Archive for the ‘Japanese Culture’ Category

How “Group-Think” Around-the-World Affects Our Relationships

March 7, 2015

Group-think

How many of us have felt sad about losing a childhood friend as we grow older, or sad about losing another close relationship in our life, either through divorce, or more commonly, through drifting apart of former friends?  Why is this happening?

The answer can be found in “group-think,” another name for blocks of energy.

Different types of groups create blocks of mental energy that move around influencing social and moral values, political ideas, and religious beliefs. When only one member of a couple undergoes a religious conversion, it places great strain on a marriage.  When a child either marries someone unacceptable to the family, or declares he or she is gay, this can place a great strain on the parent-child relationship.  When friends move to a new place, take up new interests, or join new groups, friendships can wither away.

We all belong to a variety of group-think blocks, generally without even realizing it.  These are imposed upon us, as children, by our family of origin, our environment, our culture and ethnicity, our neighborhood and schooling, and by our language and country.

Blocks of mental energy

As we grow and change throughout our lives, we try out new groups to see if we fit.  These new groups and ways of thinking sometimes cause a lot of stress in the people around us, who may not like those ideas.  New ideas and lifestyles can rupture relationships, ending in divorce or disowning, in more extreme cases, if the other partner or friend is not willing togive the new ideas a try.  Some relationships can survive these changes, but many cannot.

When looking for friends and/or life partners, it’s easier to connect with people when we find several group ideas that intersect with our own.  Consider the list below.  Some of the ideas are complete opposites, while others fall along a continuum, with many positions in between the extremes. Being a good conversationalist, asking leading questions and being a good listener, enables us to discover unexpected things we may have in common with others.

As you read the list, consider where you fit in each group, and consider where the your own interests, and those of your  partner and your friends fit.  People who get along well are more likely to have friends who share several idea groups.  Or, they might share groups that are contiguous to their own group on the continuum, as opposed to being at opposite ends of the spectrum.  The more opposite idea groups you and your partner fall into  increases the likelihood of divorce or rupture within a family, or among friends.

Very religious–Agnostic–Atheist

Productivity and hard work–maximal free time to lie around

Animal rights–pet owners and carnivores–animal abusers

Fatalists–self-determination and taking responsibility

Heavy readers–occasional readers–non-readers

Enthusiastic Parents–reluctant parents–militant childless

Big Industry Supporters–Environmentalists

Poor–Middle Income–Rich

Belief in equality of opportunity–equality of outcome

Spiritual and Relaxed–Dogmatic and Uptight

Straight–gay

Female–Male

Health and exercise–moderate effort–extreme indulgence

These are just a few examples of groups where one finds people thinking in blocks which project powerful mental energy.

In American culture, it’s quite easy to change groups.  In other cultures, it can be much harder.  They may not accept someone changing their job, moving to a new town, much less a new country; divorcing, changing religions, or many other examples.

When a person moves into a new group, it can be very threatening to those in the former group.  For example, if a child raised in a family that is interested in big business joins an environmental cause, or a gay child who appears in a straight family, or a child marries a foreigner, or someone of a different race, or moves to another conuntry, parents may not be able to accept it.  When one member of a childfree couple decides they now want to be a parent, this can lead to divorce.  Similar, less drastic, situations happen with our friends, as we find new interests and move into new groups.  this is why people come and go from our lives.

 –Lynne Diligent

 

 

 

 

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“Taxi Whores”

November 12, 2012

 

I live in North Africa.  Sometimes foreigners and expats assume that only they are getting taken advantage of by taxi drivers.  It’s always reassuring when we find out that the locals get ripped-off, too.  (Misery loves company!)

My local-country citizen, North African friend, who lives in another part of our country, recently arrived in my city by train.  He asked me, “How much does it cost to get a taxi from the new train station to the main square?”

I told him he had to be careful of the taxis which park right next to the train station, as they wait there to charge rip-off fares to everyone.  I told him if he could walk about two blocks, he could find taxis at the normal fare.  Unfortunately, he had too much luggage to do that.

Being a local North African citizen in his own country, he was able to get a taxi at only double the normal fare, although the taxis do get away with charging five times the normal fare to foreigners.  Instead of driving around looking for fares, those taxis find it easier to sit in a line all day, and just make up for the lack of fares by charging only one very expensive fare!  It’s a bit like prostitutes who are unwilling to work for normal wages at a normal job, and charge a high price for a few hours of work.

My friend replied, “Taxi whores! hahaha”

So I’m afraid I can’t take credit for this clever name…..

–Lynne Diligent

N.B — There are many honest taxi drivers; it’s just sometimes hard to find them when you need them!

Eastern Help for Western Stress, Part I

July 25, 2012

You're fired!

Losing your job, having your spouse divorce you (or boyfriend or girlfriend break up with you), experiencing the death of a loved one, being filled with anger, or just feeling endlessly bored are types of serious types problems we all face from time-to-time.

Some people aspire to a calm life without any problems.  But such a life does not exist.  We are each in our own little boat, headed in a direction, and must navigate daily waves and storms.  Our job is to be able to move through these waves and storms, which are sometimes ripples, and are sometimes tsunamis washing away everything.

In the past, when such overwhelming experiences have happened to me, I found myself constantly ruminating on them, sometimes to the point where I could not work for many months.   But not being able to work did not help my problems;  if anything, it only made the problem worse, and gave me even more time to ruminate.  In other words, it kept me from moving ahead with my life for far too long.  If I had had the tool of meditation available in those times, it would have helped me greatly.

One common problem, especially younger people (and many older people, too), is the problem of constant boredom.  Our minds flit from one thing to another, and these days, we often use technology as  a solution to boredom.

But what if we are in a situation where we have no access to technology, or are stuck in a very boring and uncomfortable situation for many minutes, hours, or even days?  Meditation practice (not a religious practice), used as a tool, can enable one to just “switch off” boredom, and become fully present in that moment.

What is meditation, exactly, and how can it help?

While there are many traditions and ways of meditating, what they all have in common is that these methods are TOOLS used to turn off the left brain.

Over the years, I read several books on meditation.  Yet, whenever I tried it, I could never seem to concentrate or do the exercises; they seemed silly, boring, and pointless.

How can sitting and focusing on watching one’s breath, in and out, or chanting a mantra, ever be helpful?  For many years, I never got past this basic question (which I’m sure is one many others have, and with which I hope this article will help others).

There are several types of meditation practice. One type involves watching one’s breath. Another type involves chanting a mantra. Yet another type involves a special type of walking while counting steps, and paying attention to breathing. What these things have in common is that they are TOOLS; they are not the end in and of itself. Each of these tools bring the same result; they are a way to FOCUS THE MIND calmly on JUST ONE THING.

The main principle here is that your thoughts, your emotions, and your mind are not YOU.  The mind is a possession which  produces thoughts and emotions; it is something which needs to be trained and disciplined in order to restore tranquility to your soul.

Why? When the mind is not trained and disciplined we are at the mercy of our thoughts and emotions. The benefits to be derived from training our mind involve becoming much more present in our daily lives, doing away completely with the problem of boredom, and not being whipsawed around by our emotions, no matter what storms or big waves which  life may throw our way. We remain calm, focused and present.  This helps everyone.

Finally, I have had some success with meditating, although I am still a neophyte.  Reading a different book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Zen Living, which is written for Western readers with real lives, I was finally able to persevere using some of their suggestions, and obtain sudden breakthrough.  (What I liked about this book was that most books only talk about one type of meditation practice, and never get to the part about how it helps you; this book talks about different types of meditation practice from different world traditions, explains which parts are optional or can be adjusted to your needs, and discusses how meditation practice actually helps you.)

What it Feels Like When the Left Brain Switches Off

What does this right-brain breakthrough feel like? It is a very particular feeling. I would like to use the description I had of an experience of learning to draw to describe this feeling.

Unitl the age of 25, I did not know how to draw and was still drawing stick-figures.  Then I had a chance to take a six-session adult-education drawing class from a master art instructor.  We used the text, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards (which I highly recommend).

At the first session, the instructor had us look at a chair and draw our best representation of it.  Next, we had to look at our hand and do the same thing. We also had to look in a mirror and draw our best self-portrait. Last, we were given a photocopy of a difficult drawing by a famous artist, and told to copy it to the best of our ability.  We dated these drawings.

At the second session, the instructor explained the 90-10 system of drawing (looking at an object 90% of the time while moving the pencil, and only looking at the paper 10% of the time while moving the pencil). She also taught us the technique of using a pencil at arm’s length to measure sizes and approximate angles.

Demonstrating the “arm’s length” drawing technique for measurement.

This time, with music playing, we were asked to again draw the chair, using the 90-10 system.  We were then asked to turn the famous drawing UPSIDE-DOWN and copy it to the best of our ability, again using the 90-10 system.  Upside down? We were in shock.  But the results were AMAZING.

The third session, the instructor gave us a very difficult pencil portrait of a woman with loose, flowing hair in great detail.  We all thought this would be impossible for us to draw.  Again, she told us to turn the portrait upside-down and work while she played music.  The results were stupendous; they looked as if we had been studying art for years!

This feeling we got while drawing upside-down to music was a feeling of being “in-the-zone,” where everything was working perfectly and smoothly.  We all lost track of time, and were surprised to find that two hours had passed.  Our teacher explained that this trick of drawing upside-down confuses the left brain and TURNS IT OFF.

Why Turning Off the Left Brain Is Useful in Times of Stress

Meditation techniques teach you to TURN THE LEFT BRAIN OFF, especially in times of stress.  When we are bored, emotionally upset, or ruminating on a problem,we are using our left brain.  Meditation turns off your logical left brain, and turns on your creative right brain. How does it do this?

As a new practitioner of mediation, the hardest thing is to get past the one or two-minute mark.  However, once you manage to get up to three minutes without breaking your concentration, it suddenly becomes much easier, as you shift into the right-brain state.   It becomes MUCH easier and faster in subsequent sessions to turn off the left brain at will.

So, how much time does it take daily before one can experience the benefits of meditation practice?  Personally, I started experiencing the benefits once I was able to get to five minutes a day.

Benefits start once you reach five continuous minutes a day.

Having the first three-minute breakthrough makes it much easier, in exactly the same way that learning a foreign language is most difficult at first.  Once you have a basic level of vocabulary, it becomes much easier.

Meditation practice has nothing to do with religion (although some religions do use meditative practices).  It is simply a tool for training and calming the mind.

–Lynne Diligent

Part II:  Practical Help for Meditation Success

Different Interpretations of Rude Behavior–Intercultural Miscommunication!

June 14, 2012

(Google photo)

Some parents in our upper-middle-class Middle-Eastern school come in to see teachers and make demands such as, “I want my child moved up to the front row today, and I want him to stay right there for the entire school year!”  When a teacher tries to explain that they have to consider and balance the needs of all the children in the classroom, these parents sometimes reply,  “YOU don’t tell OUR children what to do; we tell YOU what to do, because WE pay your salary by bringing our children to your school!”  How does a teacher even respond to a parent with ideas like this?

As a foreign teacher, each time I had a strange encounter like this with a  haughty and disdainful parent, I wondered about this strange behavior toward teachers and administrative staff.  Whenever one of these encounters took place, I would ask my Middle Eastern assistant why these parents would behave this way.  I was always told, “They behave that way because they are rich.”  It still wasn’t clear to me what being rich would have to do with rude and imperious behavior.  So when I asked how the two things were linked, I always got the response, “They think they can behave that way because they have money.”  This didn’t clarify matters, either.  It was especially not clear since I knew plenty of other people who had even more money and did not behave in that sort of manner at all.

Aisha Gaddafi Libya

Typical “look” of the type of parent who “talks down” to teachers in the Middle East.

I understood my assistant’s words, but still did not understand the behavior, or what his words actually meant.  Ten years later, I believe I now understand–it’s not really about money, but about status.  In every country, many people try to follow and copy what they perceive the rich people doing.

Coco Chanel

For example, let us look briefly at the fashion of suntanning, in Europe and the United States.  In the 1800s, women used to stay out of the sun and even carry a parasol to keep the sun from falling on their skin.  Prior to 1900, those with tanned skin were presumed to be low-class common laborers.  In the 1920s, this perception began to change.

Coco Chanel

When Coco Channel returned from the French Riviera with a suntan, having a suntan (particularly in winter) became associated with having the time and money to vacation in warm places.  By the 1940s, sunbathing and suntans were popular everywhere.

In the Western United States in the 1960s and 1970s, students took great care while skiing to never use suntan cream (in order to purposely come back from skiing with a tan or a sunburn), and to leave the ski-lift tickets attached to one’s jacket all season.   Both of these actions raised one’s status, showing that he or she was someone able to afford to go skiing (an expensive sport).  From the 1960s onward (the age of jet travel) a suntan in winter demonstrated that one was part of the leisure class, able to afford to jet off to a warm destination in winter.

Other countries have other ways of indicating that one is a member of the wealthy, or leisure class.   In some Middle Eastern countries (such as Syria, among others), there is a special system which confers the ultimate status.  The most important people carry special cards in their wallets which place them above the powers of law enforcement officials.  Only members of the most important families are able to obtain this card, and so, are free to act without any repercussions.

Joan Collins playing the haughty and domineering Alexis Carrington on Dynasty.

Therefore, some people in the Middle East (especially the newly rich) perceive that what it means to “act like an upper-class person” is to act very haughty and imperious, as though you can order other people around, and no one can say anything to do no matter how rudely you act, or what acts you commit.   This is what I believe was happening in my school. My conclusion at present is that the parents who behaved in an imperious manner were mostly not well-educated or well-brought up, yet had the fortune through business or inheritance, to come into money.  Buy behaving this way, they are essentially trying to announce to others, “Look!  We are important people, and we are more important than you (the teachers and school employees)!”  So this behavior, in their mind, is a way for them to gain status and prestige, as well as to flaunt it to others.  As a foreign teacher, it seems to me to be greatly lowering their prestige, but people in my local country seem to understand that, “Since they are rich, they feel entitled to act that way.”

This system even affects the behavior of children in school.  Children in our school are often rude to their teachers, and completely uncooperative with regard to class rules (continual talking while the teacher is teaching;  not staying in their chairs; refusing to line up or walk quietly in a line; talking loudly, rather than whispering).  Every new idea works for just a day or two, and then it’s right back to the old behavior.

After teaching in the Middle East for twenty years, I now believe that the reason children are uncooperative is because being cooperative shows that you and your family must have low status.  High-status children behave as they wish, because to do so shows the other children that they come from an “important” family and are “above” having to follow the teacher’s rules.

–Lynne Diligent

My North African Postman’s Confusing Behavior

April 6, 2012

Typical North African house with wall in a prosperous neighborhood

For the past several months, instead of putting the mail in our mailbox, our postman has often been just handing it to workers who are at our house doing some remodeling.  One day, I caught the postman personally, and asked him to please not do that, but to put in in our box.  This seemed to take care of the problem for a while.

Two days ago, I was upstairs in my home, when one of the workers came upstairs with some mail to hand to me.  I asked him what he was doing with it and was upset that he came upstairs to find me.  He said the postman handed it directly to him, and he wanted to be sure I got it.  The postman had already left, so I didn’t have a chance to speak to him.  I was upset and just really wanted to know WHY he the postman did this again!

After discussing possible senarios as to why the postman reverted to his former behavior, I commented to the worker that I had asked the postman to put it in the box before, and just could not understand why he was doing this again.  The worker pointed out that the postman comes on a motorcycle.  In order to put it in the box (which in my country is not out by the street, but is a slot through the wall), the postman has to park his motorcycle and bring the mail to the mail slot.  Since the worker happened to be standing by the street at the moment he came, it was just laziness in not wanting to park his motorcycle and take a few steps to the mail slot.  Mystery solved!

I asked the worker next time to not accept the mail from the postman, or if he insists, just to put it into the mail slot himself, rather than walking through my home and searching for me.

Readers, how would you react?

–Lynne Diligent

My Most Embarrassing Secret As a Traveler and Expat

March 20, 2012

I am white, and I have an embarrassing secret.

Two decades ago, I had the occasion to travel for several months in Black Africa–Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, and Zaire.

The first few weeks after my arrival, I was shocked at my lack of ability to recognize people; everyone looked the same.  I couldn’t tell people apart.  I thought something was wrong with me.

More than twenty years later, I found an explanation for my problem through watching a television program.  In this episode of The Good Wife, trial lawyers discover through the use of a consultant that it is difficult for most white witnesses to make accurate identification of black perpetrators, and equally difficult for most black witnesses to make accurate identification of white perpetrators.

This problem, as I have recently learned, is called “Difficulty with Cross-Racial Face Recognition.”

Kenya is a black majority country. When I first arrived, I had trouble noticing differences between people's faces.

After spending approximately three weeks in East Africa, I finally became able to recognize people and tell them apart.  I think what happened to me here as an adult was a reproduction of the experience all of us must go through as babies, yet none of us remember.  It is clear that we learn as babies to recognize best of all those we grow up around, most particularly our family, and our own race.  Recent research shows that it is in the extremely precise judgement of the micro-measurements of the face (which vary by race) where recognition takes place.

Burundi

When I traveled in Burundi (four years before the war with Rwanda), one person I spent time with told me, “I could never step over the border into Rwanda, or they would kill me.”  When I asked why, he told me, “They would just take one look at my face, and kill me.”

Tutsi boy

This person was a Tutsi.  At that time, not only did I not believe my acquaintance, but I could not tell the difference between the Hutu and Tutsi.  Now, many years later, the differences are clear.

Agathon Rwasa, a Burundian Hutu Militia Leader

Now I live in North Africa.  When traveling with my North African husband (who is Caucasian), I find people in certain regions speaking to him in the Berber language.  He doesn’t speak Berber.  My husband explains, “They just see my face and assume that I speak Berber.”

A Berber man with his daughter

I lived in North Africa for many years before anyone pointed out to me the facial differences between Arabs and Berbers.  Sometimes I can clearly tell them apart; other times not.  But even now, my recognition doesn’t even come close to those who were born here.

A few years ago I went to a wedding in a small village high in the Atlas Mountains.  That weekend I noticed something I had never seen before.  Everyone in the village had a very distinctive cranial shape, and a very particular set of ears.  It was distinctive enough that even if I saw someone who looked like that back in America, now I would ask them, “Are you, by any chance, from this particular village in the Atlas Mountains?”

Atlas Mountains

I finally understood why Americans (or maybe just me) are particularly bad at racial face recognition.  In most Old World countries, people have stayed in the same locations, and intermarried primarily with the local group for a long-enough time to develop very, very precise micro-racial characteristics.  Each village, even 20-30 miles away from each other will have very particular characteristics.  People from these countries are quite used to looking at people in this way, and recognizing which area they are from.

In America, we are not at all used to looking at people in this way.   Since we have immigrants from all over the world, everyone is entirely mixed up.  We have unlimited micro-varieties within every race.  If a black African or white European came to America, he or she would no doubt be able to look at many Americans of their own race, and know precisely where many of their ancestors came from.

America - the nation of immigrants

One important difference in America is that most people, even within their own race, have intermarried with others from many different locales.  So many of their micro-features would no longer be the same as might be associated with a particular European or African village.  Americans have always moved from one part of the country to another on a regular basis, as well.  In addition, many more interracial marriages are occurring.  For all these reasons, people are “mixed up” in America, and Americans are not used to recognizing people by looking at their micro-characteristics and trying to categorize where they are from.  But, as babies, they become used to looking at the micro-characteristics of their own race, in order to recognize family members.

Animal micro-recognition is similar.  Years ago, I used to wonder how biological researchers in the field could watch a troop or a herd of animals, and recognize each animal.  They all looked the same to me.

Later, after we got two cats from the same litter as pets, I began to see the subtle differences  in their faces and bodies, especially when there were several neighborhood cats who looked close enough to my own cats that I called to them by mistake.  Now I never make that mistake as I immediately recognize much more subtle differences, even from a distance.

New information is now being publicized about a condition called Face Blindness.  People who suffer from this condition are unable to visually recognize their own family members or close friends.  The short linked-to video on Face Blindness also explains the opposite condition, which is called being a Super Recognizer, meaning that one is able to recognize and remember every face he has ever seen.  These people are able to tell you where they saw a face, as well as being able to recognize a photo of any of those people taken at any point, at any age, during their lifetimes.

Through this new research, I now see that recognizing faces is a learned skill for most people, an impossible challenge for people with face blindness, and incredibly easy for super recognizers.

My hidden secret perplexed and embarrassed me for many years.  But now that I understand why I had this problem, I no longer feel so guilty!  Thankfully, in my older years I’ve now learned to recognize much more than I noticed in my younger years.

–Lynne Diligent

Interpreting British Speech – What It Really Means!

February 3, 2012

I’m sure this is a humorous list for the British, but for those of us who are not British, it’s a great guide to print out and keep on hand to understand what our British friends really mean!

This list certainly typifies in the pink column how Americans would understand the speech in the gray column.  I worked for years in a company with both American and British employees, and these were exactly the type of misunderstandings we had going on for years.  People often don’t realize what has happened until it creates a major misunderstanding such as joint partners going off in completely different directions without realizing they have done so, until a major problem occurs.

My thought is that when the British are dealing with each other, they will understand each others’ meanings.  If they wish to be understood, British bosses and subordinates are dealing with other English-speaking cultures, they need to be careful to say clearly and plainly what they actually mean.

–Lynne Diligent

American Problems in International Business

January 28, 2012

 

The Seven Cultures of Capitalism compares the business cultures of the United States with Britain, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands (Holland), France, and Japan.  Other countries, such as Singapore, Italy, and Australia are sometimes mentioned.  While not a new book, the content is still just the knowledge international businesspeople need today.

According to British author Charles Hampden-Turner and Dutch author Alfons Trompenaars, some of the biggest problems faced by Americans in International Business are:

1.)  The United States invents extremely well (whose creativity correlates with an inner-directed society), but sometimes isn’t able to follow through well with the subsequent phase of innovation (improving and changing the product in order to to better serve customer’s ideas of how to use it, something at which the Japanese excel).

2.)  American firms become extremely vulnerable at the point where they must serve a maturing market (just where Japanese industry strikes and makes massive inroads).

3.)  Inner-directed Americans sometimes encounter problems in world marketing because customers using the products often do not share the logic of the designers.

4.)  America’s inner-directedness prevents the U.S. from forming the cooperative structures necessary to compete internationally at the level of value-added chains, industries, or nations .  (Three examples given of when America was able to close ranks to fight a larger problem were the Great Depression, World War II, and after the launch of Sputnik.)   Other nations, especially Asian nations, are able to do this much more effectively.

Historically, large economic combinations have been viewed negatively in America’s experience.   The Sherman Antitrust Act and other antitrust policies came about because America views collusion as the inevitable consequence of joining together.  Turner and Trompenaars believe that Americans see cooperation between firms as collusion against consumers. and that their fears are not groundless.

–Lynne Diligent

What We Can Learn About Africa and the Middle East Today from the Colonialization Experience of Canadian Aboriginals

December 12, 2011

Taiaiake Alfred, the world’s foremost expert on the effects of colonization on indigenous peoples, speaks about the ongoing anger felt by people who have been victims of colonization.  Listening to Taiaiake speak on the today’s ongoing colonialist experience of Aboriginals (formerly called Inuits) in Canada,  I found his points relevant to what is happening today in the Middle East and Africa.

As a Westerner arriving in the Middle East  some years ago, I was shocked to find Middle Easterners and North Africans describing the Iraq Wars in two ways–as Americans leading a new Christian Crusade against Muslims, and Americans as neo-colonialists out to “steal” Iraq’s oil.  “Why else would a country do these things?” I was told, when I tried to argue with people.

North African and Middle Eastern people are still focused on the Crusades as a recent memory (in the way that Westerners focus on the two World Wars as a recent memory) because  of their very recent memory of colonization.  Recent colonialist experience colors the judgement of a people about everything in life.  This altered mentality creates a way of thinking where they feel that no one ever acts altruistically, that no one (nor any country) ever does something unless they will be able to “benefit” from it personally.

The reason it’s difficult for Americans to understand this colonialist mentality is because our own colonialist experience happened so long ago, and anyone with living memory of it died more than 100 years ago.  I would posit that for a society to rid oneself of the colonialist experience and mentality takes at least 150 years.  If we could go back and look at American society , post-1776, I think we would see lingering attitudes from the Colonialist experience up all the way until World War I.  Those born in 1770, some of whom presumably lived until about 1860, would have told their own grandchildren and great-grandchildren about their memories of the colonialist experience.  Those grandchildren born in 1830-1850 would have lived until the early 1900s.   I would say that sometime between 1900 and WWI, those old attitudes would have been overcome by other events, and forgotten.

So, how does this extrapolate to Africa and the Middle East today?  In my experience, people in the Middle East and Africa seem to have a love-hate relationship with their former colonial power.

by John Frederick Lewis, British Orientalist Painter

A love-hate relationship often exists between the colonizers and the colonized.  (Painting by John Frederick Lewis, British Orientalist Painter 1830s to 1860s)

In fact, parts of North Africa were united under nationalist governments for the first time in the 1950s. Prior to this time, these areas existed under feudal warlords.

Viewing the independence dates of African countries in the map below, and adding 150 years, shows us that it will take until at least 2100-2130 before Africa is able to begin to shake off its colonialist heritage and the lingering negative effects of the colonialization experience.

Decolonization Dates / Indedpendence Dates of African Countries

Decolonization Dates / Independence Dates of African Countries

A recent colonialist experience creates an anger among a people over their own native culture having been repressed, that no amount of material “goodwill” can ever assuage.  In the Middle East and Africa (without mentioning specific examples) there are instances of lands and people being absorbed into a national culture of which those people consider to be a foreign power; these national governments have spent a great deal of money on improving the infrastructure of the absorbed areas–highways, schools, telecommunications,  transportation, and modernization–without obtaining any loyalty from the part of the local populations.

New Highways Built for Local Populations in the Deserts of Northwest Africa

Why not?  Because these materialist “offerings” do nothing  to address the real problem of “forced” assimilation.  Native peoples remain alienated.

New Empty Towns Built for Local Populations in the Deserts of Northwest Africa

No doubt this process of forced assimilation and alienation has taken place all over the world, throughout history.  But it is not an easy process to recover from, and the effects linger in each locality for up to 200 years afterward.  During the North African Spring we have heard much talk of the different tribal areas in Libya, and the problems of forced assimilation during the Gaddafi regime which are now bubbling to the surface. In the past decade we heard of Kurdish problems in Iraq and Turkey.  Sometimes we hear of problems with groups in the Sahara.  Elsewhere, China has built new infrastructure in Tibet.

New Road Built by the Chinese in Tibet

According to Taiaiake Alfred, colonized peoples–such as the Aboriginals (formerly called Inuit) and other native peoples of North America–especially believe in treaties, because treaties show respect between two peoples, or two nations.  National governments of various societies, on the other hand, believe in integration and assimilation based on social justice principles. The main agenda of national governments is to make formerly colonized peoples into fully-functioning members of society through providing language, education, and job opportunities; however, they show a lack of respect to native peoples by trying to assimilate them.  Education is used everywhere as an assimilation tool.  “Native peoples living independently is also a threat to national governments because if they live independently, they control more land.  This makes less land available for mining claims, for other citizens,” Taiaiake says.

Modern Inuits in Canada Dealing with Effects of Colonialization

Native leaders who try to work within the national system to obtain more benefits such as land claims and self-government for native peoples are usually viewed as illegitimate leaders by the grassroots population.

Colonized peoples don’t want to be part of an integrative relationship.  Their vision is different.  their problems are not money problems, or problems of jurisdiction.  They are angry about losing their culture and their different way of life.  This creates a permanent state of alienation.  No matter how many material goods are given, these make no difference, because those material goods never address the source of the problem, the psychological anger.

Furthermore, as these new material things become the norm, the material standard rises ever further.  This process prevents getting to the root of the problem–this psychological anger–the pain in the community which comes from losing one’s culture.  This causes a permanent state of alienation coming from not having their culture, their values, reflected in the value system of the overall society.   This is why there are so many social and psychological problems in the communities which are not being addressed.

In Canada, people wonder why, when the government injects 7. million dollars to relocate a complete band of 700 Inuits to a new location, giving them new housing and other material goods, why the same problems of alcoholism, suicide, depression, and despair emerge again.

Morgan Fawcett, an Aboriginal (Inuit) victim of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, has dedicated his life to making sure women think before they drink

“It didn’t work because it’s putting the car before the horse,” says Taiaiake.  “These people aren’t ready to participate in this government because it’s not a form of government which is reflective of their culture, and their values.  It is essentially an imposed form of government.   More importantly, the problem of deculturalization of these people has not been fixed.”

Taiaiake says, “When Africa was decolonized, you have societies left that reflect all the worst aspects of the colonizers in the way power is used, in the way that corruption has infused the society.”

Canada’s indigenous people suffer from a post-colonialist mentality, according to Taiaiake.  “Native peoples have been illegally dispossessed of their land and treaties have not been honored.  We have to address those things before we can have reconciliation.”

“There is always a connection between the means and the ends,” Taiaiake says.  “If you want to have a peaceful co-existence with your neighbor, you can’t use violence.”

The true reclaiming of what it means to be an indigenous person is spiritual.  This means one must return to the essence of being a true warrior, in the sense of “they carry the burden (of their heritage).”  It is about having strength and integrity inside yourself to be an authentic person, carrying yourself with a sense of justice and rightness.

“Colonialized peoples need to recreate themselves as people who are spiritually-grounded and strong, in order to withstand all those forces of assimilation and recreate the something new out of the best values of the indigenous culture.  The most impressive thing that Ghandi did was to take a stand against both  imperialism and traditionalism, and insist that people needed to create something new out of both appropriate to today.  This is really the solution.”

Meanwhile, what can be done about growing problems among youth?  There are increasing levels of drug use, violence, and family violence.  Smoking is increasing, gun and gang culture are emerging in Canada.  What about indigenous people in the urban centers?

“We need to create relationships between those people and the home communities.  However, many of those home communities themselves are problematic.”

More indigenous people in Canada are going to university and becoming doctors and lawyers.  Taiaiaka’s view is that each day of his life, no matter what job or education level an indigenous person receives, he can make the choice to support either the vision of indigenous people, or the vision of the colonizer.  Taiaiaka hopes to inspire the next generation of indigenous leaders to regenerate the culture in a political and legal manner, to force Canada into a reconciliation with reality.  He envisions a social and political agenda in Canada like the Black Civil Rights Movement in the United States.  The goal is to recover the stolen sense of what it means to be an indigenous person living the authentic life of our ancestors.

For all recently decolonized peoples, the way forward is to find a middle road which is neither the vision of the colonizer, nor a reactionary vision against the colonizer.  Decolonized peoples must take what is useful from the colonizer and combine it with a spiritual vision from their own culture to find a new way forward in the modern world–to be part of the modern world, while not “of” the colonizers’ world.

With regard to national cultures which are trying to assimilate native cultures through the use of education and materialistic recompense, I feel this strategy is far preferable to the ethnic cleansing which is happening in so many parts of the world (which is what happens when assimilation efforts fail).  While I can understand the pain of native peoples,  I think adapting to the dominant culture is probably the best middle course of action for all.

–Lynne Diligent


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