While working in a retail job many years ago, a Spanish traveller told me that he had not encountered culture during his six months in Australia. Much to my disappointment, 18-year-old me had no rebuttal.
Growing up, I considered myself an ‘observer’ of culture. As a very white, very blonde Australian-born woman, I didn’t associate my experience of the world as a cultural phenomenon and I was neither proud nor ashamed of my way of life. I may be incorrect, but I sense that I’m not the only Australian-born individual who has stumbled in and out of feeling ‘cultureless’.
As I’ve matured, been educated and encountered more of the world, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by cultural barriers. How can it be that we are all made in God’s image, living on God’s earth and yet experience life so very differently? I was invited to the embody Mission Conversation about cultural intelligence and I went, expecting to broaden my understanding of ‘other’ cultures. Instead, I was challenged to delve into my own heritage and its cultural significance.
Gregg Morris, who led the discussion, first introduced himself as a Scottish and Samoan man who grew up in Aotearoa (New Zealand) and made a home for himself in Melbourne. He shared that each place had significantly influenced his experience of the world, explaining that he had four ‘cultural tales’. According to a Native American proverb, “We each drag a cultural tale 1000 years long.” Perhaps for the first time, I was confronted with the reality that my culture matters.
In understanding cultural intelligence, Gregg used four key modules; Awaken (motivation), Explore (curiosity), Immerse (knowledge) and Embed (practice). During this meeting he delved into the Awaken module, encouraging those who attended to flex their cultural muscles and realise the importance of cultural tales. Since attending the meeting, I’ve caught myself re-experiencing my memories through a cultural lens. The way that I experienced education, the interactions that I have with friends and family, the significance behind various aspects of my wedding, and the things that I eat and cook in various seasons and holidays are all a part of my cultural tale.
If that Spanish traveller walked up to me today, frustrated by the lack of Australian culture he had encountered, I feel as if I would finally have something to say. I would tell him that culture doesn’t always exist at surface level, and that sometimes you have to listen to stories instead of looking for them. Bit by bit, I’m realising that I have tales to exchange.