Thursday, April 5, 2012


I got an email from someone I’ve known for, like, ever… she was very frustrated with how she had stood up and yelled at her college teacher, because of the politically liberal views the professor discussed and promoted in class. Feeling regretful at her behavior, and for causing such a disruption in class, yet still standing strong in her convictions, she expressed a wish that she could be more tolerant and loving, but was unsure of how to attain this. She was not even sure why she had opened her mouth, or where that outburst came from.

This is the letter that I wrote back to her… perhaps you, dear reader, will find some way to apply this to yourself, too, especially if you have dealt with times of expressing intolerance in your life (perhaps especially in the realms of religion and politics--two very taboo subjects!):

Dear (name withheld),

I have gone through similar things in the past... what you have experienced here is simply a product of your upbringing, and what you have been taught to believe is "right." Most of us tend to think that our way is the correct way, and have a one-sided view because of our enculturation. Everybody, without exception, is encultured.

Our culture is learned behavior, nothing more.

It doesn't meant we are unknowledgeable about other cultures, or can't get along with people... it means that we view the world within a specific framework (our beliefs and values, which were taught to us growing up, and then made more in-depth by those we are surrounded by in our daily lives, the groups we join or are party to, the conversations we have with like-minded people, etc.), and so the views we have require us to see the world through a particular cultural "lens" so to speak.

Such lenses act as filters, and produce blinders, of sorts. We see the world as we have been taught to see it. Your political views were not inborn--they were learned.

It is likely you were--like I was--taught that socialism was basically like communism, and is the root of all evil in the world. Our generation, the cold war, television and military propaganda, and a hoard of other social influences have taken their toll. The generation before ours believed very differently, as does the younger generation today, compared to us.

There is a fascinating feature that happens to people who live in cultures that are based on individualism vs. collectivism. It's kind of like western vs. eastern, but it is more than that.

Ethnocentrism is particularly high in individualistic cultures, as we tend to stand up and revel in our independence and uniqueness and the laws that support that type of existence; this is also true and flows over onto our political and religious views.

Alternatively, countries that force a lot of control over its people (China is an example since even their Internet is highly censored by their government, and lots of propaganda ensues) can also be quite ethnocentric, thinking their own ethnic and cultural views are "correct" even if they are the opposite of other peoples in other countries.

The key here is our (and their) self-centeredness of thinking... beliefs and values that are held in high regard as the end-all-and-be-all of our personal worlds. We tend to look narrowly at other views, when it is all we know, understand, live within, and accept.

It is hard for Jehovah's Witnesses--who are enculturated to proselytize--to accept the views of a non-invasive Buddhist.

It is hard for a person who was raised from infancy in Christianity, to fully or ever understand where an atheist's beliefs (or nonbelief, which can still be utilized a belief system, although this is not always so) and stance is really coming from.

It is as foreign as a worker bee trying to understand what a dolphin feels, sees, and knows about its world.

In my opinion, your frustration with what happened stems from your own enculturation (past upbringing and how you were taught to believe and see your world through a specific cultural lens) as well as the ethnocentrism (ethnically-centered beliefs, especially in the micro-circuit of the daily circles you run and the people who surround you who believe as you do).

This is common for everyone, everywhere, and two of the most prevalent, permeating, and dangerous factors in human societies today.

These are the two most direct reasons why there are cultural clashes, a lack of self-responsibility to search out and truly understand other peoples' views and belief systems (as if inside of their own heads and skin--like walking in another's shoes), and is the cause of most misunderstandings, intolerance, and even wars.
It is the very seed of fear, which propagates prejudice, and is a breeding ground for growing anger and resentment... and outlashes in front of others.

I am not here to tell you that you are wrong, merely to remind you to be gentle with yourself because you are human. Others are human too, so be gentle with them as well.

As far as socialism is concerned, it is a huge problem in the US for citizens to think that socialism is the same as communism, and to group the two together. I used to have this view, but learned more later on.

Communism is a totalitarian regime, usually with the country run by a dictatorship rule, with the government telling the people what is best for them, controlling them at many levels. It is like a tyrant situation.

Socialism is actually quite different - it is much more akin to democracy, but is truly closer to the ideal of a government that is run by and for the people (rather than the people voting for rulers in government, who in turn run the country and its people, as in a democracy).

Socialism requires a very small government, such as in Canada, yet they are just as “free” as us.

Big government is usually found in other countries, like our own. The people here have less and less say so as time goes on and government gets bigger and bigger. The founding fathers attempted to keep this from happening originally, by giving the states control, but over the last couple hundred years everything has flip-flopped, including the parties (Democrats used to be more like today's Republicans in their values, and vice versa).

An interesting study was done a number of years ago by asking citizens of different countries how they would rate their own "happiness” and Denmark came out as the "Happiest" country on the planet, and they are a socialist country. They have a high tax bracket (as much as 45% if I remember right) but they also get free health care and they emphasize education of their people, giving them a 4-year college degree for free. I wish I didn't have 48K in student loans, myself, in order to have gotten my degree with social science/cultural anthropology, which didn't even get me as much as a job once I graduated.

The United States, comparatively, has a smaller up-front tax, but once you add up federal, state, local, vehicle and property taxes, school taxes, sales taxes, gasoline taxes (built in to the cost of gas), luxury taxes, and a host of other taxes, added on top of each other, it becomes clear that we pay as much or more taxes, overall, than do socialist countries, and wind up with far less life-enhancing benefits (such as health care and college education) to show for it. Plus our government is in dire condition for the deficit. One begins to question, upon looking at these things, why our democratic ideals are not as successful as they once were?

I have two friends here in WA state--an ultra-conservative, and an ultra-liberal--who are super good friends, and they can talk about politics all the time, and they get along for three main reasons...

1) they can talk freely, giving each other room to express their opinions (freedom), and

2) they don't try to tell each other they are "wrong" or to convert each other to their individual views (respect), and

3) they focus mainly on the things they DO agree on, which are qualities such as fiscal responsibility, small and non-invasive government, personal responsibility of those in office, etc.

They found they have far more in common than they do in differences, ultimately, because that is their focus, and their friendship has been going like this for many years, yet they still hold their own beliefs and political differences dear to them. Neither has changed the other in their beliefs or political stance, yet because of their positions they take with each other, exercising respect and freedom of opinion, their friendship and level of depth in knowing each other has grown tremendously, and so the dynamic of their relationship has benefited and changed significantly over the years.

The only constant, really, is change itself. Change is the one thing we can count on. This is also true when we talk about ourselves.

Whether we like it or not, we are changing every day... our cells are completely replaced every so often, and our bodies grow older, and our minds expand and learn and grow. We are not the same people we once were as children, or even young adults. We change. And thank goodness for that!

So let me ask a few hard (rhetorical - I do NOT want you to answer me; only yourself) questions:

How happy are you with what happened?
Were you trying to influence or change the other person’s beliefs?
Is your way of believing really better?
Does it help you to become a better person and make the right choice by taking that position?

Bottom line: If you don't like something about yourself, change it. It's that simple.

If you like your ethnocentric views, and your enculturated belief systems the way they are, and do not mind the occasional outburst against someone who holds a different view than your own, then leave it alone.

Stasis (a lack of change) is also a common tendency (a feature of self-preservation/survival techniques) of the human psyche, as is change, however, it is not nearly as powerful as change.

Neither is more right or wrong than the other. It is completely relative and depends wholly on you, and what you believe about it.

Beliefs can change, too.

Blessings as you journey forward in your endeavors to love others, and remember to please be kind to yourself first... there is nothing "wrong" with what happened, just as there is nothing more "wrong" about your beliefs vs. any "wrong" aspect of someone else’s beliefs, unless you call it such and draw that line between you.

Be careful what you label and how you view yourself and/or others (we are all just fallible people). Be gentle and forgiving with yourself as you continue to practice the same with others of the human race.

It's all about respect, and giving yourself and others room to grow and expand and live to the fullest potential possible. :)

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