Seeing the Water We Swim In: Why Cultural Context is So Tricky

I recently talked to a mother who had just had her second baby. I asked how she was and she answered it was a little stressful because in her culture, young women have the last place in society, which means that when the many aunts and uncles and cousins come to visit to congratulate her on her new baby, she is expected to cook a three course meal for them. She pointed out that when she becomes a grandmother she will not continue the backwards tradition of putting more stress on an already exhausted young mother.

She also eloquently explained why she is upholding the unhelpful tradition for the sake of honoring her elders and maintaining the peace with her extended family.

Then she went on to say at least she wasn’t from country X where women are treated even worse. She has a friend who married a man from country X and this friend was required to maintain a full-time job and cook and clean every day for her husband and his entire family.

“If I were her I would never put up with that,” she said resolutely. “I would tell him ‘forget it’ and leave.”

How easy it is to judge from the outside what can, or should, be eliminated! I bet the friend living in country X has equally eloquent reasons for submitting to the cultural context in which she lives.

The conversation was a good reminder of how tricky cultural context can be when we consider creating a Blue Ocean. I use her example because it’s easier to see where others are inconsistent than to see our own lives rightly. It’s hard to spot our own excuses as excuses because to us they sound like solid logic.

I hope this young mother has the strength to break the unhelpful traditions of her culture, but I can imagine that after decades of serving young and old, when she becomes a grandmother and finally has the cultural right to be served, she might be so fed up with being treated like a nobody and so unpracticed at standing up for what she believes is right in the face of social pressure, that she might not have any strength left to gift her daughters the help that today she so resolutely believes she will give them.

Of course, if I stop here I will be making the same mistake. I should use the conversation as a mirror to my own heart and faulty thinking. What do I accept in my own life because of fatalistic thinking?

We need to focus on what we can influence today and not get side tracked by future battles or battles that are not our own.

Next week we’ll explore ways to spot our own fatalistic thinking and stop it in its tracks!

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