Tag Archives: politics

You Define Tolerance

You-Define-ToleranceAt One World Week at the University of Warwick, I was asked after my talk if I thought it were possible to change the opinions of others, to build a community that could change the world by bringing on equality. I am not normally one for dodging questions, but I admit, I side-stepped this one a little and said that yes, I believed it were possible, but that some people would never change their minds, and for them the only hope you have to remove their counter-productive argument was to wait for them to die, which hopefully wouldn’t be long for the sake of bringing on equality.

Now, however, I am starting to realize day-by-day that there is a much deeper, fundamental issue there that seems so obvious to me as a Third Culture Kid, but that none of my First Culture Kid friends seem to understand. I’ve never once discussed this with anyone, mainly because it started as a double blind study in which even I didn’t know I was doing the research, and then transitioned into a single blind study as I began to notice a commonality between all my “global tolerance” First Culture Kid friends.

This has been years in the making, something I have been noticing and farming for more information since I was a college kid my freshman year talking to all these strangers who had never left the country, except maybe for a week here or there to build houses, repair a school, or to save the souls of those that didn’t know their particular god, whichever god that happened to be at the time. And now, even today, I still have this talk with people that claim to be tolerant of the world and believe in the potential achievement of total equality. But now, I do it with motive, not for fun. I am farming for a secret.

Before we even get into the details regarding global tolerance, I want to address the nature of that two-word-item that has become so popular when discussing the pathway to global acceptance. Tolerance, in itself, is a horrible way to achieve your goals. The root word, tolerate, means “to put up with, to endure.” When we talk about global tolerance as a way the world needs to move, we are already setting ourselves up for failure. We cannot achieve unity by simply tolerating. We need to welcome, to invite, to protect, to respect, to love, to believe, to agree, and above all else, to understand everything and everyone. To tolerate them only means that you accept that they are here, despite your better judgement or desires. A world of tolerance is a world still built on the belief that your personal experiences, your culture, the colour of your skin, the country from which you hail, and the people you have relationships with are somehow better than those around you that you simply choose to “tolerate.” The idea that we are building a globalized world on this ridiculous notion of tolerance is not only counter productive, but it’s insulting as well.

I think that it is this is this belief in tolerance that stemmed the greater problem with the First Culture Kid approach to creating a unified world. But before we go on, I believe it important to make a statement regarding my appreciation for people trying to make the world better. The world is riddled with people that reject any form of difference from their own, especially when it comes to religion, which seems to be the only remaining platform where it is not only socially acceptable to attack someone for not believing what you believe, but appears to be encouraged as well.

That aside, why is it that this belief in tolerance is such a problem when trying to achieve globalized uniformity? Because right out of the gate, you are approaching it all wrong.

I have had many, many FCK friends over the years who have been very quick to jump to the defense of anyone who is even remotely different to them. One comment that doesn’t quite include everyone, one joke that even slightly alienates someone, and BOOM! All of a sudden the tolerant FCK is halfway down your throat about your poor use in language or how your beliefs alienate a group of people and that’s not acceptable in a tolerant world.

And right there is the problem. Sure, the intentions are wonderful, to create a world in which we are tolerant of everyone and ignore all distinguishing indicators like the color of their skin, their birth country, their beliefs, their politics, their sexual orientation, etc. But the best intentions often lead to some of the most brutal results.

You see, my wonderful friends who want so much to make everyone equal: There is never going to be any form of unity if you strip down the boarders that make us who we are. We are individuals, not a hive mind of shared consciousness. We require our individuality to thrive. I am a white, English born, Italian blooded, globally trained, American influenced, southern experienced, big toothed, greasy skinned, messy accented, brown haired, brown eyed, Third Culture Kid. I have been the minority almost all of my life, and yet I have never really felt like one until I transitioned into my role as a Domestic TCK. Why? Because it was not in my constant need to ensure I said nothing that separated me from the pack, but rather in my open arms that invited the words gwai-lo, red coat, lobster, cracker, bai tou, ghost, leche, gringo, etc., to make me part of the culture that surrounded me.

And that’s where the one big crack in the foundation of “tolerance” suddenly spreads, bringing down the entire building upon which you built this first culture mask of acceptance using a term that means nothing more than to put up with someone. We don’t want to be put up with. None of us do. And trust me, your pathological fear of offending someone through racism is not the answer. Every time you gasp in horror at how someone used a racial slur, or pointed out the funny way someone muttered a word with an unfamiliar accent, or challenged a different person’s faith in their respective gods, you are not helping this battle for unity, but hurting it. The person who is not racist, who is opening their arms to global acceptance, will not be phased by a word. But the person who does not understand unity, the one that leads the pack, or the secret supremisist using your fear of offending to his/her advantage will always be the one to ride your “equality” to their benefit. The rest of us who are proud of who we are and are unconcerned with racism really don’t give a shit about the ignorance that’s thrown our way.

Take it from a man who has slipped between cultures his entire life. The deepest connections I’ve had, the most meaningful relationships I’ve experienced, the total acceptances I’ve achieved from cultures I do not physically or verbally fit into, have all been born of realizing one thing:

When we accept that we are all completely different, when we laugh about how we are called gweilo, when we chuckle at someone making fun of our accent, when we embrace differences and are proud of them, we entirely remove the power of racism.

This is not tolerance. This is equality, something so much more powerful than the tolerance you seem to want to create. Because in tolerance, we are always fully aware of the differences in the people that surround us. In equality, however, we notice it all, we vocalize it all, and we do so with an air of acceptance and joviality that makes the bonds between us even stronger. And with every relationship that is built upon that foundation, the foundation of a realization of our differences and an open acceptance to understand them and embrace them, racism has one less place to breed.

___________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener
Advertisements

The Definition of Global Synergy

Third Culture Kid Golobal SynergyOne of the most interesting words that permeates corporate life, outside of the whole “Green” word that has been making such a heavy-handed appearance as of late, is “synergy.” Synergy has become one of the most sought after elements of any intelligent corporation to date, and what makes it all the more interesting is that it’s actually an idea that is completely dependent on the individuals that make up a work-culture to achieve.

Regardless of whether your company wants to achieve synergy with partnering companies, synergy between internal departments, or even synergy with companies that fall into a mild degree of competition with your market, it all boils down to the people involved. Unfortunately, the word has been used so often and so loosely that it has become more of a buzz word than an actual idea, but it’s the idea that gave birth to the buzz word that ties so beautifully into the theme of this collection.

Synergy is, by definition, “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.” (Google Definitions) Sure, we all appreciate the value in that definition, but like so many things in this world, the true power of synergy is so much more than the words on a page.

For Third Culture Kids, synergy isn’t a corporate word, but a way of life. It is how we have lived every single day, how we have grown and evolved and adopted, how we have changed the way we think and behave and how we have changed the thoughts and behaviours of others. Synergy is a fundamental lifestyle adopted by global nomads. It’s a level of acceptance, understanding, and strength. It’s a shared understanding that the perceived and projected disability of being “different” is actually the gateway to the most successful, stimulating, and awe-inspiring progress we can achieve as both individuals and a community.

Synergy is Culture.

I recently participated in an interview that covered questions concerning my life as an immigrant, the cultures I find greatest association with, and how those cultures were impacted by the faiths of those surrounding me. I was asked to tell my story, from birth to modern day, on where I’d lived and how those things had shaped me. Halfway through this interview, I was asked what it felt like to be a minority (I believe that Third Culture Kids are always a minority, even when surrounded by other TCKs), and how my culture was impacted by those feelings.

It led to a two part answer, one that inspired me to explain the power of TCKs and their ability to work seamlessly to create a synergistic culture anywhere in the world. It started with a story I have touched on before, derived from where I felt most comfortable as a minority. I talked of my second stint in Hong Kong when I was 14-15 years old, a freshman in high school. At the time, my group of friends were a mess of lost cultures, like myself, struggling to find a log to grab hold of in the sea of cultural identity. We consisted of one friend from each of the following cultures: Welsh, N. Korean, S. Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, French, Spanish, Filipino, English, and American. We were all different, all wrestling with our passport country identity, and all Third Culture Kids with completely different developmental histories.

But that was what made us unite. We were all different, but fundamentally we were all driven by exactly the same ideas. We wanted to understand the world, and through our friends we had a gateway to 10 different countries, all of which had different cultural backgrounds and all of which possessed elements that we would adopt into our own Third Culture to expand who we were. And with those adaptations, with those adoptions of varying backgrounds, beliefs, and lifestyles, we became more synergized.

And this is where the true beauty of the power of Third Culture Global Synergy came into realization. We didn’t just unite as a group, we took those unities into ourselves and absorbed that culture of 10 different countries we had created with us when we left. We were all TCKs, all natural absorbers, all completely aware that one day we would separate and take the memories of our past with us. And with those memories, we had each added cultures to our repertoire that strengthened our abilities to work together, or work with others from any of the 10 backgrounds we now shared.

I think that it’s in this little developmental quirk that the true power of global synergy can be seen. TCKs are the definition of synergy, and synergy is nothing more than the ability to unify cultures. As TCKs, we were molded into the perfect tool for synergistic unity. Throw us into a room full of strangers and our natural ability to adapt will operate as a catalyst for anyone we meet. And that takes me to the second part of the question that was asked to me during my interview: What makes me feel like a minority?

I am a TCK, and so no matter where I go, I am always a minority. My culture is not shared by anyone because it was built out of the fragments of so many different pieces of so many different cultural puzzles. Even my TCK friends would agree that while we understand the fundamental truth that we share our separation from the First Culture, we do not even truly share our Third Culture. The Third Culture of each TCK is completely different from TCK to TCK. It all comes down to the elements of the cultures we were exposed to that we chose to adopt.

And so my status as a minority isn’t a feeling I notice. It’s a perpetual state of existence, one that has been present my entire life, one that I have both fought and embraced. But now, as an Adult TCK, I can say that the only time I feel out of place, the only time I feel like a true “minority” is when I lie to myself about who I am. When I cover up the truth of my multicultural background, pretend to be something I’m not, or hide elements of my life because I know they will cause friction with the culture I am part of, that is when I feel alienated, disrespected, or minoritized.

The truly interesting part of that feeling is that, unlike many other minority groups that feel separated because of the stigmas the world places upon them, I feel like a minority because I am placing the stigma upon myself. I can adapt, evolve, fit in. I can lie if I need to and be completely convincing that that’s exactly who I am. I can live that lie every day, and be a culture I am not because I have a completely subconscious and natural eye for absorbing the cultural queues that make me fit in.

Whether it’s lying by saying “amen” sitting around a table, lying about my sex life, lying about my dating etiquette, lying about where I tie my allegiance in sports, politics, or social issues, lying about how I perceive different races, lying about how I feel about other people’s reactions to cultural tension issues, these are the only times in my life that I feel truly out of place and separated.

In pretending to be one of “them,” I lose who I am. Which brings me full circle, back to the start. My life as a catalyst for synergy, a gateway for first culture kids to truly understand each other through the medium of my experiences, stems from a world in which I am both the biggest liar and the man who never lies.

As TCKs, we understand synergy fundamentally. We understand culture completely. And we understand that no matter how we fit into this world, we will always be entirely ourselves today, and yet never who we were yesterday.

_________

The Author

Author

Post by: James R. Mitchener

The Third Culture Kid Minority Coefficient

North Carolina recently positioned itself for a vote on Amendment One, a change to the State’s constitution that would essential change the civil union partnership for gay and straight couples alike. Essentially, the vote in question was whether a civil union was considered an appropriate form of union. Of course, counter-gay-rights activists decided to use this extremely broad amendment to block out every form of union of the same-sex-couple community. And they did such a good job about it that almost nobody noticed that the same sex union portion of the amendment was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what was going to change for partnerships in the state of North Carolina.

Having only moved here five months ago, I hardly had time to get my paperwork in order and use my new-found American Citizenship to weigh in at the voting booth, so I simply got to sit back and watch as over three million dollars were spent in campaigning on both sides, then wait quietly for the results to arise.

As it turns out, North Carolina has decided that the “human” part in “human rights” is open to interpretation and not everyone was in fact born with equal rights. To me, that seems like an odd stance when it comes from a state that exists within a country that declared its independence with words that have come to be known across the entire world screaming for freedom and equality:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And with those words, a country took its first steps towards becoming the first true country of the people since the Roman democracy of centuries past. The people wrote a constitution, set the laws of the land, declared the place to be the home of everyone, welcoming all. And when the french gifted a statue of copper to be placed at the port of the land of the free, the inscription read “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

So what is it that this Third Culture Kid sees that so many First Culture Kids appear to be missing? Why is it that when I heard Amendment One had passed I was overcome with a chilling wave of icy disappointment in my fellow human beings?

I think it comes down to what I’m coining the Minority Coefficient. As a TCK, it doesn’t matter where we are in the world, what the people around us look like, what language they speak, what their beliefs are, or what cultures define them; we are always, always, a minority. The type of person we have become, the life we have led and the world we have created forces us into a realm of our own. We are understood only by other TCKs, but even the TCKs that know us don’t know the cultural hodgepodge that rages inside of us.

For this reason, even when we are in our passport country, surrounded by people that conform to our political viewpoints, sitting in the place of worship of our choice, speaking a language we understand with people who are all the same ethnicity and gender, we will always be the odd one out. But why?

TCKs have spent their youth moving from place to place. Many of them have experienced cultures that are so vastly different from their passport-countries, and in that experience they have learned through cross-cultural absorption that those stark differences from place to place are all elements of exactly the same human condition. With the power of technology, every FCK has seen hunger and famine. They have seen wars of god and government. They have seen oppression and succession. They have watched as people have been refused the freedom to say what they want, to confront their government, to vote, to make more money than their neighbor, to buy things they want and not just the things they need, to earn a wage that isn’t all taken by the government.

But we as TCKs did more than just see. We lived and breathed around those people. We learned so much from them, grew up around them, adopted parts of their lifestyles into our own culture. We, in a sense, partially became those people. And in becoming them our understanding of the sheer magnitude of global diversity achieved partial-realization. We began to see that no matter how much we adopted, no matter how many different cultures we found and made our own, we were hardly even scratching the surface of what’s really out there.

By becoming, even if just a little, these people that are now so far away, we developed a level of empathetic understanding. As a TCK, it becomes almost completely impossible to not feel the frustration or indecency done to fellow human beings. The level of intelligence and cultural understanding that runs through the TCK population is incredible. As a group, we are some of the most open-minded people in the world. So when we are confronted by a decision by the majority that suppresses the lives of others, we feel that pain even if we are not part of that group.

I believe that is why, when I read that Amendment One had passed with only 26% of the population voting against it, I was overcome with disgust and disappointment. While I am not gay, nor do I have any immediate desire to form a civil union with anyone, I am endlessly troubled by the idea that 74% of the voting population of the state I live in believes it’s okay to oppress the lives, liberties, and happiness of multiple groups of people that want nothing more than to just live their own lives without bothering anyone.

To me, it’s heartbreaking enough that this even came to a vote. The idea that oppression is allowed in the land of the free worries me, but what worries me more is that it’s not just voted on, it’s voted for. Because in the end, that’s all that happened this week. And sure, North Carolina isn’t the first state to vote on this issue. And sure, the state was expected to vote out this way months ago. But how does that make it better? How does knowing it would happen or that it has happened before make the lives that are damaged by this passing vote any less meaningful?

In the end, we are just perpetuating a belief that all men (and women) are not, in fact, born into equality. And to this particular Third Culture Kid who has spent his entire life as a minority, I worry that there will never come a day when people finally recognize that despite our differences, we are all seeds of the same soil, and we all need the same sunlight to grow.

_________

The Author

Author

 

 

 

Post by: James R. Mitchener

Culture in Faith

Faith too often stands on its own in our current world. People are separated by it, define themselves by it, live their lives based on its principals. Yet, despite its completely interwoven nature with life, it is so infrequently discussed in the context of cultural development. The truth is, Faith is a fundamental part of all human existence, and how we approach it directly correlates to what our culture considers socially acceptable.

This entire process is visible in all corners of the planet. We will start with one end of the extreme, the cultural melting pots of the western world. Take, for example, the United States. Here you have a land full of different beliefs, a country founded on the principal belief of freedom. This freedom extends to all forms of life, from the right to speech to the right to practice, or not practice, the religion of your choosing. However, this once-radical structure of individual freedom was created due to radical believers being oppressed in a less radical society. So they left, traveled across the ocean, and created a colony of free beliefs where it didn’t matter how outside of the realm of normality you sat, you were welcome to be as radical or neutral as you saw fit.

This created a hodgepodge of faiths, faiths that all believed that they were right and the others were wrong, but faiths that existed in a world where all faiths were welcome. Here, society created two separate cultures, the Culture of Law and the Culture of Belief.

The Culture of Law stated that regardless of who you were, regardless of what you wanted to do, and regardless of your background, you were entitled to the same basic rights as everyone else who lived within the borders of this land.  You, like everyone else, are granted freedoms to do as you please with your faith, making that faith an individual decision that can be made by you and you alone. In exchange for that freedom, you are to accept that other faiths will be doing the same, and that they are granted the same rights and freedoms as yourself. This is a large part of being American, and it is an element of immense patriotic pride across the nation.

The Culture of Faith, however, subscribes to a different mentality. Many faiths, excluding a select few, believe that their faith is the only way to advance to a higher state of being. Your birth culture can throw you headfirst into your Culture of Faith, your parents raising you a Lutheran, taking you to a Lutheran church, spending time with Lutheran friends, teaching you Lutheran morals and religious laws. But your neighbor may be something completely different, a Buddhist or a Taoist, existing within the same parameters of their own unique Culture of Faith.

So where the Culture of Law grants freedom and rights, the Culture of Faith requires conflict. If your faith states that only your religion will grant you access to the life beyond, then you are constantly attempting to pull people into that faith to essentially “save” them. And the two cultures will conflict, the Culture of Law saying that you have the right to believe what you want, and the Culture of Faith saying you believe what we believe. And though these two bump together, you are trapped in a perpetual stalemate where each different faith is operating under exactly the same rules, separated only by a baseline religious structure of their particular cultural faith.

Of course, this is not the only extreme, nor is it the most extreme on this side of the spectrum. Take, for example, the Rwanda Genocide. Their Culture of Law and their Culture of Faith bumped heads until the tension became so strong that there was no room for the Culture of Law in the minds of the people. The Tutsi, the Culture of Law majority but the Culture of Faith minority, were systematically slaughtered by the Hutu, the Culture of Law minority but the Culture of Faith majority. In a single night, Hutu neighbors of Tutsi individuals walked next door to the homes of people they had lived beside for years, dragged them out of their houses, and murdered them, creating a total body count of an estimated 100,000 people in a single night. Then, with the Culture of Faith driven to exterminate the Culture of Law, the Hutu continued their slaughter bringing the total death tole to an estimated 800,000-1,000,000 people, or roughly 20% of the population of Rwanda.

Our cultures define us. For the people in Rwanda, just like the people in America, the lack of agreement between the Culture of Law and the Culture of Faith were simply strong enough to produce unspeakable horrors. In the United States, excluding a few radical groups, the Culture of Law and the Cultures of Faith allows for enough symbiosis to survive simultaneously. However, whenever a political leader takes the stage and claims himself to be one thing, claims the country to be a country of only one particular faith (Christian being the front-runner in the early days of the 21st century), that separation begins to grow. The Cultures that support the Culture of Law are slowly pushed away from it by their Culture of Faith.

Regardless of who you are, you are driven by many different cultures. These cultures help define you, to create the person you will become and the reasons you decide to do or not do certain things. The problem for many First Culture Kids is that they have existed within such a tight set of cultures that they fail to see the harmony and uniformity that exists between them all. To them, their culture is the single way of thought. They don’t easily understand that others may not think the way they do, or believe the things they believe. They fail to see the differences because they have been brought up confined to the parameters of their birth cultures, just like the people they cannot relate with were brought up confined to their particular culture as well.

For a Third Culture Kid, however, we have the gift and curse of seeing past those borders. We gave up a birth culture long ago, so where everyone else is confined, we are constantly adapting and absorbing. The TCK mentality of survival through adaptation forces us to see the lines that connect every single culture all across the world. We understand, completely on impulse, that the Taoist and the Muslim neighbors really aren’t that different at all. They developed into two separate cultures and two separate faiths for exactly the same reasons. The problem is, they are so blinded by that Culture of Faith that they can never see their similarity.

It’s a benefit to us, being TCKs. We are universal acceptors. We can relate and understand regardless of what you believe. But we do that because we lack the cultural exclusivity that a First Culture Kid possesses. Where we fall short is in understanding why you cannot see just how similar you are to the man you consider to be so fundamentally different. This could be the reason why the TCK community is, predominantly, an atheist one. It could also be why the faith-based TCKs I’ve met in my life are the most laid back and understanding members of the religious population I have had the pleasure of discussing God with. It could also be that, like everyone else, we are part of the same broken system. Our culture, be it a Third Culture, doesn’t allow us to understand what it means to be so strictly First Culture.

Whatever it may be, I am glad to know the truth; It doesn’t matter what your Culture of Faith may be, your atheist, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, etc. brothers and sisters are no different to you at all. You just need to look past your Culture of Faith to see it. And that alone, at least to me, makes it worth all the hassle of growing up a TCK.

_________
Post by: James R. Mitchener