One of the most impactful ideas I’ve read in recent years has been that of creating your own culture or sub-culture.
The idea comes from the book, Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson — I highly recommend if you haven’t read it. In it, Mitch Albom shares wise life lessons bestowed upon him by his old college professor and mentor, Morrie Schwartz. When Albom learned his beloved professor was dying, the two reconnected every Tuesday to extend their professor – student relationship. Only this time, the lessons were on life.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved the idea of one day living in another country. Having spent a sizeable portion of my childhood visiting and connecting with my family in a small town in Ecuador, I grew up feeling a disconnect between some of my values and what I saw and felt around me in American culture. Call them values, call them societal norms, call them our culture, whatever. Point is, what I felt (and feel) inside me, was at war with what I felt I was strongly being told my life had to be.
Told by TV, by advertising, by social media, by political discourse, by norms on the trajectory of a ‘successful’ life, by conversations with friends and peers, as well as strangers.
In recent years, and particularly in recent weeks, as our nation becomes more and more divided on issues and topics that truly matter, especially ones that are a matter of life and death (COVID, system racism, our inability to listen to someone whose opinions differs from our own), my urge to live elsewhere becomes stronger. If I lived in [insert country] I’d be happier. All my problems, frustrations, etc. would cease to exist. In other words, run away from this nightmare-turned-reality to a place where the grass must be greener.
But that’s just the thing. It’s easier and more ideal to imagine a beautiful far away land where things will be better. But if your mindset, your internal record of the ‘culture’ you buy into has even a miniscule flaw — which we all will have at least that, and more. No one is perfect after all– you’re bound to experience similar longings and feelings that something is off. No matter where you run to.
What you should instead prioritize, is learning to create your own culture or sub-culture, no matter where you currently and physically are. It’s a skill that will transfer to wherever you may find yourself in the future. Morrie said it best.
“The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it. Create your own. Most people can’t do it.”Morrie Schwartz, Tuesday’s with Morrie
My take-away? I do still ultimately want to live in another country/countries. But not for the purposes of running away from this country, or the aspects of the culture that I reject. I want to do it to experience different cultures, ways of life, food, nature, music, dance — aspects of life that humanity has in common but expresses differently based on geographic location and history. But it’s not my immediate reality.
My immediate reality is to create my own culture, right here in the United States. It is to actively reject the aspects that as a little girl, caused dissonance. I reject being over-worked. I reject following a pre-determined roadmap of what my life will look like. I reject feeding my body processed food that doesn’t nourish me. I reject superficial comparisons of one individual to another. I reject our ignorance and arrogance to concern ourselves with matters outside this country. I reject racism. I reject the belief that certain “types” of people are better than others based on their appearance. The list can go on and on.
But rejecting aspects of culture you don’t like is one thing. Choosing and creating your own aspects to keep takes the ability to say no, but also the discipline to stick with the ideas and activies you select. To many, this probably seems like it’s just choosing how you want to live your life, and not letting anyone or anything stop you from that. But the idea that these life choices constitute your own culture, is a powerful one, especially given what most associate with the word culture.
Whether it be in the workplace, in your community, in information you choose to ingest, possesions you choose to buy/keep, hobbies you partake in, and how you treat and interact with others, any changes won’t become permanent. They will require constant thought, reflection, action, and discipline. Creating your own culture is not a destination. It’s a lifelong practice.