Visit a Country Where You Don't Speak the Language
Visit a country where you don't speak the language
Because until we step out of it, our culture is to us like water to a fish.
Until we step out of it, our culture is to us like water is to a fish. It’s only when we leave the familiar shape of our culture—be we people who like our culture or not—that we are able to get a felt sense of its shape. To feel how its invisible lines of force shape us, pressure us, constrain us, support us. Because, like trying on a different set of clothes, it’s not until we take off the ones that we are wearing and try on something new that we begin to feel the fit. The US features itself a democracy, but it is an Empire. We picked up where the British left off. Did you notice that about our origin story? At a tactical level, this program has been enacted through culture as much as force, by brand USA: the Eagle, Coca-Cola, the Marlboro man. Our gospel is late-stage capitalism: our interest is economic domination. The US centers itself and its wants. Every map I was shown as a child, and I didn’t realize this fully until I was in my early forties and our mentor Lee Mun Wah pointed it out, places the United States in the exact center of the map. In order to do this, on our maps, we cut a continent in half. That tells you something about us.
To step outside of your own culture is to learn how you have been conditioned by something that was, until this moment, invisible to you. There are currents of culture that run through all of us that we cannot feel until we are no longer within our cultural field. And these cultural currents are not monolithic. A family is a culture. A neighborhood. Et cetera. If you don’t have the good fortune to visit another country, just go across town. Visit someplace where the dominant culture is not your own. Want to understand your bias? Go somewhere where your bias isn’t centered. Centering of your location, be it your country, your gender, or your race, makes it very hard for you understand your impacts. When our perspective is privileged, or centered, we don’t know so well who we are. Awareness arises when we step outside of that centering. When we first realize that we are different. This is the crimescene at the origin of consciousness. In Japanese culture there exists a conceptualization of a cultural soma. A cultural body. We talk in somatic circles about the field of the body: the soma. A culture, we would propose to you, likewise has a body. This is not a metaphor: it is not something abstract. A culture exerts shaping forces on bodies: it coerces alignment through what it values, centers, acknowledges. It punishes deviation. To understand the body of the culture you live in, step outside of it.
Video: Distill | Photography: Stein Egil Liland | Licensed from Pexels.com, used with permission.