Opposite Worlds and Divine Blending

I am part of an online community of missionaries and expats around the world. I’m super thankful for this space that helps me find people in similar situations like myself and it makes me feel less alone. One of these groups has weekly discussion themes and encourages the expat women to post and blog according to it. This week the theme is opposites.

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Literally me in Honduras fanning away my sweat as I imagine the opposite of whatever current scenario happening if I were in the USA

After reading some of the posts, I have come to reflect on some seemingly opposites in my own life. In the last year I’ve become a little obsessive with comparing my life here in Honduras to my life back home in the states. I don’t know if this is a stage of culture shock and I don’t know what exactly I’m trying to justify or reconcile in my own mind but I annoy my own self with frequent comments that I make like, “back in my country…” reminiscent of Phoebe from The Magic School Bus.

So, inspired by a guest blogger on the group’s blog, I thought I would just make a little list of things contrasting my life now to what it might be if I were living in the U.S.: (as interesting as my daily life in Honduras might seem to some in the states, my daily life in the states seems pretty interesting to many in Honduras – for example, it is quite shocking to people in the majority world that we in the states let our central heating and air units run almost nonstop year-round)

  • in the U.S. I would use a dryer for my clothes; in Honduras I use a clothesline (this is just one reason why clothes-washing is a more complicated and involved task from start to finish – there’s no throwing in a couple jeans to wash last minute because you need them the next day.)
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but… As God as my witness, I will have a dryer again!

  • in the U.S. I would wear a lot of makeup and fix my hair more; here I wear minimal makeup and opt for braids or buns most days
  • in the U.S. I would probably use a dishwasher (depending where I was living); here I hand wash dishes multiple times a day and my hands and nails suffer from it
  • in the U.S. I would ashamedly eat lotssss of microwavable foods; here I cook more (thus dirtying up more dishes) or eat dirt cheap street food
  • in the U.S. I would live in a completely climate controlled atmosphere at a comfortable 68Âș pretty much 24/7; here we use only fans with open windows and can’t control the temperatures, smells, or noises that bombard our senses
  • in the U.S. pest control is a breeze; here it is almost a daily battle with ants, mosquitoes, flies, roaches, spiders, and geckos (and once, an iguana in our bathroom)
  • in the U.S. I would keep up with my favorite T.V. series like This Is Us and Law and Order: SVU; here we have no T.V. (but thank God for wifi & Netflix! even with fewer options than in the states)
  • in the U.S. my water pressure would be great and I’d have constant hot water in any faucet!; here we use an external heated shower head that is only hot when the pressure is really low (not to mention we can’t drink from the faucets)
  • in the U.S. I would have SO. MUCH. closet and drawer space; here my husband and I share a single zip-up mobile “closet” and use foldable storage bins
  • in the U.S. I would drive solo anywhere at literally any time of the day or night on great road conditions; here the roads are hazardous, traffic is typically heavy, other drivers are unpredictable, my husband and I share a vehicle and it is stick shift and I’m not comfortable driving it just yet… so I don’t drive :/ (but I will! It’s a goal of mine)
  • in the U.S. I would speak mostly in my first language and communication wouldn’t require much mental energy; here I will go days on end without having a single conversation in English and sometimes it leaves me feeling exhausted
  • in the U.S. I would feel comfortable in public (just the right amount of being acknowledged + being ignored); here I’m stared at everywhere
  • in the U.S. I can suggest to group of friends that we go out for dinner and everyone understands they will pay their own bill; here “he who invites pays” so group outings are few and far between 😉

etc., etc… The above list is specific of my particular situation in either of my “two worlds.” It’s not to say that it would be representative of all living in the states nor all living in Honduras. This is also a very superficial list and doesn’t touch on the subject of violence and fear that is one of the biggest factors of any psychological and emotional changes that I might have experienced in the last couple of years – changes that I most definitely would not have undergone had I stayed in the states. These are my opposites. I live every day trying to figure out how I can stay active in both worlds… and if I should. Some days, I wonder if I’m holding on too much to my comfort zone and other days I wonder if I’m losing my true self in the midst of assimilating into a new culture. Some days I feel brave and accomplished and other days I beat myself up for wallowing in self-pity. (because, I definitely have days when I just want ac and crown moulding and chick-fil-a and a hot bath and to feel comfortably normal)

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What if I could settle for living with these two opposing sides – appreciating the parts of me that have “Honduran-ized” while not feeling guilty for still wanting little American pleasures while living abroad? What if it was God’s plan all along that my upbringing, affinities, calling, and all the new experiences blended together to form a completely unique me?

I visualize it like I’m right in the middle of a Venn diagram where it’s overlapping and that’s where the really interesting stuff happens. I shouldn’t feel forced to sort through things placing them neatly on one side or the other. And if something is temporarily out of reach on a certain side I don’t have to feel like a martyr because it isn’t part of my life at that particular moment. I know I would never be fully content completely on one side or the other anyway.

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nothing to do with the actual content of this post – I just appreciate the Venn diagram humor

I have a never-satisfied longing for my fam back home to truly understand my daily life in Central America. I have to accept that they are not going to understand. I have a never-satisfied longing for my husband to understand my upbringing that is quite the opposite of how he was raised. I have to accept that he won’t truly understand my emotionally-charged nostalgia surrounding the holidays and family beach trips. He’ll one day get to experience that with us stateside but it won’t compare to the memories I have as a child. And I have to accept that our kids will most definitely have a very different experience than either one of us had growing up. They too will have to learn to live with a divine blending of cultures and that will bring its own challenges and rewards.

So, here’s to moving forward and being fully present in the middle of the diagram! Opposite worlds can blend and our lives are enriched because of it.

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The Pain of Independence: a political deviant

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I’ve never been too worried about conforming. You should have seen my high school wardrobe (it was, um, *creative*) or consider the fact that I’m from the South but have an actual aversion to sweet tea and the SEC. (Yeah, several of you stopped reading right there. I know.)

I wouldn’t call myself a nonconforming rebel either but I’m pretty good at resisting peer pressure. I always felt that my inner convictions and deeply-held beliefs were far more important than popular opinion. During adolescence, right about the time I started finding my own voice and thinking critically about what I believed I received disapproval for straying a little too far from conservativism. (statistics show that most in my generation have)

About 13 years ago I spoke out in History class at my small, Christian high school in defense of immigrants and felt instantly the chasm between my viewpoint and that of my peers. I’ve since gained much more confidence, knowledge, and courage especially on the topic of immigration and have proudly landed somewhere in the moderate area of the general political spectrum. (and I think the political views of many of my classmates have also evolved) I doubt I will ever find myself at any point in my life pledging loyalty to a specific party.

First of all, I should mention that I’m not inherently political. I don’t keep up with most politics honestly and I certainly don’t go around picking internet fights with every faux news article I see shared. (I. see. a. lot. – hello, unfollow button?) The issues I am engaged with are the result of very strong convictions formed by very personal experiences, my relationship with my Savior, and the study of His teachings. I am an imperfect human doing the best I can to follow a perfect King. I honestly would avoid politics altogether (it just isn’t a pleasant subject) if it weren’t for the fact that it highly affects a lot of vulnerable people for whom I care deeply. I won’t go into detail on each policy with which I agree or disagree or those about which I honestly don’t know much. I definitely recognize that most hot-button issues are not easily resolved and are not as black and white as “right vs. wrong.” If it were so I think we would have more clearly marked camps. Obviously I believe that my beliefs are “correct” otherwise it would be non-sensical to believe them, but I do find it necessary to continually seek new information and perspectives and do my best to respect the individual who holds a contrasting opinion to my own. Respecting the individual does not mean tolerating insults, bullying, emotional manipulation, or speech that denigrates a person/persons. We have the right to shut. that. down.


Conformity vs Nonconformity

A neuroscientist, Gregory Berns, conducted an experiment on conformity vs. nonconformity in a group setting by scanning the brains (using a type of MRI) of volunteers as they answered a series of simple questions. Actors were placed in the experimental groups to confidently give wrong answers. The results, other than confirming previous research that group work influences an individual’s decision-making, showed the why behind a majority of individuals’ conformity under peer 7c2daebd86bfcb3047644e7971b0a4e7--conformity-satirepressure. It didn’t have to do with the volunteers’ conscious decision to change their answers in order to follow the crowd. The brain scans actually showed heightened activity in regions associated with visual and spatial perception meaning that popular opinion had in fact somehow changed the very perception of the volunteers. They were convinced to believe something that wasn’t true.

 

 

On the flip side the volunteers that stuck with their gut and did not conform with the
incorrect answers of the majority showed an interesting find in the brain scans as well. The amygdala, part of the brain associated with emotions such as fear and rejection, lit up. Berns called this “the pain of independence” which he says is “the clearest marker of the emotional load associated with standing up for one’s belief.” It takes courage, friends. Especially if a lot of the time you feel like you are standing up alone.


This is to point out the risk of social ostracism when one is part of a homogeneous group that doesn’t facilitate diverse viewpoints. Peer pressure is a beast.

But what if I truly agree with my group? Great! The objective is critical thinking and being able to arrive at our own conclusion and if that conclusion happens to be exactly what those around you think then, well, majority rules. 🙂 Congrats. (but maybe have a little grace with the person you meet who came to a different conclusion?)

Of all the social settings in which I’ve lived I can say that my college campus, Lee University, felt like that sweet spot of intellectual autonomy + Christian tradition. I felt very little anxiety about voicing my convictions there.

Some of the things I appreciate about my country are democracy and the freedom to express any opinion or belief. In theory we say we can respect differing opinions but we often consider a person with an opinion in contrast to our own to have some sort of character flaw. (or in evangelical circles… a crisis of faith)

Democracy depends on majority rule in the midst of dissenting voices but what happens when the majority conforms to the loudest and most obnoxious voice(s)? I hate to say that more than once I have fallen prey to psychological bullies trying to reason or guilt me out of my deeply-help opinions. Other than these less-than-desirable methods of persuasion I do appreciate having such diversity of belief in my circle.

5a20ce32c8aed4bb9feb267dcf376a65--my-life-quotes-a-quotesI would venture to say that if every one of your friends and acquaintances agrees with you religiously and politically then you probably live in a bubble and are lacking some factors that would help hone your critical thinking skills. Maybe you’ve created that bubble intentionally (I certainly gravitate toward likeminded people) and that’s your right but I’ll probably pass on having a political conversation with you. When entering into any kind of discussion over policy my first thought is, “Who is someone you know personally affected by this?”

Something else that keeps us in bubbles, and has surprised me recently, are our search engine biases. Online algorithms used in everything from our social media accounts to email to the ads on random websites we visit to what we search for in Google often keep us from venturing out of our idealogical sphere. Ever searched for something then all of a sudden see it pop up in ads with every new window you open? Same concept. We typically see what we want to see, literally and figuratively.

Our society, in its ideal state (of being), would be free thinkers and give themselves permission to dig a little deeper than their party and the news clips and sound bites and viral memes. We would graciously admit defeat when our candidate loses and we would have the integrity and humility to admit when our candidate or party is wrong. We wouldn’t assume someone’s entire idealogical makeup based on one position they hold nor would we attack someone’s opposing viewpoint with all the built up force of a lifetime of political frustration.

i.e. I share a heartwarming story about an undocumented immigrant I know who is struggling to make ends meet (unqualified for state benefits contrary to popular belief) and faithfully serves in her local church congregation. This is obviously personal and emotional to me but I am not attacking any opposing view or, believe it or not, trying to promote an agenda. I’m simply sharing a FACTUAL story from a compassionate perspective of an issue about which I care deeply.

This opens a can of worms where others (who in fact have no personal ties to an individual who had to make the difficult decision of leaving their home to provide for their family) assume the right to verbally attack me or the protagonist of my story. My question is, how did this incite such fervent refutation? Why is a popular tactic of arguing politics to take the humanity out of the debate? – and it’s done so passionately?

For the very reason that we usually bring a little too much baggage to the debate, I am very hesitant to share specific political beliefs online. We rarely understand the context, nuance, or background of the person posting the comment. There still exist many who don’t exercise as much deliberation when posting or sharing. Occasionally I’ll entertain a friendly discussion of politics from behind the screen but mostly I feel it is best reserved for personal conversation. (which isn’t necessarily always friendly either, haha)

I could get a variety of reactions to this blog post (assuming that even a handful of people read it) due to the diversity of my friends list. I don’t even know how many might actually relate to my story. My social network includes nominal evangelical Christians, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims; devout evangelical Christians, Catholics, Hindus, Muslims; atheists; agnostics; Republicans; Democrats; international friends who don’t know the meaning of either political party; heterosexuals; members of the LGBT community; so many races and nationalities I couldn’t count them all; police officers; active military; veterans; pastors; addicts; teachers; documented immigrants; undocumented immigrants; professors; missionaries; feminists; doctors; lawyers; etc.; all who are human beings with their own experiences, stories, passions, struggles, and beliefs.

Friendship Together Bonding Unity Youth Culture Concept

Of course we’re going to disagree on things. Hopefully we can learn from each other without compromising our core values. As Christians, may we use scripture as a pruning tool for ourselves and not as darts to throw at “the opposition.” May we allow the Holy Spirit to work on our hearts… as well as our tongues. Can we vow to put down our weapons of divisive speech and approach each difference of opinion while waving the banner of kindness instead? We are on the same team after all.

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