The Amazing Ability That Most People Ignore


Continuing on the theme from I Gave My Baby To A Stranger In The Supermarket:

There’s a little-known ability that everyone has. It is part of the basic wiring you get as a human being. You use it every day, whenever you talk to others, or take part in an activity with other people.

It is the ability to create culture.

Most people understand culture as part of their identity:

I am English, so I am descended from Anglo-Saxons and Vikings. I come from the land of Shakespeare and Monty Python, but also The Only Way is Essex. I drink tea on an almost continuous basis. When I say hello to people, I sometimes get flustered because I don’t know when to kiss, hug, or to shake hands, or to do an awkward little wavy thing with one hand. I have big feet and skin that goes red at the first hint of sun. I have the right to live and work in the UK. I enjoy fish and chips, Yorkshire pudding, and cucumber sandwiches, though not all at once. When provoked, I say words like bugger and bollocks.

Culture is about belonging to a group, understanding how things work, knowing how to walk the walk, having the right to.

However, all the knowledge, beliefs, and behaviours that we think of as OUR culture or YOUR culture, are really grist to the mill. It is from our experience of cultural stuff, the bits which we call our own, and the bits that do not belong to us, that we can make new groups, with new rules about what it is ok or not ok to do.

What often goes unnoticed is that culture is not just something you are, but a connection that you make with others.

It is an understanding of what rules apply when one person interacts with another. This understanding might follow along with familiar patterns, like how to know when it is your turn to be served in a pub. It might just get made up as you go along, like deciding that in your family there needs to be a system for deciding which child gets to sit on the loo while they brush their teeth.

You make culture. All the time.

It is Thursday morning, and you just participated in baby singing group.

You made a bit of culture.

You sat in a circle, singing in harmony (or near enough), and making quacky ducks with your fingers. You welcomed and encouraged one another, while your offspring chortled and dribbled on one another. You figured out how to get three pushchairs out of a church hall door, without getting wedged.

In a fit of sleep deprived anti-logic, you just gave directions to a nice stranger, which will now result in him driving the wrong way round a one way system.

You just made culture (and maybe an enemy).

You looked approachable, and in gesture and word, passed on information. You accepted hasty thanks. Realising your error too late, you whispered a quiet apology ‘sorry dude’.

Last night, your first baby was born and you made a new family.

You also made a whole bunch of culture.

You held your baby in your arms, watching them open their eyes to the world. You said ‘hi there, baby’. You offered a feed. You snuggled skin to skin. You laughed and cried with your partner. You realised that your imaginings of this moment could never match the experience. You modified your thoughts and behaviour around your new understanding.

Every day, we walk around making culture, without even noticing.

Every time you interact with another person you are ‘making’ culture.

This is so exciting, because when you make culture, rather than inherit it, you are free to choose what it looks like. You are free from prejudices which infect communities, and can experience greater empathy and better communication with others. In the context of carrying, birthing, and raising a child, culture making allows you to find a rhythm for life, which speaks from the heart of the people in that family unit.

When you think of culture as manifesting in a different way, in each group you take part in, there is much less room for examining differences between one set of people and another. Take the way that you parent in a family unit. Whether you wear the baby, or push them in a pram. Whether you breastfeed them to sleep, or let them settle themselves. Whether you allow TV or not. Whether you serve up fish fingers or quinoa. Whether you call the meal ‘dinner, ‘tea’, or ‘supper’. As long as basic human rights are protected, it really does not matter a jot whether you agree with what someone else is doing. They are making their culture, and you are making yours.

All of the knowledge, beliefs, practices, that exist in your life are there at your disposal. They don’t need to be consistent or constant. They don’t need to look like anyone else’s. They are just what you have invented in a particular space and time, to make getting along with other people a bit more straightforward. It is created one way today, and if you want to change it tomorrow, you have the means to do so.

I reckon it is worth noticing that.

So, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to NOTICE yourself making culture. Then come tell me about it!

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Click here to see the abstract of the article I drew on for this post. More to follow!



4 thoughts on “The Amazing Ability That Most People Ignore

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