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Monday, 29 November 2010

Who Are You? I know Who I Am

Our passport may tell us our Nationality, the words we use may indicate our region and education; including our way of being. learning another language can help us communicate but is only half the picture, understanding cultural norms or attitudes is fundamental. Take Spain for example, roundabouts, introduced fifteen/twenty years go, they are often used like plazas people stop at the outside to pick up or drop off friends, the space is seen as a communal area. How we act in given situations changes who we are in that moment, and it's here where perhaps the English language is less clear. 'To be' and the sate of being can be separated in other tongues. So do you know who you are or being?

To know who we are it is useful to look at where we all came from, Richard E Nisbett, tells us in his book The Geography of Thought, that the Greeks started us off with their 'Pursuit of excellence', this is mirrored in the American constitution with 'the pursuit of happiness', the Greeks also lived in a landscape that didn't require too much inclusion, one man can take care of 'his' goats and trade with others, kick starting independence.
The Greeks invented school, for them it meant leisure time to develop themselves. So we could say that we have inherited the ethos of self improvement, if we think about why we keep fit and get a third level education, these are to help us compete, to be strong and independent. The Chinese however prefer self criticism, problem solving - how they can adjust to their surroundings. This we must confess as a benefit, the consequence means we are less disappointed when we get something wrong. For example the chess player that loses three times in a row and refuses to change tactics or study his mistake is blinded by self belief and isn't flexible.
Nisbett goes on to tell us 'Westerners are protagonists of their autobiographical novels; Asians are merely cast members in movies touching on their existence.' It would then be safe to say it's not about making yourself look good in the eyes' of others, but more about being perceived well if you think inclusively. Note, the only reflexive pronoun in Chinese is selfishness used to describe unwanted behaviours.

Do we need to change? Shouldn't 'they' change? Well unfortunately for the last five-hundred years the West has dominated technology and economics and this has made us rather Lordy. But let's look at an example of change, Archaeologists have changed their way of working instead of just looking at an object, they now look at what was around it, what was it's relationship with other things and locations giving a fuller understanding of past peoples.
We can start small though, if we think about the behaviours or 'selves' that we have, we change according to our surroundings, night-club, dinner party, lying on the sofa with a loved one, visiting grandparents, in fact the notion of self becomes void when we are 'with' people we connect with others and our state of being adapts. We can see this when a teenager is acting inappropriately on the bus or at the cinema, he hasn't yet grasped that this contrast isn't helping him or those around him. We need on a day-to-day basis to know what code of conduct suits the situation the problem rises when we 'act the maggot' or more commonly when we think too much about 'me'.

There exist today 'Robinson Crusoe' syndrome meaning that in our thirties we get full independence, and then isolate ourselves in our flats and cars. From birth until ten years old we move away from mum and in our second decade focus on friends, fitting into peer groups, first loves, then in our twenties we get some ambition and understanding of the consequences of our actions. Then we could, if we don't marry, live stranded between, our working selves and friend selves.
We like to compare and contrast, 'people watching' is a great pass-time. Most of this is making us feel better, my hair is longer than, I have a better education, she should go to the gym. We don't all need to have families and settle down, but we do need to give without expecting something in return, this is where love comes in if we do things for people we care for deeply without questioning our motives. 

'An educated man should, above all, be a reasonable being, who is always characterised by his common sense, his love of moderation and restraint, and his hatred of abstract theories and logical extremes'
Lin Yutang wrote this back in the 1930s, he was actually a bit of a lay-about, but any idea that uses common sense is desirable, though too much restraint will leave your engine clogged with carbon. Taking your foot off the brake and enjoying an afternoon of hedonism will do you the world of good.
We are talking about equilibrium. I person analogy, when I played chess with a friend he always remarked that once I had moved a piece forward I never wanted to move it backwards. However we sometimes have to 'go back' it's our linear make-up that we need to look at, we are not the whole wheel only a spoke that is connected to a hub and a rim and we need many other spokes to make that wheel strong. If I want to improve myself I need to look in a different way. (note 'I')

How many times have you heard the expression 'team player' this makes me laugh rather like the 'hearts and minds' expression how can a western target focused mind be inclusive if we have developed so much independence? This expression should actually be reworded to say 'Are you Eastern thinking?' Most of us are not but we could be, we can change our jobs, diet, timetable some culture would do us some good. Something very simple we can do is look at the words we use, you may have noticed that most of this text is written using 'you', 'we', 'us' and very little 'I'; self is an extension of that remember the word 'selfish'. If then we should think globally, and by that we are talking about the Earth's crust were people live, there is only 40 miles from the bottom of the sea to the end of the atmosphere we live in a very small pocket. We should know ourselves better.

I have just returned from the cinema, an environment that brings people together, we park in the same place and sit a few inches from each other. We can do this and but only if we all play the same game, being respectful, waiting our turn. Unfortunately this doesn't always happen, because some one steps too close or pushes in. Some of these elements come from a cultural norm. We can't play the game alone musical chairs doesn't work with only one person.
My visit to the cinema, seriously puts all of my argument in doubt. A fat man pushed me out of the way of the counter as I was receiving my ticket. I asked him if he understood the concept of 'personal space' he didn't. Disappointingly there is no way of educating pork if we change too much to accommodate we will be overrun by the herd. Which means, I am happy to do a U-turn with my point of view. It is idyllic, and as much as I appreciate the likes of Lin Yutang, an educated man is not the problem, it's all the other idiots.

If that was all a bit too much to digest how about a few comedy moments from the late George Carlin on the little things that make us all the same.

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