Saturday, September 30, 2006

Co-opting culture.....

My friend and I had an interesting discussion at lunch today. Very politely, she raised the question as to whether I am "co-opting" culture and the possible ethical conflicts. She raised this within the context of a discussion we were having about the acculturation process in general.

In a word: No.

My interpretation of co-opting culture would be to assume the target culture should be adapted to my/our way of thinking or distorted to fit my/our own personal needs. In other words... hegemony.

What I have chosen to do is adopt it. That is an entirely different matter since it challenges me to change to fit it, not the other way around. It elevates me. I do not elevate it. It is not "taking the best and leaving the rest" like some kind of smorgasbord.

There are messages between the lines of what I do. By changing my view of the world, my behavior and my thinking, I am most definitely enriching my life and hopefully becoming a better companion and friend to the people who surround me. Personally, I believe it is making me a better person.

Using the clothing as an example, Thai clothing is very modest. While it is pretty, it certainly doesn't fit into this culture's standard of beauty. The particular style I have chosen is far more village than Bangkok. It is not "modern", not revealing, not provocative. Most of the skirts or sarongs I wear go to the ankle. Most of the tops do not show cleavage and those that do are tasteful. The message I am sending is "I am a modest person". In response, the external world sees that I respect my body. I respect the bodies of others. That is the exact message I intend to send.

The behavior I have assumed as a result of this is causing me to be more mindful and courteous. I put the sensibilities of others ahead of my own. The needs of others take on more importance. With an occasional lapse, I've learned to watch my temper and my words. Mindful speech matters. By giving up aggression and assertiveness, I allow myself and others to relate on a far more cooperative basis. It is a gentleness that appeals to most. Graciousness goes a long, long way.

I am not vegan but the transition of my diet to Thai-based has certainly brought me to a healthier diet. My diet includes a lot of vegetables, fruit and rice, very little red meat and quite a bit of fish. This certainly can't be harmful. Mindful consumption is important.

I have found that giving up materialism and consumerism has brought me to a higher respect for all life around me, the things around me and a consciousness of the way I view others. This culture teaches that human value is determined by participation in the economy. A lawyer has more value than a customer service representative, as an example. This culture diminishes the disabled, the elderly and the poor. It diminishes extended family. It places the individual above the common good. It diminishes primary relationships, turning them into utilitarian contracts. I am very aware of how much this has crept into my thinking and I have always been socially conscious, so I thought. Now, I deliberately watch for this and change it. It's very subtle and pops out in the most unexpected places. (Just today, I read a rather vile post on one of my Buddhism mailing lists in which a member ran down homeless people. Two years ago, I wouldn't have challenged it. Today, I did.) It has increased my compassion.

My ex-husband used to say that the only good idea is a better one. What he meant, in my interpretation, is that we should always be open to something new. This, even though I've been at it for a while, always poses new challenges and they are good challenges. How to live in a western setting with the values I am adopting encourages nearly constant growth. Sometimes we change the external and the internal follows along. That is the basis of all social engineering and can have a positive application as well as the more common negative one.

There is absolutely no truth to the notion that I am "co-opting" Thai culture. I respect it far too much. I have adopted it and try to live up to it as best I can. My only hope is that I will do it with the honor and respect it deserves.

May all have a peaceful, restful night ~

Thailand Gal

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