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Loving Outside of Culture

First things first, I hate writing.  I cringe at all the writing that my personal growth work asks me to do.  I envy those who can journal and blog with ease, and that is NOT ME.  So...why this?  Well, let’s say I’m inspired.  I had one of those brilliant AHA! Moments during my meditation this morning, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that it needed to be written down.  It needed to be shared.  So here is my humble attempt at connecting some of my thoughts for you.


Let’s focus for a minute on “culture”.  I grew up in central/western New York state.  We did not have tons of diversity.  In junior high, my family moved to Florida (for about 6 weeks) and then to Southern California. WOW!  The diversity and cultures!  I  quickly became aware of my naivete about many different cultures.  I also became very aware that it seemed I had no strong foundational culture.  I was “American”.  Although my ancestry is Irish & Polish, my family didn’t carry on any traditions or culture from those places.  Beyond my grandma making golumpki & pierogi….I felt vastly disconnected from my “heritage.”  I went to highschool at a small Catholic girls school.  OH THE CULTURE!  Filipino culture, Mexican culture, Chilean culture, Argintinian was beautiful.  It also made me feel a bit deprived.  However, when I went to college I discovered that my family’s culture was almost solely based on religion.  My familial culture was Catholic...I’m talking “real” Catholic or “very” Catholic (as my friends now call it).  Culture incorporates ancestral, religious, or political philosophies.  It can lean strongly to one of these branches, or incorporate them all.  Some even are connected (many times conservative politics is closely aligned with religion).  And now I want to talk about the danger of not separating your culture from your loving connections…


So...who cares?  Well, I am a parent coach.  I’m a self-professed geek, who reads and debates about things like neuroscience and brain development.  I focus a lot on children and how to best cultivate a relationship with them that will be an anchor in the rough journey of life.  I’m sure that having 4 children myself was the trigger for all this.  Striving to be the best parent I could be, and hoping to avoid the major pitfalls that could cause lasting damage (that’s a whole other discussion).  So learning about attachment theory and brain development was key to my parenting path.  I had quite the assortment of wonderful kids (one that had so much empathy I had to teach about self compassion early on lest guilt become overwhelming, one that read at 2 years old, one that was so spirited I wasn’t sure I’d make it, one that seemed to skip ahead past milestones in weeks).  As I worked on bettering myself (at first, yes it was totally centered on them...I admit my intention was to give them the best mom I could and lead them into adulthood with confidence and a relationship they could always feel secure and connected to), some things became very clear.  One was that attachment theory is often misunderstood, and needed to be practiced.  Second, separating your love and attachment from your family culture is probably the most important thing you can do for a lifelong relationship.


Don’t get me wrong.  Culture is very important on both a personal level and a familial level.  It can create a foundation for limits, beliefs, and connection.  However, the bigger connection should be to the people.  When we do not separate these different aspects of our being, it can be a big obstacle in having an open and trusting relationship with others.  The very interesting part of this is that it has been studied and reported that “cultures” (including ancestral, religious, political, and even new groups based on interests) are a way to feel accepted, and connected.  However if we link our love and our chosen culture in the minds of our children (and I’m fairly certain you could extend this to friends and partners), we can unknowingly cause dissonance and rejection.  Children are especially susceptible to the negative effects of this because the prefrontal cortex is not fully functional until mid-twenties.  So the ability to fully be able to analyze and separate things is greatly inhibited.  The end result if you do not separate these things, is that the child believes your relationship is forever entwined with the culture.  I believe that this is precisely why we see so many issues with kids attaching to peers at adolescence. There are some well documented reasons (hormones change their bodies and minds and they are exploring more independence, among other aspects).  However, I’ve not seen anyone discuss the difficulty in overcoming cultural beliefs.  In other words, we can be sending our kids the message that we love them wholly...and conditionally within the cultural practice of the family.   


If a child is exploring and questioning fundamentally held beliefs of the parental culture, then it is understandable that it separates their relationship.  It makes sense that a child would be hesitant to discuss something that their parents (and probably their entire family and friend network), holds as bad.  It creates the very thing that parents fear most, a disconnection where kids do not trust their parents.  It stops the relationship from being able to be supportive, because the child has to assume that the limits and boundaries of the culture are going to be upheld ABOVE ALL.  This is perhaps the most interesting point.  I think this could be what we are also seeing in the wider vein of society.  It is also why I’m promoting non-violent communication and the 4 agreements as the new communication norm.  Non-violent Communication was created by Marshall Rosenberg and used world-wide utilizing deep connected listening and compassion to get people’s needs met.  You can read the book or find out more about it on their website:  The 4 agreements is a book written by Don Miguel Ruiz that creates an easy guide to living by “Be[ing] Impeccable With Your Word”,  “Not Tak[ing] Anything Personally”, “Not Mak[ing] Assumptions”, and “Always Do[ing] Your Best.” During times of extreme stress, overwhelm, and fear we desperately cling to our CULTURE for the basic needs.  I see this in familial issues or school issues, and now in society it is very apparent with the year of the pandemic.  It makes sense psychologically & emotionally.  Our brains are triggered to follow the most wired sense of safety.  The thing that brings that is our practiced culture.  


I recently read, “Strange Rites” by Tara Isabella Burton.  I did not care for the book overall, but it did get me thinking about how she (I believe incorrectly) assigns religion to groups of people.  Two things screamed out at me.  One was that people are hard wired neurologically to find a community with a shared culture.  This is evolutionary adaptation for survival.  This is not some strange and unexpected issue that is coated in a need for organized religion.  This is the brain seeking out a safe place where they are surrounded by people who share beliefs and customs so that they are more likely to be included in group safety.  Second, it is in times of hardship (stress, PANDEMIC, etc.) that our sympathetic nervous system is triggered resulting in our body reacting by survival means (fight-flight-freeze).  This past year, it is likely that we are seeing the results of most of us being ruled by our sympathetic nervous system.  I teach many parents how to recognize the signs that this is happening with their kids, and how to help them bring back their parasympathetic nervous system.  I believe that the hard lines between groups of people are being exacerbated by the fact that we are reacting with our amygdalas! The abhorrent behavior by people from all different types of groups (religious, political, or “other”) is a result of the level of stress and trauma we are living in.  


So...the point?  The point is that I believe we need to make it a priority to see that our chosen culture(s) are PART of who we are, but they are not ALL that we are.  I think it is important that the “spiritual” side (and I think that in some this may include political or “other” groups as opposed to a chosen religion) is separate from our “relationship” side.  I have told my clients often that life is a balancing act.  We have all these different aspects of our life that make us whole, and life is the journey of trying to balance them.  There are times we work on one, and another may get lowered unconsciously.  The trick is to recognize that, ensure tools are in place to keep the one aspect stable, while switching focus to the other.  There are times in our lives when our focus can not be something.  That is ok.  The trick is to be aware and be able to stay at baseline, while dealing with the most crucial thing.  The most dangerous thing is when we entwine the different aspects.  It puts us in a position of being “out of control” because we feel we “can’t” work on something because it is connected to something else.


If we all recognize and hold relationships in a separate place, it allows for connection beyond culture.  I find this especially important because historically, cultures (whether due to location, ancestry, religion, or politics) are structured precisely to DISCOURAGE going outside the culture for relationships (both partnerships or friendships).  It strengthens relationships to share culture, and it strengthens cultures by increasing numbers.  However, in our current society it is crucial to recognize that as a LIMITING FACTOR to our growth as a functioning community.  We can not say we are multicultural, and then ignore the fact that culture was designed to be self-promoting and prejudiced against other cultures.  By recognizing that relationships need to exist beyond the bounds of culture, we can break free from many of the issues that plague our society and communities.  I do not feign that this will be easy.  However, I do believe that utilizing tools like Non-Violent Communication can help make this happen.  I fully recognize the work that is required to attain this, and I fully believe that it is worth it.  It’s worth it for your current personal relationships and for our society as a whole.  


I think culture is beautiful.  It can be an integral part of our lives.  I also think that we need to put relationships to people (including our partners, children, friends, neighbors, and fellow members of our society at large) as a priority.  I have often stated that Non-Violent Communication should be part of everyone’s education.  I further champion it as a tool that could greatly reduce conflicts world-wide.   I think the principle of communication being connection is what has been lost.  We can not continue to communicate as disconnected people.  There are no gains.  Neurologically, our brains literally shut down if there is no connection during communication.  It again activates the sympathetic nervous system.  I use these principles to help parents change their homes and relationship with their kids.  In addition, I’ve been saying for years that schools (being a microcosm of our larger society) need training on Non-violent Communication to better bring about functional environments for both educators and students.  I put this out there in hopes that people may look at their own lives and notice when their culture has been intertwined with their relationships.  I hope that perhaps even for just one relationship at a time, they can learn to separate those.  I hope they can see the limitations of culture and the importance of putting connection to people as a priority.  

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