Yes, I’ll admit it. The title for this one may have been of the click bait/shock rock variety but at the same time it does somewhat expresses what lies within. And furthermore, you’re reading it so it must have worked. (insert comment about the questionable nature of a therapist using ‘means justify the ends’ logic).
When I say fuck “your” culture, let me be clear; I’m not picking on any particular culture. I’M CALLING OUT ALL OF THEM. Human culture and all its intricate varieties. Fuck your culture but for that matter, fuck my culture too. And everyone else’s as well. What I mean by this intentionally provocative statement is this; a person’s culture, in the broadest sense, often represents shared, unspoken, arbitrary and subjective “truths” that are sometimes represented as literal, factual truths. Many times, those truths come in the harmful variety. As an individual member of the culture, we are often taught that we are not free to choose which truths we will follow. Any deviation from these truths are considered shameful and blasphemous. My belief is that free will should and, in fact, does trump culture. An individual is free in all respects to observe and act upon those arbitrary truths as he or she sees fit, up to and including, completely disregarding and disrespecting them and should do so in those cases where cultural truths work against one’s best interest.
When I use this word culture, in my head, it has both a flexible and relatively specific definition. I use it in the sense of a group of people’s shared beliefs and practices and/or a given mindset of a group of people. When looking for a more standard definition of this word I found this;
- Culture: The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.
Okay, nope. That’s not really what I mean.
- Culture: The cultivation of bacteria, tissue cells, etc., in an artificial medium containing nutrients.
Uhhh…that’s something entirely different. Definitely not what I mean.
- Culture: a: The customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also: the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time
b: The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization
There we go! That’s more the one I’m talking about! When I speak of culture in this blog, reference a blend of number 3 A and B with a hint of number 1.
So why does this matter in regards to psychotherapy and why does it even matter at all? Bluntly stated, I believe culture is very often at the core of and is directly responsible for some of the most heinous damage that can occur in human life.
Let’s start with the positive, however.
When I define myself in terms of culture, like everyone else, there are multiple layers. I’m American. I’m male. I’m white. I’m southern. I’m Arkansan, educated, a musician, a member of the Peters family, a therapist, a father…the list could go far longer than you’d read and, as stated, that’s probably true for all of us. Along with these group memberships come written, unwritten, spoken and unspoken rules or general ways of being that help define membership in that cultural circle. As a member of the culture we call “father”, one fairly obvious rule is that one must have or have had at least one child. That’s pretty much what defines it. Hard to belong to this one if you didn’t or don’t have children. (There’s probably a crude catholic priest joke in there somewhere if I tried hard enough). I have a close friend who was raised in a Muslim family and while he does not consider himself a “believer”, he does consider himself a Muslim in a more ethnic/cultural sense. It’s tricky to define these things and I’m not sure I have the wisdom to define all the rules but they do exist in both subtle and overt forms.
On the positive side, membership in these groups can be a powerful and wonderful thing. The shared beliefs and practices of one’s family, ethnicity or other ways of defining one’s self can be a tremendous source of pride and pleasure and can act as a guiding light in times of difficulty or happiness and all states in between. I’ve read over and over of anecdotal and more stringent research which suggests that people involved in organized religious or spiritual practices live longer, are healthier overall and report greater life satisfaction. The research suggests that this has to do mostly with group membership more than anything mystical or magical. I’m not a “believer” or a participator in that sort of thing but I can’t argue with results And I can attest to a higher level of wellbeing as I’ve become more involved in and connected to the various non-religious groups in which I belong. It’s a good thing. Mostly.
Here are the bad parts. I cannot even begin to count the number of times I’ve heard a client or a friend or a family member or even strangers say some version of “I hate that it’s this way but that’s what we do in my culture”. In that last sentence we could take out the word culture and replace it with “job” or “family” or “religion” or “school” or “marriage” or a million other words and the results are still the same. For example, I’ve heard MANY times “Even though he’s treating me terribly and I want to leave him, that’s not allowed in my culture”. I’ve also heard, versions of “I’d like to tell my dad how I feel but we don’t really share our feelings in my family”. Scenarios of this type could fill volumes. Let me reiterate a point here; If culture often represents arbitrary, loosely agreed upon, subjective truths, when we come into conflict with them and experience great distress, we have a choice as to whether or not we continue with those culturally prescribed behaviors, feelings and thoughts. Furthermore, it is often in our best interest to challenge our culture and step outside of it in order to reach and sustain a certain level of mental and emotional health.
Notice that I used the phrase “Mental AND EMOTIONAL health” rather than the more common phrase “Mental Health”. Cultural truth; emotional states are nothing more than chemical reactions in the brain and they can be managed with medications and that’s the only way to view it. Any idea outside of this is unscientific nonsense and you’re an idiot for thinking otherwise. One of the extremely common cultural patterns that I’ve observed in Americans has to do with our overly logical approach to life. In our culture we often take the approach that if an emotion doesn’t make sense, we throw it out. If it’s not logical and linear, there’s no need to explore it. It has no value. My field is referred to as “mental health” for a reason. We throw out the unpleasant, elusive and often contradictory emotions and leave only the mental state. We can then reduce it to only chemicals and neurology. We pare it down to only its basic mechanistic parts and leave out the emotion almost entirely. Is there SOME truth to this idea? Certainly! But it’s a bit more complicated than that and I chose to step outside my cultural framework and view it in its more complicated state.
Another example; as with many other places, in my home state of Arkansas, it is EXTREMELY common for people to own dogs. Lots of them. GENERATIONS of them and in many cases, several inbred generations of them. I’m aware that this doesn’t only happen in my hometown but I’ll only speak from my experience. As common was the practice of chaining dogs to trees or other immobile objects. In this hypothetical situation, based on actual events, it’s entirely possible that shortly after this hypothetical dog was born, he or she was chained to a tree and spent nearly the remainder of his or her life there. There’s nothing out of the ordinary about it. You can simply drive down just about any road and easily find multiple examples of this practice. Rarely does anyone have a problem with it and if they do, even rarer is a change in the practice. It’s been going on longer than I’ve been alive and will surely continue long after I am dead. In my opinion, THIS. IS. WRONG. If you’ve read previous blogs, I expand upon this idea a great deal (https://brandonpeterslpc.wordpress.com/2017/10/06/the-oh-god-this-is-gonna-end-badly-blog/). My point, however; it’s part of my culture. It’s just what we do. Whenever I’ve challenged this idea to family and friends back home and similar places, I’m usually met with some version of “Oh, Brandon…stop being so…(derogatory phrase here implying that I’m overly sensitive and should shut up and stop feeling that way) It’s a way of living that’s simply not questioned “because it’s what we’ve always done”. It’s a cultural truth that to tie a dog to a tree is a fair and proper act, but I don’t have to agree and I don’t have to go along with that practice. I have free will, therefore, I can choose what I feel is proper conduct based on my own personal morality, rather than blindly following what I’ve been taught.
For the purposes of this work, I’ll use only those two, comparatively benign, personal examples. But let’s not forget larger things like genital mutilation, repression of women, repression of minorities, repression of homosexuals, certain injustices of capitalism, church led sexual abuse, etc. I’ve known of families that have had successive generations of sexual abuse. I’ve known friends that have been shamed because they wanted a birthday party or because they were “too loud” or “felt too much”, members of my own family who have been purposefully shunned because they divorced an alcoholic husband. There are enough examples to fill a library so I’m just hitting the ones that are coming to my head as I’m writing. They all have in common those unquestionable spoken and unspoken rules that are met with shame and worse if a member attempts to question them.
Here’s how this applies to you my friend. It’s possible that right now there are a great many things troubling you. On the list of ingredients for that entrée of inner conflict may be a number of “should’s and shouldnt’s” based on the spoken and unspoken rules you were taught by other members of the groups you belong to. You may be feeling that you’d have a solution to that problem “if only I could approach it this way”. Or you may be feeling that the problem wouldn’t be there in the first place “if these rules weren’t in place at all”. Here’s the good news; you’re right. You CAN approach it in a different way. You DON’T have to follow those rules if they don’t suit you. If you are human, you have free will. You can step outside your culture and follow your gut when it feels necessary and beneficial and you should if you feel it’s right. Fuck your culture.
Unrelated song: Again, this is an album and not a song but DAYUM it’s good! All the way from Singapore, Wormrot:
Unrelated book recomendation:
I’ve been reading a lot of Carl Sagan lately so I’ll stick with that. Read Cosmos. It’s guud.