What's Your Culture?
How I moved from thinking I don't even have a culture to seeing it everywhere and wanting to be a part of creating welcoming cultures for everyone.
The ground is heavy with fallen leaves and regular rain showers. The sky draws out my wonder with moments of light and warmth. Our world is in turmoil in a more extreme way than I recall witnessing previously. My heart, too, is heavy. And, there are moments of wonder and light that amaze me. I'd like to tell you about them, but first, a story about culture.
I grew up thinking, I did not really have a culture. The only tradition that seemed unique or special to my family was eating together every night (I treasure this and it remains of utmost importance in my life at present). It took me until I was in my late twenties and evening into my thirties to begin to fully recognize that what I thought was a "lack of culture" was actually mainstream culture - the cultural norms that were expected, flashed on TV screens, happening in most homes, businesses, schools, and communities around me. What I lived every day didn't feel special or unique because it was what was dominant. And, therefore, what continues to be most valued, made accessible, and celebrated in our country. This culture, rooted in white, Christian, able-bodied, heteronormative supremacy, made my experience (before I realized I was queer) seem so normal it couldn't even be considered culture. I didn't realize the amount of privilege this meant I had, to not wonder if if the holidays I celebrated would be off days at school, or if my coaches and teachers would be people who understood my language, foods, or religion.
As my adult years now outnumber my years as a child, I am more and more fascinated with the concept of culture - the culture of a country is one thing, but then there is the culture of a town, a family, a sports' team, a business team, a non-profit staff. My partner (now spouse!) reminds me that every relationship has it's own culture. I like this definition of culture:
A culture is a way of life of a group of people--the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next. Culture is symbolic communication.
We know a behaviors are a part of our culture because we do them "generally without thinking about them." Considering this concept reminds me of several childhood friends. I remember a classmate in elementary school who brought seaweed as a snack (about 25 years before Costco sold seaweed snack). She was mad fun of relentlessly! Another classmate would skip lunch for a month every year, and I regret I never asked her why. I didn't realize she was Muslim and practicing Ramadan until I was an adult. I remember these instances because in order for me to skip lunch I would have had to think about that, weighing the pros and cons, how I would feel, what my parents my say, etc. Trying new foods has never been a problem for me, though if it meant I would be teased, it would take some consideration as well. All because these things we not a part of my culture. For these young friends of mine, though, to live their culture - to do and believe what was passed along to them - was counter to what everyone around them saw as normal. I felt envious of people like them because they had culture and I didn't, or so I thought. I know now, as congresspeople in Montana and Michigan are being silenced for living their beautiful culture, that I still have much to learn about the challenge and pain of working against the culture of a system that doesn't value, and may even hate, another culture. A couple of years ago I was on a client call. I saw a big black truck pull up along our side yard and saw a flash of a person run across my yard. He grabbed the flag pole to my Pride flag and broke it off, ran back to the truck and drove away before I could catch his license plate number. I ended my call early and stood shaking in my doorway. To say I was rattled is an understatement. It was then I began to truly question my safety in my own neighborhood. I wondered if the teens who did this were related to the neighbor who left a note on my porch with an American Flag sticker on it who suggested that flying a pride flag would bring violence and destruction to our street. Being queer in Kalispell, Montana is counter cultural. It is a way in which I am able to touch into the pain that others feel when they have to speak up for their own right to exist as a human being. The truth is, I am still a very privileged person - I am white, English is my first language, I own my home, a citizen, have an average to slim body frame, have post-secondary education, and able-bodied. have not experienced overt harm because of my queerness, though I do not know if I have been looked over for jobs because of it. Looking back, I see so many instances in my life when I felt like I did not fit. (Often times in groups of all people identifying as women this would, and still does, happen.) Being excluded is a core wound of mine and every time I even get the hint of feeling excluded, it requires me to pause and tap into my own self-loving self-acceptance. It may be no surprise then that the theme of my career has been welcoming people to be themselves, to belong, to fit - just as they are. In all of my jobs, while often hired for front line roles, I end of turning my gaze to the working culture, asking myself questions like:
Do all the team members feel like they fit, like they belong?
Are we acknowledging all voices and experiences here?
Does our pay scale reflect the needs of our staff team or require them to rely on a second income from a family member?
I'm shifting my focus. Yes, I've done that a few times. To stay true to myself, to invest in what I believe in, to honor the thread in me that cares so deeply about equitable culture, about belonging, about justice. I am now honing more on workplace culture as a group facilitator for teams seeking to gain or regain their sparkiness - their zest, joy, passion, and connection. I help teams build working agreements, mission, vision, and values. Together we explore centering practices rooted in yoga/meditation/mindfulness, team building activities, self-reflection, and group discussions. It's such a joy in these processes to feel the energy shift from dull and obligated to curious and connected. I love hearing the new ideas people have about how to enhance their workplace all because we stepped back to work on the program rather than in the day to day demands of the program. So far I've brought several teams through the process of building working agreements - a staff team of 11 working with teens in a therapeutic transitional housing program; a smaller team of 3 serving local children and families experiencing adversity; a combination Board of Directors and staff team (9 total) building a bilingual, affordable Montessori preschool. Each group has it's own culture. And each group has ways in which they want to change their culture to more fully align with their values. In the process we go through, I do my best to amplify the voices that often are silenced and to guide people to collaborative solutions rather than offering answers myself. I LOVE THIS WORK!
My work now is about connecting you and your team (be it your coworkers, family, or community) with tools for meaningful communication, discerning your focus, and caring for yourselves and each other so that you can more thoroughly and thoughtfully address the problems you are working to solve. While I am moving strongly in the direction of working as a Group Facilitator. I still love my practices of Personalized Wellness Coaching, and Community Yoga. Do you know anyone who might be looking for some support to help uplevel the sparkiness of their team? If so, I'd love to hear from you! In the midst of my own process, I am continuing to hold the torment of so many who do not have their basic needs, let alone the opportunity to build work around what they love. Palestine, yes. Also many families and youth experiencing homelessness right here in the Flathead Valley, among others. Let's acknowledge that the devastation in one place does not replace that in another. Let's see that skin color and wealth are playing a role in airtime. Let's remember our common ground as humans and that we all have unique cultures that enhance our shared humanity. Below are some ways in which you can support and honor the lives of the people of Gaza:
Learn about what's really happening to Palestinian Families through reliable news sources like Democracy Now
Call your congresspeople and demand a Ceasefire
Donate to Amnesty International's efforts for crisis investigations into human rights violations and our work to call for accountability and an end to war crimes
Connect with your loved ones. Celebrate your time together, and in nature. Speak truth and care for one another.
Thank you for your courage and kindness. You are not alone in your pursuit of a flourishing life you love. To connect about Facilitation opportunities for your team, schedule a free chat with me today!
Peace to you, Andrea