Culture and Tradition: The Struggle

Like a sculptor, if necessary,
carve a friend out of stone.
Realize that your inner sight is blind
and try to see a treasure in everyone.


I am taken, repeatedly, by how silently and powerfully the elements of my culture shape me.  The way my culture has shaped me shows up unconsciously and has me saying, doing and thinking things before they becomes conscious.  When those are things that I actually, consciously embrace, then my cultural shaping support my life as I understand it.  When those words, actions and thoughts are those that I have come to find harmful, then my culture begins to feel like a hidden enemy.

Kindness, compassion, second (third and fourth) chances, acceptance and generosity are ways of being in the world that I embrace.  The culture that has been shaping me most of my life very often has me saying, doing and thinking things that support them.  Students tell me that I am one of the most patient people they know, and they tell me this often.  It always surprises me, but I’ve come to understand that this is the kindness, acceptance and generosity that my culture has shaped in me, and I am grateful that others can see it.

Exclusion, racial discrimination, and blaming the victim are practices, words and ideas that I consciously reject, but they show up in me.  They appear in my thoughts and imagination, my words and sometimes my actions before I become conscious of them, and I realize with deep regret that culture has shaped these things in me, too.

It’s a struggle.  This dynamic set of shaping forces in our lives that we call culture can be the source of both welcome and unwelcome habits of life in us.  Trying to bring them to consciousness is the struggle for me.  Rumi has captured something of what it may feel like:  carving a friend out of stone.  So often, my inner sight is blind.  I don’t see how culture has shaped me against some people and toward others.  I don’t see how my own way of living biases me not only against the way other people live but from even being able to see their way of living.  Delving into my own unconsciousness rooted in the silent work of culture is the work of carving a friend out of stone, of beginning to see a treasure in everyone.  That’s my struggle.

Bob Patrick

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