walkabouts, even when they were little. We’d talk about what we saw on the trail, what we had to eat, and where we were going next. Sometimes big questions would come up. And we’d have lots of time to think and answer, think again, and ask more questions. There’s just something special about walking together that lends itself to serious connection with your fellow walkers. No matter how mundane the location, you’re on an adventure, a quest. And the time together is never wasted.

I specifically remember one walk when it was just my sons and me out in the desert. We decided to stay an extra couple of days instead of coming home in traffic on Sunday afternoon. My husband worked from home and we had a decent internet connection at camp, so he worked from the trailer while the boys and I played. Early in the morning, he had driven us far back into the hills where the old mines were and left us to spend the day walking back so he could work in peace. We had a backpack of snacks, water, and emergency supplies, and the boys were thrilled to try leading me back to camp.

As we walked, we pointed things out, investigated interesting rock formations, and took pictures of critters we found. They climbed a hill together and planted a “flag” at the top, an old bandana they had in the backpack. We took breaks, sitting in sandy washes in the shade of a large creosote or rock face. And we talked. This one was very special though. This time my eight-year-old son asked me questions about God and we spent most of the walk exchanging ideas. It was incredible.

I’ll never forget it. We caught site of camp when we came to the crest of the hill, four hours of walking and exploring coming to a close, when my son stops and looks at me, “You know mom, you should be a pastor or something. When you talk about God, I feel it. It makes me want to know more.” My heart just about exploded. Unsolicited praise from your children is like nothing else in this world.

Long drives have always had a similar effect on us as long walks, a chance to be quiet and think and to talk in ways we never seem to have when we’re at home. We don’t listen to the radio, but we do listen to music. There are several whole albums we have to hear on every trip over an hour-long, because that’s how you’re supposed to hear them, not in pieces on the radio, so they insist. We hold our thoughts until a break between songs and are sure to hit pause when we have to bring up a subject for general discussion. Drives to amusement parks, homeschool events, and family parties, road trips, and shopping excursions were filled with deep philosophical conversations. Ok, not really! Sometimes they got deep, many times, but usually, it was about something funny they’d seen or what they wanted to do tomorrow. But the more we drove, the deeper the conversations got.

I find myself driving alone more often now and I listen to podcasts instead of albums. I frequently find myself wanting to pause and discuss what I just heard with my family, but they aren’t there. I keep a notebook in the car now so I can write down my ideas for later because I swear I’m forgetting things more now that I have to hold on to an idea longer instead of blurting it out for immediate discussion. I learn and digest information best when I can talk about it out loud with others. Maybe it’s good exercise for me to hold on to it, let it ruminate and then discuss it later. It’s something I do have to work on these days.

Yesterday, my grown son wanted me to go with him to the city to go shopping. He could have gone without me. I had lots of other things to do besides sit in the car for two hours. We had a date though, and I felt like he really needed me to go, to show him I was still here when he needed me. I’m glad I did. My youngest isn’t much of a sharer of feelings and ideas. He’s a private man and keeps his thoughts close. But on this drive, he opened up and I listened. He talked about his first love and breakup, career plans, his college classes, life goals, and religion. I gave my two cents like I did when he was younger, but mostly I listened to my now-grown son show me exactly how smart and mature he has grown to be. I was in awe and I’m proud to have been invited in.

Why am I going on about this? Because conversation is important and to have a good conversation, we need to make space for it in our lives. We didn’t plan on taking long walks and drives with our kids so that they would have the time and space to talk, it just happened. I slowly became aware of what was happening as the kids grew and realized only recently, now that they are grown and moving out into their own lives, how special that time was and still is.

It seems like going for a walk with a friend might be an extravagance. There’s so much housework to do. It may seem like walking around the neighborhood with our loved ones is silly. Driving to a special store or small museum in the next town might feel like a waste of gas. We’ve been there, done that, and we see those people all the time. It’s not about the walk, the place, or the coffee, though. It’s about making a space for conversation to happen. It’s about connecting with people.

We’re all busy. The house is full of distractions. There’s so much at work to do. When we die, or when our loved ones go before us, will be satisfied that the laundry was done or that project was completed? Or will be happy that we got to really know our parents, our children, and our spouses. Will we sigh and say as we die, “Well, at least the kitchen cabinets are clean!” or will be gratified to know that our closest friends really know how we feel?

We can’t force the connection. We can’t tell everyone, “Today we will all talk to each other.” Or simply make a rule, “There are no smartphones or tablets allowed on this drive!” But we can make consistent safe space for our friends and family to reach out and talk. We can plan walks at the park. We can ask if they’d like to go with you. We can make lunch and coffee dates and keep them. And we can spend that time listening, asking questions, telling our stories, and allowing for the connection to happen or not.

It’s up to you. No one gets out of here alive and our time is limited. Spend it wisely.

Who’s Medea and Why Should I Know Her From Mary Poppins?

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My son took me to see “The Addams Family,” the musical not the new movie, at a local theater this past weekend and an interesting thought occurred when I heard this line in the play.

Side note: I’m the geek with an open notebook and pencil during plays, by the way. It helps me remember bits that caught my eye during the performance. The notebook is hilarious. I hold it however it’s easiest in my seat in the dark and I can’t see the words I’m writing, so it looks much like the ravings of a lunatic in a padded cell, allowed a notebook after days if pleading.

“Please” she whispers quietly in the dark, “just a piece of paper and a pencil.” What can she possibly need to write down? Is it a ploy to get materials needed for escape? They can’t figure out why, so they eventually give in to stop the pathetic crying, and when they sneak in and steal it away from her while she sleeps, all they see is random words and symbols written any which way. They can make no sense of the scribblings, so they give it back to her and allow her to continue her ravings on paper.

But I digress.

What was that line? Oh yes, “This stuff turns Mary Poppins into Medea.”

I laughed at the visual the line gave me. But I wondered if my son had the same image. He knows Mary Poppins, but I wasn’t sure if he remembered Medea from our journeys through literature. I jotted down the two names to remember to ask him after the show.

If you don’t know either character, this line means absolutely nothing, doesn’t it? It only works for a specific audience. It’s strange how we use references to other stories to describe things. There was a Star Trek episode that came across a people that communicated in nothing but references to events. They (the humans) couldn’t understand anything the aliens said because they didn’t know the events they referenced. To learn that language, one would need to study the whole history of the planet, not just the grammar and alphabet.

How else could that line be written? “This potion or liquid dose turns a human that is generally loving, kind, and levelheaded into a self-centered, crazy person, determined to get her own way.” Not very poetic or funny is it? Writing it the other way assumes that your audience is familiar with at least one of the characters. It drops flat if they know of neither.

What happens if we lose the common cultural background of stories? What if we are all reading, watching, and experiencing different stories? I suppose we’ll have to stop using those colorful references and use more descriptive adverbs and adjectives instead.
We could lament the loss of common cultural stories or we could embrace the change and learn to communicate in new (or old) ways that cross national, cultural, and species (oh please let there be extraterrestrial aliens out there) lines. Language has always evolved. It’s not new. It’s not the end of the world as we know it. It’s just different and progressing in unexpected ways.

What’s Your Family Culture?

I’ve been thinking about cultural customs and communication a lot lately. I’m wondering how much of what we do or don’t like about a person initially is more about how they communicate or the manners they learned growing up in their own family/national culture and less about who they are or how they behave.

What is culture? It’s the way a group of people living in close proximity have learned to communicate through words, actions, and behaviors. The family I grew up in had its own developed culture. And the state and country I grew up in had its own wider culture. Your culture teaches you what to expect from the people around you and what they expect from you. It makes people comfortable and able to focus on bigger things. When I walk in a room at a party, I know that if I make eye contact, smile, and talk in a familiar friendly way, people will accept me as part of the group and I can move forward with making closer friendships. That is what culture is.

The world is a big place with so many different cultures and communication styles. We used to only interact with a few on a daily basis. In the course of a regular work week, we’d interact with our own family’s culture and that of our physical location. It was easy. In a lifetime, the only time you’d deal with another would be if you traveled or if a foreigner came to your area. In those instances, you’d have to learn about what was expected of you as you traveled or that your new neighbor from China communicated respect in way different than you.

With the internet and social media, the world suddenly seems so much smaller. We deal with vastly different cultures on a daily basis. The pictures we see, the articles, the comments, all reflect a myriad of cultures that are so foreign to our own even from people inside our own country. We react to what we see from our own perspective, assuming that the person on the other end is posting from the same point of view when in fact he most likely is not. We end up taking offense and being angry, wondering what in the world has gone so completely wrong these days.

You’d think making it possible to see and communicate with people from around the world for free would make us immediately more understanding and sympathetic to others, but no. It’s made us angry and distrustful. Of course, it has! People say human is human and “a smile means friendship to everyone” but that just isn’t true.

The internet is opening up a whole new era of communication. In my opinion, it’s the equivalent of discovering fire, inventing language, and developing farming. It’s going to take a long time to re-invent the rules of behavior. Our new culture may be very different than any previous one. It may need to be based on a broader understanding of human nature, braver communication techniques, and a penchant for really wanting to connect. It remains to be seen if the human race is up to it.

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