Seek Out Similarities

I’m studying intercultural communication for one of my university units this semester. Lately, we’ve been learning about two big theories relating to culture – essentialism and non-essentialism. Essentialism is the idea that our culture is defined by set rules, and that these set rules therefore define us as individuals. Apparently you can classify what specific culture I belong to by knowing where I was born and/or where I live and what language I speak. Further, my culture, once determined, is unchanging, and will always define my behaviour. If you want to know how to effectively communicate with me, you just need to know what culture I belong to.

I’m not sure how you feel about this idea, but something in me instinctively rejects this idea in favour of non-essentialism – which is essentially the opposite theory. Non-essentialism is the idea that our culture can never be easily defined, as it is based on so many variables. Non-essentialists believe that I can belong to several different cultures at once, depending on my viewpoint. I like the idea that culture is more about what I say, than it is about the language that I speak. Maybe I just don’t want to be pigeonholed into a stereotype. After all, I’m not stereotypical!

I was born in the UK, raised in Australia, lived long enough in NZ to become a citizen (because I love NZ!) and am currently living back in Australia (not forever). I speak English – but with a mix of accents both inherited from my parents and picked up in the course of my life, I don’t sound like your typical Australian. Lots of travel and customer service work means I seldom struggle with communicating with people from all different cultures.

I’ve understood for years that people come in all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. The one thing I like to think people tend to have in common is their inherent goodness. Yes, I do believe that there are people out there in the world who are “bad” people. Some are bad as a result of upbringing and circumstance, with a rare few who just seem to be born bad. However, I think the overwhelming majority of people are good people who are just trying to do the best they can. If you are sincerely willing to try, you can find common ground with almost anyone you meet – no matter what their background or culture. It’s mainly a matter of being interested in who they are!

Long before I heard of essentialism and non-essentialism, I started teaching this idea to my son. Children are so inherently innocent, that any concepts of stereotyping and prejudice are picked up from their parents (or other role models). My son is already great at understanding people, for all that he is only eight. I want him to judge people on their words and actions, rather than where they were born or the colour of their skin. It was some years ago now that I first dropped into conversation that all people are worthy of respect. We talked about how people in the past have treated others badly just because they are born somewhere else, or speak differently, or look different – and how awful that was. We are all people and we are all important. This is a theme we return to regularly.

We are all people and we are all important.

Othering is a concept that stems from essentialism. It is a viewpoint which focuses on the differences between people. If we believe someone is “Other” we effectively limit how much we identify with them, which seems to give us permission to treat them worse than we treat those we can identify with. History has some lessons for us about the horrendous things that people can do to someone else when they believe that someone is “Other”. No doubt you can immediately think of some examples!

I want my son to grow into a man who understands that it is not okay to hurt another person, unless in self-defence. I want him to seek out the similarities he shares with people, rather than the differences. With understanding, comes empathy, patience and kindness – qualities the 99.9% of us who are “good” people can all appreciate. I truly believe that if every parent did this, the world would be a significantly better place.

So… who’s with me???

Self Care Sundays

We all know that self care is absolutely critical when you’re a sole parent. After all, there’s no one else to take care of you. And if you run yourself into the ground then you can get sick or depressed, and of course this impacts negatively on your child and anyone else in your life. It’s not good for anybody.

I’ve always tried to make sure that at least some of each Sunday is given over to self care. It doesn’t always work! But when it does work, it can both make up for a hard week and prepare me for the week ahead. I think it’s been an instinctive part of my life for years, even in my carefree younger days. I just didn’t realise that it is a “thing”, until I found link on Pinterest to this great post:

57 Ideas for your Self Care Sunday Routine” by Rhiannon Day

Rhiannon’s post lists so many things that I already do on my Sundays! Even if I just fit one or two of these things in, like:

  • sleeping late
  • breakfasting in bed
  • walking the dog
  • yoga
  • meditation
  • gardening
  • diffusing essential oils

… it makes a difference to my life. On those rare days when I fit lots of these things in, it makes a HUGE difference to my life! Rhiannon also lists things I haven’t done, particularly one that my son would LOVE for me to do with him, “build the epic blanket fort of your dreams”. This will have to happen sometime soon!

In future posts I’ll be talking more about how I practice self care on a tight financial budget, and with little time to spare. But I’m not one for re-inventing the wheel, so for now I’m just going to refer you to Rhiannon’s post. It lists a lot of things which are actually easily achievable for single parents like me.

Do you practice self care Sundays – and if so, what are your favourite ways to spend them?