Thursday, June 16, 2011

Deep Definitions

A few weeks ago I did a talk for the Iraqi Society of Oregon. One of the men had almost gotten in trouble over words that flared to a fist fight. They asked me to talk about force and self-defense and the cultural differences on conflict between Iraqis and Americans.

It was a good talk, fun, but the need for it was based on cultural differences. Deep ones. And not overt ones, like THEY are okay with violence and WE aren't. It was deeper than that, more basic. Too deep to question. The initial problem that sparked the whole thing centered on what it is to be a man.

In some cultures, maybe, manhood is a clear thing. I don't believe that it is ever clear for the young. You may have a ritual that declares you are in fact a man and yet still live with your parents and act and be treated as a dependent. If manhood was clear, in any culture, there wouldn't be all these weird ways to prove or maintain it.

And so, we have a man from one culture where he is taught and believes that if someone insults you, if you are a man, you must fight or at least be willing to fight. That is what a man does. That is who a man is.

And he is living in a cultural (the Atticus Finch-influenced part of America) where it is common sense and practically written into law that a real man would never lower himself to fighting over mere words.

Not a value judgment here, just had a few things pop up lately where my definitions of deep behaviors may not match those around me.

The second is polite rudeness. I don't want to hit this with cultural identifiers because I don't want people to try to throw a label on my thinking process ("That bastard is anti-anglo!") and quit listening... but it's going to come up.

I was raised to respect lines. "Cutting lines" or even allowing lines to be cut was a big social no-no in grade school. We stand in lines, we wait. The very thought of cutting lines implied not just that you were special but that you thought you were better and more deserving than people who had made the effort to get there first. It was a personal and calculated insult to everyone else in line.

My friends from the old Soviet bloc don't respect lines. When they were kids, it wasn't a good idea. If you waited your turn, there was a good chance that there would be nothing at the end of your wait. We can wait in line because, though we may not like it, we are generally sure that it will pay off. Remove that assurance and our politeness, which just seems common sense, becomes a failing strategy.

I've seen some "polite rudeness" in the last few days. It comes from a very particular social set. In my social caste asking to cut lines is nearly as unthinkable as just doing it. I've sat on planes with people terrified of missing a connection who refused to ask for a little consideration in getting off the plane early. But in the last few days: "Excuse me, may I go ahead? I have this bag of oranges, you see."

The man he was asking had an entire cart... but he was raised very much as I was and had a hard time saying 'No.' Work a couple of years in a jail and you get over that quick.

Thinking about it, I don't think the person was being rude, just as I don't think the Iraqi was or was not being manly. He was following the rules as he saw them.

In the other gentleman's world, maybe politeness is in the form. Asking nicely enough, even if you were asking something far more terrible than just cutting line, doesn't involve any violation of social rules. Ripe territory for villains, if they can do evil with Captain Hooks 'good form'.


Jim said...

Living and working outside of Washington DC, I run into all sorts of cultural miscommunications. Simple example familiar to every cop in this area: You stop a Middle Easterner (often Saudi, but far from exclusive) for a traffic violation. They seem cooperative at first... but then, when you come back up to the car, they want to argue about the ticket. I think it goes back to their cultural support of haggling, though I admit I'm not certain. Other examples are Latino quincieneras, or Middle Eastern weddings... They often lead to complaints from neighbors of different (often US) cultures.

And that's before you get to deep, subconscious stuff like "what it is to be a man" which can really lead to misunderstandings. Another example from my own experience: A Latino guy who was meek and cooperative on the when arrested on the street assaulted my partner a week or so later, in his house.

Joshkie said...

Just got Facing Violence in the mail to day, and I have had an already had a slapping of the forehead moment just reading the first chapter.

I set up my arguements about beliefs at the morals and ethics level, so even though I didn't intended to attach someone personally I in fact was doing so. To me judging someones action doesn't automatically equate to judging them personally. I've known a lot of good people that have done some stupid thinks. It doesn't mean I think there stupid. But that is who I think they our maybe not who they really our deep down.

A lot to think about,

P.S. So far, so good. :-)

Joshkie said...

This something I just want to put out there.

I have this fear that I'm using you and what your putting out there to build some type of fantasy in my head instead of basing it in the real world.

I think this is just a fear of the unknown as I have never had to face real violence, and have know base to judge for my self.

Just wanted to verbalize that and get it out in the open to kick around.


Rory said...

Joshkie- as to your last point, it's probable. We all do it in one field or another. Just don't obsess on fantasy violence to the exclusion of your real world.

Anonymous said...

Josh, I read lots of these type of blogs, am a member on a few forums, sometimes, I think the same things....then a genuine situation appears which because of what I read here & elsewhere I can see coming & gets me & mine out of harms way. AS long as your self aware enough to ask, your probably self aware enough to know the diff.

Joshkie said...


That's what I think I'm doing, but our own blind spots are the hardest to identify. Sometime we need to put things out there, so we can see what others see.

Anon -

Our power of self-delusion the ability to lie to ourselves is great. So to me being self-aware enough to ask the question is not enough. The answer I come up with might not be the answer I think it is, or be producing the results I want or intended.

Just my thoughts, worries and fears,

Joshkie said...

P.S. Thank for the feedback.


Toby said...

Josh - There is a guy in the UK,that back in the day did some nice work on what he called his 'fear pyramid' included in this was being able to face 'real world violence'...His name is Geoff Thompson, you may enjoy some of his earlier works (he looks at things a little differently now I feel)and could consider trying out some of his advice... Just a thought...

Joshkie said...

Toby -

Fear might be to strong a word apprehension or concern might be a better choice.

I actually have no desire to face this fear, this was more an exercise in recognition and appraisal: valid or not.
The only way I know to face this fear is to go to some really bad places and do some really stupid things.
And then it's only valid for that individual situation.
I guess I could go the duty right LEO and corrections.

But I don't play well with other.


Joshkie said...

Correction ...duty route....

Toby said...

Hi Josh,

Fear Pyramid is Geoff's term... I didn't want to take any liberties of 're-phrasing' it...

But the key point is in the decision making...Yes there are mechanisms to go out there and 'study' violenece first hand...It's then down to if you want to...

As you say "Our power of self-delusion the ability to lie to ourselves is great. So to me being self-aware enough to ask the question is not enough" looking at your numerous comments on Rory's posts leads me to believe you'll only get some of your questions answered by finding the 'arena' of your choice to step in, and then going into it... Geoff had an interesting method of accomplishing this, hence my recommendation...

Joshkie said...

Toby -

Thanks for the info, and I'm looking into Geoff.