I am a progressive, direct, secular, forward thinking, outspoken Dutch expat currently living in the South of America. I am not what you call main-stream likable material. My habits and values are at a direct odds with the majority of people surrounding me. Most days I guess I’m OK with this. And some days the only thing I can think of is to run back to the Netherlands. Last weekend I met with a group of 20 Dutch people, who also live in this area of the US. It was incredible to be among them and feel like I belong again.
Most of the time I don’t feel like I belong. It is a constant debate in my head. Should I give in to what I perceive local society desires of me in order to be labeled as a good person, or should I stay ‘me’ and continue to have people regard me as strange?
Naturally this dilemma is not new and not limited to just me. The US is nation of immigrants, a melting pot of cultures. I cannot be the only one feeling this way. How was it then, that the majority of people, seem to coexist quite nicely? After all, they go to the same church, have large barbecues, birthday parties, weddings. How do these people stay together and make it work?
One thing that I’m noticing in Southern culture, is the tendency to hold back what you think. You are weary of rocking the boat, and showing people what you truly think out of concern of what might happen. You opt out of thinking critically, feigning carelessness and just go with the flow. I see younger generations no longer thinking like their parents do, but being weary of what might happen, when they speak their mind to their parents, so they don’t.
From the sidelines I look at this, and see a society that is deeply conflicted. But it isn’t even clear what the conflict is, because nobody is speaking their mind. And because nobody is speaking their mind, this feeling of in-equilibrium continues to poison society from the shadows of unconscious discourse. Conversations stay on the surface, and never spark true debate that could lead to greater understanding, toward a mutual progress of philosophy and society, toward an enhanced wellbeing of a transparent, evolving society.
Then today on one of the Facebook groups that I’m a member of, I saw a post that asks “how do I stay grounded when being confronted with people who think differently than we do? How do I not give in or feel intimidated.”
It reminded me I really believe this is one of the greatest lessons we can teach our kids. How to direct curiosity to new concepts, to new values, to different philosophies without getting triggered or hijacked by the fear of rejection. How to be able to confidently and kindly share one’s own opinion, even if it is at great odds with the current status quo. How to have a friendly game of sharing back-and-forth of what we think, so that we understand each other better, so that we create a learning environment that’s agile and adaptive, and keeps forward thinking, to grow together, and learn from one another.
I feel it begins with us opening up our mind for change. It begins with us, but what if we don’t know yet how to do this ourselves? If you feel triggered, intimidated, confused whenever you come across people that think differently, here is what to do;
Take a deep breath and begin a happy conversation with yourself. Talk to that part of you that feels intimated and whispers to you that you should give up or get angry, and direct some gentle curiosity to it. Ask it what it is trying to do for you. Don’t try to force an answer. Just see what pops up in your head after you start a conversation with this part.
It could be that this part of you is afraid of rejection, of being judged as dumb, idiotic for having an opinion that is at odds with the opinion of the other person. It may be afraid of rejection, of ostracism, of being push out of the perceived safety of a life as part of a group.
This part (a coping mechanism to protect you from harm) could be generating unpleasant feelings whenever you are confronted with someone who thinks differently, simply to try to keep you safe. It it is under the impression, that in today‘s society, safety and longlevity can only be achieved by being part of a group. About 2000 years ago, this was certainly accurate. You needed to stay part of a group, in order to survive the harsh environments with multiple predators.
However in today’s society, we not longer need to belong to a group in order to survive. Remember your brain is an ancient structure that operates largely like it did when humans began life. As life changes, our brain needs to adapt to the new current reality of reduced threats and increased opportunities. This may need a little help, and introspection on your part, to ensure that your brain is upgraded to match the needs of navigating complex life in the 21st-century where the majority of fear triggers, are in fact no longer life threatening.
All you have to do is begin a conversation with this part and see what it is trying to achieve. Then focus every day on doing things that contribute to what it is trying to achieve for you (confidence, peace, happiness). Then the need for this part of you to keep you small and intimidated goes away. Ps: You have an amazing brain. Watch your narrative to yourself and be kind to your mind. ❤️<3
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