“The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society”
“A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance”
Without getting all ‘I think therefore I am’ about this I feel it is true that I can’t actually know what and who I am without context, in isolation.
That in order to exist, I (Ego) need Culture (community).
Maybe it’s because we (humans) are sociable creatures or maybe that doesn’t matter at all – I’m not particularly sociable. Maybe I need to understand different cultures in order to know what I’m not and use that to contrast what I am. But that would be a rather negative way of viewing things.
Maybe it just is what it is.
This type of thinking can seem to lead one on an endless feedback loop of philosophical meandering that can end up feeling like things are moving further from the light and more into chaos. In order to prevent that, I like to peg my camping spot out early, explore it from there and then tackle the next question that arises from that starting point. “But what if the starting point is wrong?” I hear you ask. Well, as long as one keeps one eye open to that possibility and the will open to testing and analysing one will know when it is wrong and will be more than happy to up-sticks and move on.
So today’s camp is of culture and ego.
This thought camping spot was triggered by my watching of SBS’s ‘First Contact’, a program that was pretty much exactly as I thought it would be and for that reason was only mildly interesting as an ‘eye opening docco’.
First Contact is an Australian short ‘fly on the wall’ documentary series that followed 6 well-known Australian celebrities as they made their ‘First Contact’ with Aboriginal communities around Australia.
The program was, nevertheless, mind-opening because of the subtleties that it raised within my mind. This being one of them.
The thoughts that the show triggered in me follow:
Every human alive was born into one or another culture, sub-culture or tribe. Sometimes all that is common to us within a culture is language but mostly it is more all-encompassing than that. Our values, our customs, taste, preferences, hopes and aspirations. The story of our bones, where we belong, our very essence if you like.
I was born into a dominant culture. One whose narrative was of winning, empire building, success won through a stiff-upper-lip and strong work ethic. Of getting up early (the early bird catches the worm) and putting in an honest days graft. Of loving the Queen and country, of dressing for dinner, family Christmases, the Leicester Fortnight holiday season, Labrador dogs, fresh air, Enid Blyton, talking about the weather, 1066 and St George. I was born white and I’ll die white. White skinned and Blue eyed. At least on the outside.
I was born into The Daily Mail and BBC, into public education, the NHS, democracy and pounds and pence. Born into the aspirational class: conservative, prudent, savers, achievers, WINNERS (not battlers, we were too well off to be called battlers, we were above that culturally and practically and I knew it). Battlers is an Australian term for the working class)
I felt like a winner growing up. Everywhere I looked were signs that I would do well at life, succeed. Even before I could legitimately make my own effort and be judged on my own merits I felt it. My dad had a successful business in the town, we had a big house – maybe the biggest house out of my friends. I don’t know for sure but it sure did feel like it. I did ballet, had lots of toys at Christmas, went abroad sometimes for holidays but mostly went away in the caravan – not an ordinary van but a massive twin axle job with a posh toilet and shower room and a fully fitted kitchen. We also had an awning and a nice table set.
I was intelligent in the way that mattered to those in charge (apparently). I did well at school, was recognised, rewarded with positions of authority, trusted and confided in. I didn’t realise at the time that it was easy for me to be recognised because I already stood out as being a winner. I came from a ‘nice’ background and nobody was suspicious of me or my motives. I had the face of a winner, my subsequent actions only served to back up that bias.
Looking wider afield I also grew up surrounded by a family of ‘successes’. My aunties and uncles all had their own houses, my grandparents did too. They were a mix of interesting, intelligent, law-abiding, hard-working, compliant people who nobody would suspect anything bad from. We even had a farm named after us in the village where my dads family had resided for years – maybe 200 years. I’m not 100% sure of the detail but I was sure enough of it to be proud. One distant family member even had a Rolls Royce (albeit an old one) that I got to have a drive around in. Very posh!
Of course all that only gets you so far and life isn’t just a picture book rosy glow of niceties. Some things didn’t turn out the best for me and that took away some of my in-bred advantage. Then there were the times, as I got older where I did live and die by my own decisions, luck and abilities. There was nobody to give me references when I travelled to Australia alone aged 21. There was nobody to sit my uni exams for me, to tell me when was a good time to leave a relationship that I’d outgrown, to pull me and my car out of the ditch when I crashed and broke my hand or to sit inside my skin as it itched its self to what felt like near death when I got sick in my late teens.
But all through life, through the dark times, the dark night of the soul, the 2am tears, the panic attacks on the way to work, the accidents, financial crises, arguments, wrong-place-wrong-time moments and more I had a gift. Something that stayed with me and protected me. Something that I could rely on in the darkest of times when all around me, including the physical me seemed to crumble. That thing was my ego.
Ego can be somewhat of a dirty word around these places. I have come to the conclusion, not least after watching First Contact that it is because it is so easy for people with my background to grow too much of it…..
Too much ego will trap you, put your mind in a cage and throw away the key. Too little will see you victim to a world that isn’t as fair as it ought to be. Just enough will keep you safe, grounded, whole.
And so back to First Contact.
Underneath it all, for me, came a simple realisation that Ego is born out of Culture. I’m not convinced I’ve captured everything here but I am convinced that if the parent (culture) is threatened, the Ego will suffer.
What I saw in this program was a dance of the egos. Some dancing to protect, some to defend, some to grow, some to share and some just to be seen, acknowledged.
I saw no good or bad, black or white, right or wrong in the dancing. The dance of the ego is deeply personal. But what I did see was a commonality underneath it all that was wanting to reach out and connect.
It reminded me very much of this Alexander Milov sculpture from the Burning Man festival.
So what next?
That’s up to everyone to decide in their own way but I take comfort in the wisdom gained from my own journey:
It only takes one deep breath in and one slow breath out to let go of that which no longer serves us when we are ready.
To unleash tears that will cleanse us of our guilt, hurt, loss and shame.
To open us up to the future, our future.
There is enough for everyone as long as we have the will to see it.
Let’s walk forward together.
A final word on culture.
I believe that culture and cultural practices can evolve but only with respect. Evolving doesn’t mean superseding or, the triumph of one over another. More that it means growing, learning, enhancing, sharing.
We accept as normal that parents worry how they will find enough love in their hearts for their second child – a fear that dissolves the moment the baby breathes its first breath. At that point the family changes everything and nothing at the same time, in the same breath. Why can’t culture be like that? Like Love?