In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"

Mindfulness: Culturally Diverse not Divisive

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My Eagle (Eastern Washington University Eagle) and I speak most days about her training, school, roommates and life in the Northwest. Her pre-season schedule keeps her wickedly busy, but yesterday we ended the day unwinding to the news of her day and mine. 

After reminding me of her class schedule, one class being African American studies, we began a discussion about cultural appropriation, having referenced the class that Rachel Dolezal (former professor at EWU and President of the NCAA who made the news recently by her parents outing her as white) would have taught. 

Not surprisingly, she and I differed. She thought social media had gotten it right this time. People should not be consuming cultural artifacts as if unattached to the people who suffered or strove through the badges, persecution or honors of and by those cultural expressional effects. 

One example she insisted on was the appropriation of “clueless white girls” adorning themselves with henna though they do not care a whit for Indian culture or people. In fact, she claims, these same young white girls actively discriminate and ridicule cultures different from their own (if whiteness is a culture as well as a position of privilege and power?), including Indians.

Admittedly, my most played role as devil’s advocate annoys my children. But this time I was not baiting. I countered with labeling and generalizing as liable to injure as much as the lack of consciousness of some consumerists. Not all cultural appropriations spell disrespect. 

We live in a multicultural world, America being one of the most diversely populated. Adapting the behaviors, clothing, styles and language of other cultures organically arises from living among others. What matters–the same always–are words and actions consciously spoken and taken. 

To love another culture so much as to adapt it is not uncommon. People move to other countries more suitable to their natures. Look at Cat Stevens, who left American fame and fortune to live in a culture more nourishing to his spirit. One can question his or anyone’s motives for “abandoning” his or her birthright, but why, what’s the point?

The people my daughter–and her social network–criticize, live inauthentically and thereby injure others, I suspect. To affect the style of another group is an act of honoring, blind imitation, or malicious mockery, depending on the intentions of the adapter. 

But all behavior may be measured as moral, immoral or amoral, depending upon the degree to which the actor moves beyond him or herself toward another–and with a conscious intention of producing good or ill will.

Mindfulness is an overused term, quickly turning trite. But in truth, to bring mind to bear on everything we do matters most. Morality is another term that gets maligned in its use, overuse and abuse. But the morality that the philosophers hypothesize about in classrooms, bars and libraries through time immemorial informs the morality I believe defines mindfulness:  an ethics of right behavior toward others, which is situationally switched on by a mind and heart likewise opened and active.

I am not foolhearty enough to believe in a “correct” behavior for every situation, but the footpath toward morality starts with a consciousness of the causes and effects of what we do, otherwise known as awareness. Thinking awake and remembering that we belong to a community are two steps in the right direction on that path.

At the conclusion of our call, I asked her what I should write about next, after plastic bags and waterless urinals. She offered sex work and cam girls. Um….wait, what?
 

credit: socialwork.simmons.edu

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