Excuse Me: Your Culture is Showing

I was at the drive-through today with my partner and the discussion of bacon came up.

I was raised vegetarian with a religious emphasis on how bad "eating pig" was -- that dirty meat. When you ate it, you were not only unhealthy, you were sinning.

Needless to say, as a child, my personal culture absorbed these beliefs as a filter or lens. While I no longer believe that enjoying a BLT or bacon and eggs is a sin, or even dirty or gross, the remnants of the beliefs that my family of origin and religion passed down to me as a child are still a bit pervasive. I say this because the situation went like this:

My partner orders her ham and egg breakfast sandwich.

Me: So, what's the difference between bacon, ham and Canadian bacon?

She explains to me the differences and similarities.

Me: [Making a somewhat disgusted face] So, they are both still pig, right?

I then immediately started to giggle as I looked at the expression on her face. Befuddled, she looks at me, confusion on her face in response to my obvious disgust. I said, "Oh my God! My culture is showing!"

What I meant was this: the disgust on my face actually wasn't a true reflection of my current, cognizant beliefs.

It wasn't personal; I wasn't judging her. But, the pervasive belief of my cultural norm from childhood still hasn't completely been erased and it showed up in a way I didn't expect.

This story is a benign example, but the implications of how this can (and does) play out in our society are much more serious and dangerous.

I always say (it's on The We Belong Project tee shirts) "I am my own culture." What this means to me is that we are all individuals with our own worldviews: full of beliefs, filters, and lenses that were passed down to us from our families of origin, the societies/communities we've lived in, our educational backgrounds, and many other influencers. Most of us are aware of a lot of our beliefs and lenses, while simultaneously living our lives sometimes unaware that our cultures are showing up in ways we may or may not like.

Part of cultural safety is identifying our own culture or filters/lenses.

I refer to lenses and filters because I like to think of cultural norms/beliefs in this way. For example, there can be a rainbow in front of both of us, but if I have red glasses on and you have yellow glasses on, the rainbow will look different to both of us. It's still a rainbow. But our experience of it is much different.

My ability to understand that I'm wearing a red lens is important if I'm going to practice cultural safety wherever I go. It doesn't matter if I like the red lens and feel that it's comfortable, or if I'd rather change it out for a green lens. Or perhaps even overlay the red lens with a green lens. What matters is that I'm aware of it and that I'm choosing to wear it. Taking the next step to realize you are also wearing a lens when looking at the rainbow is the next part of cultural safety.

It's not my job to name your culture or lens. You get to do that. I may name your lens "yellow," but only because I'm looking at your lens through mine. Your culture and lens is whatever you say it is.

If I try and name your lens/filter instead of asking you or letting you show me what it is to you, I am not honoring you as the unique, beautiful being you are. I also risk hurting you, shaming you, or generally making you feel bad.

"Showing" your culture is part of expressing your unique being. I encourage you to embrace your lenses/filters and your culture and express them in ways that are meaningful and creative for you. I'm simply asking that you do your best to know, or pay attention to, the lenses and filters that make up your unique cultural identity. If you are aware of them, you can make conscious choices about what best serves you and the way you want to be in the world.

This is part of living consciously, so that if/when an old belief or lens shows up for you that doesn't serve you anymore, you can easily identify it and choose to let it go.

So the next time we pull up to Starbucks and my love orders a ham sandwich, I might just say, "So, will you share with me what you enjoy about ham?" :)

I think the next batch of The We Belong Project t-shirts should say "Your Culture Is Showing."

Photo Credit.