Last week, a friend of mine shared some stories with me about when she was young and moved to the states. She joked about being intrigued by the pencil sharpeners and confused by the Pledge of Allegiance, (both which seem commonplace to me having grown up in this country). As time passed, she began to live in both worlds. Seeing her grandmother use her middle finger to point as she read (a hand signal which had no meaning before) began to amuse her because of the meaning it had here. Over our dinner of pizza and fries, we chuckled about her childhood experiences of seeing life from one cultural perspective, while living in another.
My friend’s childhood stories may seem amusing now, but at the time, it sounded like she felt really uncomfortable and sometimes even unsafe. Children may not be able to articulate what their needs are, but it is our responsibility to strive to see life through their eyes.
We need to ask children: “What is important to you? What are your highest values? What style of communication is most natural to you? What can I do to make you feel at ease? How can I be so that you feel honored, seen, and heard?”
We can’t ignore cultural differences when dealing with children or adults. My friend’s cultural lens still very much informs her life. She cringes every time she hears of some act of violence on the news, holding her breath and saying, “please let it not be a [her culture].” She’s experienced far too many people who can’t seem to differentiate between her and what they see on T.V.
What if we were all more aware of our perception of someone from a different culture, or even someone we don’t know yet? Do we see them as the other? How do we look at that person? What do we think when we walk past or sit next to them? What do we say to someone who may be from a different cultural background? And most of all, what are we teaching our children with our actions, attitude and words?
Here’s to being conscious.
Thank you Noor, for permission to share your personal stories.