Some recent news articles and moving from America to Canada have me thinking about culture.
Each culture, at each moment, has its rules and expectations that most people would agree with and follow. Obviously, there are always “sub-cultures” within the predominant culture that can vary widely from the accepted norm. But in general I think most people would agree on certain topics. For example, at what age can a child have and carry their own machete? In Cameroon (and probably many other similar cultures) the age appeared to us to be about 4 years old. We were told that childrens’ machetes are kept purposely dull until they are old enough to handle a sharp one, but that seemed to be the youngest age of child we saw carrying around a machete. Now, in North America, most parents would probably answer that question “What? Are you crazy? Give a child a machete??” Or in recent news in America, at what age can a child go to the park alone? Apparently in some places, 7-9 is not acceptable because in two cases now, parents were arrested and are awaiting criminal charges for allowing their children to be at a park at that age, unattended. Yet I am sure that many Americans also remember taking themselves to the park, or riding/walking home from the bus/school, at far younger ages and the recent arrests are shocking. It’s not that the dangers to children have changed significantly in the time period between then and now; in fact, studies repeatedly show that violence has decreased in America over the same period of time (although tragically children are still at the highest risk of abuse or death from family members or acquaintances). But culture and what is accepted has changed. But why?
As I reflect on this it strikes me that my initial answer of “Because people have just lost their common sense” is probably going to qualify me for charges of hypocrisy. I don’t even let my children play in the front yard unattended, let alone walk themselves to a park and play there. Of course, I have my reasons. And I think that they are good ones; we now live on a very busy road and our front walkway is awaiting repair from the city because a drunk lost control of his truck and crashed it into our front yard last week (before we moved here, thankfully). So, no kids of mine are going to be sitting out there, not to mention that strangers are walking by every 3-5 minutes all day. My reasons sound good to me, but I am sure that is true for every parent and that is probably why there are self-proclaimed “good Samaritans” out there getting parents arrested and their children taken away for having unattended park-playing children.
So what is “common” sense? And does it have any basis in truth, or reality, or “common decency”? Why does one culture give machetes to their children at 4 and another arrest parents for allowing their children out of their sight for a short time at older ages?
It has been interesting to move from California to Canada (Vancouver Island). Nathan has been telling me how relieved he is, because of the reappearance of little courtesies: people waiting for him to go in first; people saying Sorry and Thank You; and so on. It makes him happy. He certainly fits in better here, both in his expectations of people and his own behaviour. It is home to him. As a native Californian, I sometimes get irritated at the same things that make him happy; for example, when nobody wants to be rude at a four-way stop so they all just sit there waiting for someone else to go first. Somebody, just go first! 😉 I find Californian driving to be rude at times, but very efficient. 😛 And talking to a co-ordinator for foreign exchange students visiting Canada was interesting. Apparently, one group only allows their students to be hosted (within Canada) by families that fit certain criteria: no Indians (from India/Pakistan or First Nations), no Asians, etc. They have their reasons, but Nathan and the co-ordinator were commenting on how culturally offensive it is to a Canadian to even have such restrictions!
I have no answers, I guess, I am just finding it interesting to ponder. How much of what I think of as right and wrong, good parenting and bad, my expectations on other people’s behaviours, etc, are just a by-product of my culture? Obviously as a Christian certain things are non-negotiables because they have a Biblical basis and many of those things fly in the face of even my accepted dominant North American culture. But which is which?