Cultural Constipation

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(© Jeffrey S. Bowman, all rights reserved, use by permission only)


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I hope this funny title catches you off guard and you'll consider my point, which is:

Our beliefs are a by-product of our culture. We assume they are correct just because we were raised in them and they are accepted by our culture.

Consider your accepted standards of life. They are part of you because of where and how you were raised. Sure you might have rebelled against your parents or the authorities at the time BUT your very own counter-culture was formed by an emerging culture. Yes I know that you are an original thinker (as I'd like to think that am too!) BUT our thoughts arise from the vantage point of our human experience around us. Seriously, have you ever pondered how we humans accept our cultural mores and beliefs and then assume others are wrong, or at the very least uncomfortably odd?

What you think about on virtually all topics stems from your culture or your reaction to it. Once you grasp this you'll find a greater tolerance and compassion toward those who differ from you, not to mention an increased questioning of your own beliefs with less dogmatism of their rightness and others wrongness. For some, this internal questioning can be unsettling or even frightening because they have become so identified with their beliefs that THEY ARE their beliefs.

One thing an early mentor taught me was to question all things - even him! In my own life I've changed my mind 180 degrees on topics from where I started once I decided to investigate my reasons for believing something.

For example, take the human body - nude. Years ago the doctor called and told my wife, “Judy, we found a lump in your breast. I am referring you to see a surgeon who will explain to you your options.” Our world, which was going at hyper-speed (we were 2 weeks from moving to take a new job), slammed into this major health embankment. For the weeks and months that followed we were forced into situations that we had never experienced. Judy had surgery, reconstruction, chemotherapy, loss of hair, then 5 more years of taking drugs to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer. She had countless doctors, interns, med students, and nurses examining her nude body.

Then other events of life challenged us. My father and her father became seriously ill. We had to do what we were not prepared to do– take care of them physically, i.e. their personal hygiene. Neither of us had experience with the nudity of our parents. We took care of them, we cleaned & washed them, and we saw their bodies in a context that revealed our own inexperience with such nudity. It was difficult to say the least and so I set about to examine my beliefs on nudity. My background was Christianity and at the time I was a pastor of a non-denominational church. I asked myself questions such as: Does God have a viewpoint on the naked body? Can a person of faith look at nude art? Can a Christian take an art class and draw a live nude model? Can one be a nude model for an art class? How come doctors seem to be allowed to view a nude body? Does a medical degree give them that ability from God? Is nudity in movies right or wrong? Movies like “Schindler’s List” have nudity, is this OK? How about nudity in the family? At what age does God say a parent should cover up around their child? When should they cover up? Breast feeding in public? Does God have an opinion on siblings bathing together? What about innocent “skinny dipping?” On and on the questions flooded my mind.

Most of you reading this know that nudity is one topic on which I've changed my mind. It took several years of study, pondering and running the "what ifs" through my mind to change my beliefs on the topic. In retrospect, I realized that I was culturally constipated on the topic (if interested you can read them here). On a recent trip to Germany we sat next to a German man one night at dinner who had gone to college in San Diego. He made the following observation: "There is a striking difference between us Germans and you Americans regarding violence and nudity. In our movies if it says no one under 17 allowed we really mean it. Even if accompanied by a parent we do not allow children to see... VIOLENCE!" We have no problem with simple nudity but we do have a big problem with violence. You Americans, on the other hand, have a big problem with nudity - even a mother breastfeeding her baby - but violence is OK. Your children see people getting murdered, blown up, and dismembered... but simple, non-sexual nudity is BAD." BTW, he did not learn what we thought on the topic until after his observation about our American culture.

Cultural constipation... believing something to be true just because you entered the world in a time/place that says it is so! For the longest time humans thought the world was flat... but just because everybody thought it was, didn't make it so. It was easy to believe the world was flat and to disrespect and even persecute those who dared to challenge the accepted belief.

What I'm trying to do with this realization is to not be judgmental of the choices of others, to respect that they are "sure" about their beliefs and, they might not even know that they are culturally constipated. Yet, perhaps it is I who really am the one constipated! I hope that others learn to tolerate my lifelong attempt to un-constipate (if that is even a word) my own life. <grin>

Summary: all humans are culturally constipated. We have a propensity to stay with whatever belief system we were raised with unless things in our life challenge us in a way that forces us to ask, "why" do I believe this or that? This reality is part of our human existence. Maybe you were raised to support a particular football team, baseball team, faith, or political party but you found a new bit of data and you've changed... Or you just stubbornly hold on to your belief that the Cubs will win the World Series! <just kidding wifey> Soooo, what are you holding on to about which you've said: "I'll never change," yet the data is saying differently?