Tag Archives: integrity

Cultural Appropriation

This week I want to explore the idea of cultural appropriation . In the linked article, cultural appropriation is defined as “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.” This definition provides a useful starting point, but it begs a couple of important questions I want to address.

I intend to approach cultural appropriation from two different directions. I begin with a story I wrote years ago for oral telling. The story was inspired by the wonderful children’s author and illustrator Eric Carle . He wrote and illustrated several books, among them ‘Draw Me a Star’. As a parent and librarian, I’ve bought, recommended and read aloud his books hundreds of times. You can look at ‘Draw Me a Star’ here .

The Artist

“Sing me a star …”
And the Artist sang a star.
It was a shining star.
“Color me a sun,” said the star.
And the Artist colored a glowing sun, a golden lion, a hillside of orange poppies, a burning fire, and a feather.
It was a red feather.
“Weave me a tree,” said the feather.
And the Artist wove branches and leaves and pieces of sky into a tree, and She wove fields and forests and deep, invisible roots, and a spider’s web.
“Build me a fence,” said the spider.
And the Artist built a fence and sculpted rocks and ice and sand and snow into a world.
It was a glorious world.
“Tell me a story,” said the world.
And the Artist began, “Once upon a time …”
It was a wonderful story.
“Tell me some more!”
So the Artist made all kinds of people to share all kinds of stories.
They were strong people.
The people said, “Teach us what love is.”
And the Artist said,
“Sing me a star …”

Now set your burdens down for an hour and dance with me. Here’s the sound track I made for our community dance last Monday evening.

Symphony of the Forest and Mysterious Island, by Kitaro ,a Japanese artist.
Maryam, by Hamza Shakkur, from the soundtrack to the movie Bab’ Aziz , a Tunisian foreign film.
Aye Lon Lon Vadjro, by Angelique Kidjo , an African artist.
Kozuma, by Professor Trance and the Energizers , who perform multicultural Trance Dance music.
Stars Align, by Lindsey Stirling , an American violinist.
Mwari, from the album World of Rhythm.
Pinguli Pinguli Giuvaccinu, by Savina Yannatou , a Greek artist.
Barcelona Nights, by Ottmar Liebert, a German guitarist.
Symphony of Dreams and A Drop of Silence by Kitaro.

I wouldn’t steal a pencil or a nickel. It’s easy to make a distinction between concrete objects that belong to me and those that don’t. Trying to define intellectual and cultural property, however, is another thing. Part of my integrity as a storyteller includes rigorously reporting the origins of my material to my audience. Part of my integrity as a librarian and a researcher includes investigating roots and versions of old stories and communicating that information to my audience so they get a glimpse of the amazing historical journey of human creativity and experience. Part of my integrity as a writer is to be open to the world of human beings around me in all its rich history, language, symbol, tradition, spirituality, expression, art, ideas and feelings.

Anyone who creates art or delves into old oral traditions realizes that cultures are not so easy to distinguish from one another, and the farther back we trace certain artifacts, oral material, symbols and traditions, the more blurred the boundaries between cultures become. Part of my motivation in becoming a storyteller is to become a link in a long, long chain of humanity that reanimates old stories. Oral tradition survives because it speaks to the culture of human beings. Themes of love, birth, death, war, change and power engage everyone. The repeating horrors of colonization, genocide, slavery, plague and pestilence, massacre and religious persecution are embedded in the history of every culture on every continent.

It would be convenient to simplify the history of mankind into good/bad, victim/oppressor and black/white literally, as well as figuratively, but that’s an intellectually lazy and ignorant point of view. The fact is that science teaches us life is a complex, nonlinear, dynamic, holistic system, and every culture changes every other culture just by existing. Every species impacts every other species. Every organism impacts every other organism. It’s inescapable.

Culture is defined geographically, ethnically, politically, by religious belief, by shared history, by language and by physical types. All these factors and many others weave cultural definition. I define some of my cultural aspects and others also define me, sometimes accurately, sometimes ridiculously. Defining culture is like trying to catch fish with your bare hands.

Who is authorized to speak for their culture, and what gives them that authority? Who controls the sharing or withholding of cultural information? At what point do we qualify for inclusion in a culture? My own ancestry is a polyglot of Irish, Norwegian and German, at least. Am I Irish enough to be allowed to tell an Irish traditional tale? Does the fact that my skin is white prohibit me from dancing to African music and introducing others to artists like Anquelique Kidjo?

We have ample evidence that cultural purity is a fast track to cultural death. It doesn’t work in breeding animals, it doesn’t work in the plant world and it doesn’t work any better with humans. Life is not about maintaining divisions and isolated islands of purity. It never has been about that. Successful life that persists is about biodiversity, cooperation, adaptation and hybridization. The attempt to maintain cultural purity is an attempt to restrain change, which is an attempt to harness life itself. Human beings, thank goodness and all the manifestations of divinity, are not that powerful.

What human beings are is creative. We are sensual. We thrive on expression and ritual. We hunger for spiritual nourishment. At our best, we’re observers, recorders, problem solvers, explorers and synthesists. We’re curious. As in the old stories, we go out into the world and seek our fortunes, our mates, our place, our families, our passion, our destinies and ourselves. Yes, there are plenty of madmen/women, megalomaniacs, destroyers and other pitiless, power-hungry, dangerous, destructive people out there. Entire human cultures have disappeared, leaving behind nothing but artifacts and fragments of language. Many, many other kinds of life have vanished as well, and many more are at risk. Yes, there are people who steal real property as well as intellectual property. There are people who would gladly wipe out whole groups of humans and other life, given the power. It’s happened before and it will no doubt happen again.

Have you noticed, though? Life–human, animal, plant–goes on. No one can really steal our heritage or our identity, because those things reside within us. Plagiarism and duplication are sterile things. Culture persists. It might go underground for generations in order to survive, but it persists and eventually shows itself to the world again. Stories, music, traditional arts and crafts, religious rites, dance, clothing, jewelry, language and tools are all seeds of culture. When someone with cultural seeds in their pockets reaches across boundaries to another culture, powerful, life-sustaining, magnificent collaboration happens, the kind of collaboration that allows an ordinary person like me to create a multicultural dance track and lead a small group of people (all kinds of people) in dance, which is a human cultural tradition from the dawn of man/womankind. The mingling of cultures creates new cultures, as well as sustaining the original parent cultures. If one person reading this discovers new music to add to their lives and pass on, a long history of cultural tradition goes with it and is preserved. I’ve succeeded as a link in the chain that goes right back to the first humans.

Eric Carle has had a hand in shaping my life, along with hundreds of other authors and illustrators. His books were read to me when I was a child, and in turn I read him to other children, including my own. He’s a unique and beautiful artist. My appreciation for his work inspired my own creativity. I was also inspired by my brother, who is a gifted musician, and I dedicate ‘The Artist’ to him, out loud, every time I tell it. I take my copy of ‘Draw Me a Star’ to every telling to pass around. I’ve told ‘The Artist’ dozens and dozens of times to all kinds of audiences, children as well as adults.

The story tells my truth. The act of creation is an act of love, appreciation and respect. Creation never happens in isolation. It’s never pure. It’s always a maelstrom of conscious and unconscious influence, memory, and inspiration from things seen, heard, read, felt and experienced. Culture is not static. It adapts, adjusts, persists, learns, discards, incorporates, borrows and contributes, or it dies.

Last week I wrote about making ourselves small. Cultural eradication makes the family of man smaller. Plagiarism kills creativity. Appropriation shrivels our souls. The threat of tribal shaming limits our joy in discovery and exploration outside our cultural boundaries. Choosing rigidity, hoarding and withholding our beautiful languages, our nourishing spiritual wisdom, our rapturous music, our skills and traditions, impoverishes us. Refusing to experience, explore and appreciate other cultures and their richness also impoverishes us. Sterility and isolation in, sterility and isolation out.

The greatest honor I can give the countless musicians, authors, artists, dancers, storytellers, photographers, sculptors, weavers, gardeners, mystics, filmmakers and all the other creators who grace the world is to see, to listen, to be touched, to weep, to laugh, to dance, to receive, to learn from, to be inspired by, and to commit the daily crime of adding myself to the culture of humanity and passing it on.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

 

Boundaries 3: The Chaos of Transformation?

I’ve been thinking about this week’s blog for a couple of days now.  There’s a lot more to say about boundaries, and maybe someone else can shape the many complex pieces into separate, coherent blogs, but that person isn’t me.  I can sort out a few points, but the rest is just chaos, and that chaos contains all kinds of inflammable issues, such as parenting, corporal punishment, our justice system, religion, sexuality, morals, ethics, rape culture, racism, entitlement and patriarchy.

There’s no doubt in my mind that these are important discussions and ideas for all of us, but the purpose of this blog is not to have a shouting match or explore the different ways we can criticize, judge and belittle one another.

I suspect that most of us agree that boundaries are necessary, but after that point I see potential for endless violent disagreement about how and why we create and manage them.  I do believe it’s safe to say that our understanding of boundaries is heavily influenced by our experience of childhood, by our culture and family, and by technology and media.

I have no answers.  I notice that what I call my boundaries don’t work very well at times.  I notice the conflict between what works for me, what others expect and what I’ve been taught.  I notice a generation gap around boundaries.  My 20-something sons see the whole issue differently than I do.  I think some of this is due to differences in our relationships to technology, but I don’t know how much.

I also notice that a lot of my boundaries are around fear.  As a single woman, I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of being hooked into GPS and map information via technology.  It doesn’t feel safe to me.  Likewise, I’m uncomfortable discussing my spirituality, my parenting beliefs, my political beliefs, my dietary choices and the color of my underwear.  I’m not ashamed of who I am—I’m afraid of being victimized.  I don’t want to deal with mean people, hateful people or dangerous people.  I don’t want to attract the attention of a psychopath or a sociopath.  I don’t want to lose connections and relationships over something like religion.

Then there’s the part of me that simply isn’t interested in what I call oversharing.  I mind my own business—why can’t everyone else mind theirs?

On the other hand, surely we have a right to be who we really are.  But where is the line—the boundary, if you will—between that right and violating someone else’s boundary?

A highly topical example of this is the debate over Native American team names in the public school system.  Many Native Americans find this offensive and racist–and say so.  The other side hotly denies they’re racist and cites tradition and their intention to honor the Native American people.  It’s a ding-dong argument.  I’m hurt and offended and this feels racist versus I am not a racist, back and forth, on and on, with both sides becoming further divided with every iteration.  Broken connection, broken relationships, divided communities, hurt and rage are the result.

At bottom, it seems to me these are all boundary issues.  Our boundaries don’t appear to work well.  What do we do about that?

This very morning, I had an interesting discussion with one of my sons about this.  We were talking about privacy in regard to technology, and he suggested that soon we may have to accept the idea of 0% privacy because of our increasing reliance on and use of technology.  Everyone (at least in this country) will be equally exposed and we’ll have to figure out how to live with that exposure as a culture and move on, or we’ll simply self-destruct.  I’d never considered this point of view and I’m fascinated with it, as well as slightly appalled.

Perhaps the chaos around boundaries is present because, as my son suggests, we’re in transformation.  Transformation is inherently chaotic, after all.  Maybe my generation’s ideas and beliefs about boundaries aren’t working because they’re outdated.  Our world, our culture, our understanding of things, technology and science are dynamic, always changing, always correcting and expanding.  Perhaps the world we live in today requires different boundaries and we’re struggling to shape them.

At the risk of sounding like an old granny, however, I think healthy, effective boundaries must contain elements of respect, compassion, authenticity, dignity and kindness, not only for others but also for ourselves.  I think it’s important to remember that boundaries are about ourselves and what works and doesn’t work for us.  It’s not our job to choose boundaries for others.   We may have to defend our boundaries and others will certainly try to violate them, but that’s the only place our power is.

Interestingly, I’m reading a book right now that relates to this.  It’s called Being Wrong, by Kathryn Schulz.  It’s a great book—well written, funny, intelligent and thought-provoking.  I highly recommend it.  The reason I mention it is that so many of our rules, expectations and yes, boundaries, are based on our beliefs and we have a tendency to make our beliefs universal laws.  We all do this, one way or another.  But take one of your central beliefs, a hot one like politics or diet or religion, one you argue about on Facebook, block and unfriend people for disagreeing with.  Now just imagine, if you can, for one minute, only 60 seconds, that you’re wrong.

Pretty uncomfortable, right?  Now everything changes, including your rules, expectations, stories and, inevitably, your boundaries.

In other words, effective boundaries need to flex and change as we learn and grow.  Otherwise, all we create is a jail cell for ourselves.  We can’t change, we don’t admit new information and we keep ourselves small and rigid.

On the other hand, if we have inadequate boundaries our power is leaking all the time.  We fall prey to all kinds of dysfunctional relationships, our integrity is broken, we fail to take care of ourselves and our lives don’t work very well.

I’ve been talking with people about boundaries lately (in the real world) and reading about them online.  Here’s the best article I’ve found, along with a really helpful table to aid in discerning what healthy boundaries look and feel like.  If you know of helpful resources around this subject, please share!

http://lifeesteem.org/wellness/wellness_boundaries.html

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

The Yes and the No

I had some feedback on last week’s post that indicated I’m not the only people pleaser around!  Here’s what some other people are saying about learning to say no: http://lifehacker.com/5875337/how-to-say-no-without-being-an-asshole

http://zenhabits.net/say-yes/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201311/the-power-no

People pleasing is connected to several other pieces of interpersonal functioning, like boundaries, power, authenticity and integrity.

The inability to say yes is as problematic as the inability to say no.  If you can’t say yes, your no is meaningless.  If you can’t say no, your yes is meaningless.  This damages relationships with others, sure, but I think the more significant damage occurs in our relationships with ourselves.  How can we trust ourselves if we don’t take responsibility for making and communicating honest choices?

It doesn’t matter if the relationship we look at is professional, family, peer or romantic.  If we’re too cowed to give an honest yes or no, how healthy is that relationship?  Why is someone trying to take away our power and, more importantly, why are we letting them?

I know.  Love.  Obligation.  Even fear.  But wait.

Do you feel loved when you can’t speak an honest yes or no without receiving indifference, withdrawal, scorn, drama, rage, sarcasm, a physical blow, tears or an emotional outburst?  Maybe your intention is to love and be loved, but is that really happening?  How can you be loved if you’re not showing up honestly?  If you’re loved for your compliance, your compliance is what’s getting loved, not you.

Do we have an obligation and a duty to be connected to people who don’t respect our yes and no?  Do we owe that to someone because they’re family, or someone we have history with, or our boss, or someone we want to love or be loved by?  Who says?  Did you sign a contract at some point?

And then there’s fear.

At this point in my life I’m not as concerned as I once was about making the wrong choice, whatever that means.  I’m more interested in being clear about the choices I am making and why.

So, just to be clear, I’m choosing to stay in relationship with (fill in the blank), even though I’m not allowed to say yes or no honestly without (fill in the blank).  I’m doing that because I hope one day they’ll love me, or because I owe it to them, or because I’m afraid of them.  I’m doing it, in short, because they have something I think I need.

Now, pay attention.

They have something I need.

Do they really?  Are we sure?  Is the job or relationship or inheritance or influence more important than our ability to live with authenticity and fully in our own power?

If your answer to that is yes, I understand.  I was in an abusive marriage for a time because I had two young children, no job, no car, no money, no childcare and no hope.  I deliberately chose that relationship because I didn’t know how to survive without the financial support my husband provided.  My children and I paid a heavy price, but he did help keep us afloat during a critical time.  The marriage didn’t last, of course.  Even now, on a summer morning more than twenty years later, I don’t know what else I might have done.  I don’t know what might have happened to us if I hadn’t made the choice I made.  Maybe something much healthier.  Maybe a homeless shelter.

This, my friends, is the ancient and powerful archetype of prostitution, and we all participate in it in some way at some point in our lives.  It’s part of being human and is much larger than the specifics of gender and sex.  More on archetypes later.

When you look at your relationships through this filter of making and communicating honest choices, what do you see?  What’s your role in this dynamic?  Are you the one who can’t say yes or no, or are you the one who can’t hear them?  Why are you engaged in this dynamic?  How is it working for you?  Are you happy with yourself, and with your connections?  Are you interested in learning how to do things differently?

Check out the page in this blog called ‘The Hanged Man.’  Here I’ll share excerpts from my book, soon to be published.  Not surprisingly, much of the material in this blog is also embedded in the book.

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted