Change is unavoidable. It surrounds us in everything we do, from the streets we’ll choose to take driving home from work to the start and end of a lifelong relationship. All things eventually end, and when they do they are replaced by one or more differences that thrust us forward into a period of transition. Third Culture Kids spend their developmental years becoming fully acquainted with this very idea, learning time and time again that the friendships they make will not be permanent, that the view from their window will not last, that the language they learn will not be their primary tongue forever.
The world is constantly changing. The universe is constantly changing. We, as people, as groups and as individuals, are constantly changing. On an atomic level, electrons hop in and out of existence. On an elemental level, reactions are always taking place around us. On a cellular level, our bodies are constantly dividing, changing, growing, and dying. On an individual level, our personalities are changing based on stimuli and information, our perception of the world altering the information we receive and process. On a cultural level, communities are adding new life with mourning the loss of old life, changing the group as a whole with new generations moving up and old generations moving out. On a planetary level, the surface is constantly shifting while old land disappears and new land forms. On a solar level, the sun is burning, adding new elements to its core in what to us appears to be an endless fusion reaction, but in truth is as ephemeral as everything else. On a galactic level, stars are spinning around the mass of a black hole, balancing on the edge of deletion. And on a universal level, everything continues to grow and expand, outward from our very point of perspective, infinitely and endlessly.
And yet with change so completely a part of life, a constant in every single aspect of everything we do, it strains my TCK-mind whenever I look out at the goings-on of cultural events around us in which there are always overwhelming groups of people constantly battling the very changes that will inevitably occur.
Because all change is inevitable.
This all sprung to mind when I read an article that the Church of England will grant Bishop status to openly gay men. It immediately prompted me to message my girlfriend and inform her of the news, and as soon as I hit send, I quickly added at the same time as she sent to me: “but not women…” We then proceeded to shoot back and forth questions about when the last time this could have happened, that gays gained the status of equality before women. I settled with the Ancient Greeks, but that was just a stab in the dark without actually following through on my normal process of intense research. The conversation then quickly turned to how the article we had both read commented on how many people in the church, and those who believe in its practices, were furious with the Church’s position of welcoming gay Bishops. My TCK brain began to spiral, as it always does when dealing with cultures that are so large and immense that they actually are built out of hundreds and thousands of sub-cultures that mask themselves into a greater Alpha-Culture.
The Third Culture’s natural ability to adapt, our talent of fitting into any social setting, requires us to invite change in all its forms. The equality of our species is key to our ability to socially position ourselves as insiders to a community that we are not truly a part of. Without equality, we cannot function. We welcome differences because by rejecting them, our ability to fit in completely vanishes. Welcoming change creates social integration, the catalyst of a thriving TCK. Rejecting change, however, creates the exact opposite; it creates only alienation.
For TCKs, there is no room for alienation in our lives. When we became part of the Thrid Culture, albeit a transition that was usually not of our choosing, we were forced to abandon the ability to restrict ourselves based on our apprehension of change. Our entire lives became about adapting to what’s around us, finding elements of the things we experienced and pulling them into who we are, being part of cultures that were never truly ours. We were created by change, and we hold onto the Third Culture Kid title by inviting it throughout the rest of our lives.
This is the way we live and breathe. It isn’t so much of a choice as a knee-jerk reaction to survival. We invite change because change is the ever-growing world we live in. We were raised on it, fed it as a source of sustenance when the normal options for survival of consistency and life-long-relationships were taken away from us. We understand based on a lifetime of development, growth, and minority status that, even though our minority lives are masked from the cultures and people around us thanks to our lifetime of cultural stealth training, the rest of the world doesn’t have the same luxury as us.
In truth, the fundamental problem that I have as a Third Culture Kid watching the world resist the changes that will happen regardless of their prolonged resistance isn’t the oppression. Oppression, despite how sad this truth may be, is a natural part of human existence. We have been doing it since the dawn of time, and it seems that the ignorant will always want to impose their lack of understanding and their fear of what isn’t them on everyone else. What upsets me the most is that I know that in almost any situation, I have the ability to pretend to be, to adapt into, either side of the conversation. I could fight either argument, and I could make those around me believe it was the only thing in the world I’ve ever known, despite how much I do not believe it inside my TCK brain. But I have the ability to do it. I have the ability to blend. I have the ability to fit in.
But the world has been “fitting in” for too long. We have reached a point in cultural evolution where understanding, respect, and mutual gain is becoming more than just a dream. As TCKs, we have the natural ability to bridge the gap between social groups. The cultures on both sides can find a commonality in us. As individuals, TCKs are so fundamentally different that where I might not be able to help bridge a gap, there is certainly a TCK out there that could.
Because we have been given the gift of cultural ambiguity, and with it we can become the catalysts to a better world. The only roadblock is change.
- Post by: James R. Mitchener