Category Archives: Individualism

Making the “Love Languages” Cross Cultural

If you’re ever heard of the “Five Love Languages” concept, you probably know about its popularity and worldwide reach. The love languages books have been translated into 50 languages around the world, but are they all applicable to other cultures?

Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Gifts and Acts of Service are the five ways that identified by the author Gary Chapman. The idea is that different people have different pathways in which they receive and give love. Meeting the needs of those in your life according to their way of receiving love is the main thrust of the concept.

For the most part, I think these five “languages” cover a broad spectrum of human need in relationships, but they aren’t entirely translatable cross cultures.

First example, in some Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures, directly giving words of affirmation is very awkward and not well received. Praising that person to a third party else is more highly valued when they hear about what you said about them through the grapevine.

Secondly, public physical affection between spouses or romantic partners is also taboo. Holding hands walking down the street is scandalous. Even physical touch (hugs) between brothers and sisters are not common. These are two love languages which are dominant in the West, but much less prevalent in non-Western cultures.

I’d like to add a couple more “love languages” which I see as being central and unique to non-Western cultures.

Food

I believe this one has the weight to stand on its own. If you’ve ever had relationships with folks from a non-Western culture, you understand how important food is. Food is a shared experience. Sitting to eat together is a bonding experience in every culture, but the fast food mentality of the West has degraded its depth. In cultures like India, the time and effort put into cooking a meal for another person communicates depths of love, duty and respect for the person. Not offering to serve someone drink or food is a direct insult. The acts of serving food and sharing food are mediums of building and maintaining strong relationships.

Respecting family

Respecting the family of one’s significant other, particularly in honor/shame cultures, is an overlooked approach to showing love to one’s spouse in the “Love Languages.” For example, making an effort to get along with a spouse’s family and understanding the interconnectedness of family relationships is an important part of many non-Westerners lives.

In many cultures, the joint family system is hinged on the importance of a new spouse getting along with all the other family members. If the daughter-in-law and mother-in law don’t get along, the husband/wife relationship is in trouble. Likewise, this can be said for building love in non-romantic relationships. A wife showing respect for her husband can build love between her and her mother-in-law. A father teaching a child to respect and honor his grandparents shows love to his parents on a different dimension.

Showing love to one’s spouse who lives in a communal society looks very different from the Western approach. Saying to your spouse “I love you because you are smart” may not have an affect. But showing love by cooking for a spouse’s parents speaks much louder to non-Western minds.

The Love Languages are a great concept and have undoubtedly helped millions of folks from non-Western countries improve their relationships, but pointing out the nature of indirect communication and the importance of family networks is crucial to making it a truly global concept.

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Rachel Dolezal is a Product of Extreme Individualism

America is individualism to the extreme. We let the “self” define everything. To us, societal and family ties mean very little compared to other parts of the world where you are defined by your group. In the West, we have this idea that we are the author of our own future, our identity and fate. Some of this is good, but when we take it too far.

There are some cultural trends in Western culture, which in my opinion, have swung in a negative direction:

  • Pursuit of the individual over community (family, group of origin)
  • Breaking from tradition, just for the sake of it

Family – We white people are particularly guilty of this. In general, in many white communities, we seek autonomy with our parents. Parents become friends rather than someone designed to be in authority over us. Respect for parents is considered to be antiquated,  only for the small-minded and religious zealots.

Tradition – We have decided that it is fashionable to break from tradition just for the sake of breaking from tradition. Many people would do anything else rather than to follow the religion of their parents.

How did our culture become such that each person becomes an individual molder of their own identity?

How do other cultures handle individualism?

Lets consider a place like India- where billions are born into a caste and die in that caste. Nothing can change that. In Indian culture, the young are free to pursue careers to a certain extent, but in many cases, the individual does not have power to make individual choices. Parents and elders dictate the values of the community and values of the individual. The community is more important than the individual. When these young people become the elders of the community, they instill the same values. The idea that you could change your family or racial identity is absurd.

Take a country like South Africa- where race was painfully defined and has carried out a societal structure. From this point of view, where racial identity is so well defined, it seems absurd that someone would “choose” a race for themselves. As if it was that simple.

Extreme Individualism

It is true that race is a “social construct.” But, social constructs are called social constructs because they are defined by society, not the individual. Just because one person have a different idea, doesn’t mean that we can topple a social construct with an individual idea.

This type of extreme individualism that we embody in the West, leads to an internalized belief that “I can be whatever I want.” Taken too far, we get Rachel Dolezal and the idea that one can pick their own race. If we look at the patterns of other societies, this idea of being “transracial” is totally corrupt.

Its like white privilege and Western individualism had a lovechild and Rachel Dolezal is what we get as a result.

The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of “individualism” in the West. I predict in future generations, we may come back to a closer balance between the individual and the community.

 

Firangi Bahu- Does This Really Represent Indian/Western Marriages?

Built on drama, jealousy, lies, and mistrust, Firangi Bahu was just like every other saas/bahu drama on Indian television, with one exception, a British bahu instead of a homegrown one. After one dreadful season, Sahara One cancelled it.

firangibahu-indianwesternThe show shows Camili (British born 20 something) who met Pranay (a wealthy Gujurati boy studying in London) and secretly get married after a whirlwind, short-lived stint of infatuation.

Pranay was a  babied son who didn’t know how to balance the challenges of family responsibility with having a love marriage. Camili was a naive but sweet spirited girl who desired to please people around her and fit into the conservative Indian Desai household she found herself a part of.

Like many other serials on Indian television, this show skewed several portions of reality. The show did a good job of breaking down negative stereotypes of Westerners, but unfortunately reinforced negative views of Indian families:

Exaggerated View of Dysfunctional Families

Fortunately, many foreigners who have experiences in India know that the dysfunction of the Desai family is not the reality for most Indian households.  This show had all the stereotypical “worst case scenario” characters –a vindictive older bhabhi who was trying to control and hurt others , a mother-in-law who was desperately trying to maintain power over a changing household, and an unsupportive and childish husband who was easily manipulated by catty female relatives.

This show was not unique, as many of the family serials thrive of jealous relationships, and mere emotional drama to keep ratings high.  Sadly, shows like this make Indian families look horrible to the outside world. I’m calling “bluff” on these negative stereotypes.

Inflated “Love” Story 

Pranay and Camili’s meeting and marriage was based on almost no true relationship, but pure infatuation. The scenes of their “love story” mostly consisted of bumping into each other at the train station followed by eyelash batting and romantic music playing in the background. Not much you can tell about a person by just batting your eyelashes at them.

Most of the successful Western/Indian marriages I’m aware of were based on two people having common interests, mutual friends, common values, and healthy friendships. Most couples get to know each other, spend time together in a variety of situations, and do their best to see the “true colors” of their partner before making a lifelong commitment.

Camili and Pranay got married without his family’s knowledge, which is also rare from what I’ve observed. From any cultural perspective, families are bound to be very upset if a young person does this. In my opinion, the characters started off on the wrong foot to begin with. Things are bound to get rocky when a couple doesn’t have a strong foundation or a shred of family support.

Excuses Abuse of Women:

A recent episode showed Pranay confronting Camili by grabbing her by the face, pinning her arm behind her back, and falsely accusing her of being unfaithful and getting pregnant with someone else’s child. I was a little shocked, although I know Indian television and movies show this kind of behavior all the time, and excuses it as just “the way things are.” I know this kind of abuse does certainly happen, but I especially want to emphasize that this is not the norm of cross cultural relationships.

Camili is a girl who had no father, was raised by an alcoholic mother and has now found a new variety of abusive relationships in her sasuraal.  In the West we call this kind of person someone with a “victim” mentality. Camili seems to be to be a woman in love, but someone who didn’t get the whole picture before diving into a lifelong relationship. She is now married to a pampered adult man who thinks it is ok to abuse and manipulate women in his life.

Pranay is portrayed as a “typical Indian boy” who loves his family and would do anything to protect their honor, even if it means rooting out people who attempt to dishonor their reputation. In the beginning of the show, Pranay was understanding, sensitive Camili’s family problems, and seemed to be an advocate for her finding acceptance with his family. His colors changed as soon as he was back in his native environment. As soon as he was faced with a major conflict, his prejudices and fears about white people all emerge and were acted out against his wife.

Most women I know who have willingly married their desi partner would not put up with this kind of abuse, neglect and blatant mistrust from their spouse.

firangi bahu relationships

Balance this Show with Real-Life Family Situations

I don’t believe this show portrays reality of most Indian/Western marriages. Camili is now stuck in an abusive family with a husband who treats her poorly. Of the desi/non-desi couples I know, these kind of dysfunctional situations are not the norm.

A family (from any cultural background) who mistreats their daughter-in-law with this kind of extreme abuse is unacceptable, and certainly not the norm in Indian families. I’d like to see a show which portrays real issues that cross-cultural Indian/Western couples face.

But functional, happy marries don’t make for good TV shows.

I’d also like to disclaim and say that the word “firangi” is not an accurate word to describe many of the non-desi wives of Indian or Pakistani men I have met. Firangi has a connotation of being a complete outsider and someone not to be trusted. The word “Videshi”, or just simply “Australian”, “American”, “Peruvian”, or “British bahu” are more appropriate. Its kind of like calling a Chinese or Korean person “Oriental.” It is degrading, antiquated, and inappropriate language.

The Racist Inside

Growing up I thought racism was something “out there.” Slavery, the KKK, and white supremacists were what I thought of when I heard the word “racism.” Of course, it wasn’t something that hit close to home for me or that I even acknowledged as a problem. I knew there were racists in our country, but it was something that I only saw on TV, or read about in my children’s US history books about the evils of slavery.

I regret that only recently I’ve becoming aware, of white privilege and systematic oppression of people of color (POC), particularly African Americans. With extreme cases like Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Michael Brown we are confronted with a pervasive racism in our country which needs to be addressed. But not only this, but even on a much smaller scale, in daily interactions, we need to be aware of the racism that POC face.

Young-Woman-Covering-Mouth-Featured

As I’ve become more aware of this I feel two things: “How come didn’t I clearly see this earlier?” and “How should I respond?”  I’d like to address some of my feelings on the second question in how I feel white Americans can respond to racism in our country:

 

1) Listen first 

This is an uncomfortable place. If you’re like me, you will naturally react in your mind when you hear people talk about “white supremacy of America”, “white privilege”, or “systematic oppression.” If you’re like me, you will feel reactions against what is being said to you and excuse yourself from injustices that you feel you had nothing to do with. Acknowledge that while you might feel non-racist, push yourself to LISTEN first. Speak less. Think about the things in your life which might have strings of prejudice attached and start pondering there.

If someone says they are being discriminated against, don’t write them off. Really listen. Consider it from multiple perspectives.

2) Push back against your “filter against anger”

No one likes to be yelled at, cursed at or called names. The reaction is to stop listening immediately. But look beyond that. Challenge yourself and your way of thinking.

There is a lot of talk about the angry black folks and people discarding what black people say if there is a slight twinge of anger in their voice. Being a communications professional, I’m particularly sensitive to mediums of effective communication, but if one is to be superbly understanding, look beyond the emotional response of the communicator and listen to the content of the message. People have a right to be angry about institutionalized racism, and it is our place as the listener to filter through the anger, and listen to the underlying message. Find voices out there who are balanced, intellectual, and bold like Michele Alexander or Ta-Nehisi Coates.

3) Don’t embrace self hatred for being white

Feeling a deep sense of “white guilt” or feeling regret about your race is not going to help you.  Part of the initial guilt is a good thing, helping us to realize the privileges we have in this country due to our race. However, you can do something about it. While other people may stoop to the level of saying hateful things about someone based on their race, you don’t have to let it soak into your skin.  Acknowledge your privilege, but don’t hate yourself for it. See my article “Why I’m OK Being White” which talks a little about my personal experience of discovering my whiteness as it pertains to being in relationships with POC.

4) Be an advocate

One way to fight back against racism instead of sitting back and doing nothing, is to be an ally. Look at your race and privilege as an opportunity to build others up. When you see an injustice going on, speak up. If you’re put in a position of power which a POC color deserves, step down (easier said than done).

5) Speak up 

Even though some people say white people need to “shut the f* up,” I disagree. If one listens first, there is great power when someone with privilege gives it up and speaks out against it. If only people of color are speaking out against racism, we will not get very far in seeing it actually eradicated.

 

White Hinduism Case Study- Kumare the Movie

A fake or a genius? A skeptic of Eastern religion and Indian American, Vikram Gandhi takes on a social experiment by becoming a “fake guru” and builds a following (mostly of white Americans in Arizona) with made up teachings. He exposes blind adoption of fad religion, and cultural misappropriation, but somehow discovers true teachings and real relationships through it all.

His followers varied from yoga teachers, unemployed adults in transition, college students, recovered drug addicts, and working mothers. Vikram became Kumare by making up his own religion and passing it off as “spiritual teachings from the East.” He grew his following to about 15 people who took him to be a spiritual teacher from India, a rishi, a yogi, an enlightened person who was far from the troubles of an individualistic, capitalistic, Western society.

kumare_Hinduism_America

Vikram takes his teachings  to the extreme and builds a whole persona around Kumare, spending months giving teachings and advising his followers how to do different meditations and chants which he completely made up, pawning them off as ancient practices. People share their lives with him, share their problems, and ask his advice as they begin to trust him. Vikram begins to feel tension of his disguise as he builds authentic relationships with his followers.

The amazing part is that through the experience Kumare helps a number of people realize who they really are, and what they want to become in life. In the process Vikram (Kumare) changes as well, and actually becomes more and more like Kumare than his old self.

When Vikram exposes his American identity, something amazing happens. Instead of being angry, hurt, or feeling stupid, a few of the followers accept him wholeheartedly, and see it as all part of the teaching. They didn’t care if their “guru” was from Rishikesh or New York City. They were looking for peace, a friend, and someone they could trust, and they found all of that in Vikram/Kumare.

Those who were looking for a religious fad, a new meditative tactic that they could use in their own teachings, or something impressive to tell their friends, all rejected Vikram, and felt stupid for getting sucked into a scheme of this sorts. They threw his teachings out, and moved on looking for the next fad.

Those who were really searching, found what they were looking for, and didn’t care where it came from. In the end, these were the real disciples.

 

Bridging the Gap with Millennials in the Workplace

Millennials are infiltrating the workplace like never before.

As a person on the cusp of Gen X and Gen Y, I am used to being the “young person” in the office surrounded by Generation Xers. But now that more Gen Yers (or Millennials) are entering the marketplace, the whole workforce must adjust. I often find myself on the border, being used to identifying with Gen Xers, but having an unspoken synergy with my younger Gen Y professionals.

Close relationships with my younger siblings have taught me an incredible amount about what it really means to be a Millennial. My youngest sibling is 15 years younger than me, and I feel blessed to be able to have an inside view of what is going on in American high schools and colleges. I’m fortunate to have inside access via unfiltered conversations with my siblings as we have done life together, even while bridging a significant age gap.

Growing Up Together
Embracing the Age Gap

As I watch my younger siblings navigate the marketplace, look for jobs, and determine which line of work to go into, I’ve learned that there is a significant difference between the way that Gen X and Gen Y view their professions.

 

 

For Millennials:

  1. Lack of Hierarchy Matters— Millenials are seeking a truly flat structure. Snobs are out. Inclusiveness is in. Particularly in the workplace it is essential to give young workers direct access to managers, superiors, and CEOs . Millennials don’t do well with hierarchical relationships in which there are impersonal barriers, or expectations of a senior dumping work on a junior employee.
  2. Relationships Matter— even with raging individualism of the West, young people still look for community and relationships in interesting ways. A solid group of friends is something everyone longs for, and this is no exception for Millennials. In the workplace, being able to relate to co-workers is equally important.
  3. Technology Matters— Duh. If you don’t text your Gen Y colleagues or connect with them on social media you might as well not exist. Many Millennials are more open to having a conversation on social media than they would be face to face. This builds trust and crosses the impersonal barrier which often exists in the workplace.
  4. A New Form of Individualism — American Millennials still embody the rugged individualism of our culture, yet are looking for those close relationships and inclusive community. Showing even a little bit of interest in “really getting to know” a Millennial communicates volumes.
  5. Generosity Goes a Long Way. In a generation of people who have been raised with everything, small acts of kindness and generosity have a lot of impact. A person who is willing to give their time and possessions away to another person, makes a big impression.

For those of us on the generational border, we have an opportunity to help Millennials feel at home in the workplace.

Cultural Values in Kids’ Movies

Movies reinforce ideas of family, culture, and societal expectations to kids, but especially they reinforce expectations of love and relationships. If I ever had doubts about this, they vanished last night as I watched “Shrek Forever After”. An innocent kids movie, as I watched it I realized how much these kids of movies subconsciously influence kids in their expectations of how relationships work.

In this movie, Shrek is trying to win back his wife Fiona after a confusing bout with Rumpelstiltskin. Due to a magic spell, she doesn’t know who Shrek is and he has to convince her that he knows her and in a previous time they were in love.

One dialogue goes something like this:

“Fiona I know everything about you.

I know that when you see a shooting star you close your eyes and make a wish.

I know that you don’t like the covers over your feet when you sleep.

I know that you only like grape jelly, not strawberry on your toast.”

Notice that every single statement is a very personal and focused on her as an individual.

My husband laughed out loud and made the comment: “In knowing so much about her, he didn’t say anything about her family, her upbringing, or her education.”

He was right. In America our love stories are based on affection between two people. A common understanding. The here and now.

Often times our view is, if you find someone who can understand you completely and that you get along with, those are real signs of a long lasting relationship. But is that a faulty expectation that comes out of our individualistic culture? These simple quote from a movie are small pointers to individualistic values communicating through film when it comes to love and relationships.

Imagine this same dialogue in an Indian (communal) context:

“Fiona I know everything about you:

I know that your mother made you moolee parantha every morning for breakfast.

I know that you got your family wanted you to go to IIT, but you did not get admission.

I know that your father had to take out a loan for your sister’s dowry that took him 13 years to pay back.”

Most likely, every statement would be family related!

I’m not saying that Indian culture is superior, just pointing out the differences in priorities and examining the differences in traditionally communal and individualistic cultures.

What do movies communicate about relationships?

After growing up in the US, I have been desensitized to see cartoon characters kissing. After several years of being immersed in Indian culture, I was very weirded out to see that they showed cartoon ogres kissing. Kissing was a central part of the story…and therefore a pointer to True Love. I never uncoded it as a kid, but now as an adult I can clearly see the message.

What kind of things are we teaching our kids with these movies? It is intended as an innocent fairy tale, but we need to be careful to make sure our kids understand that real love does not have to be wrapped up or expressed in physical affection.

And maybe we can learn to be careful what kind of values are being reinforced with film love stories like this. Is the here and now and personal preference all that matters in choosing a life partner?