“That’s who you ought to be!”, said Society.

… and that’s who you become. Isn’t it funny?

Well, the society you live in has certain expectations what you ought to achieve and when you need to do this. That is what is called the social clock. For example, a woman in Indonesia is expected to be married by the age of 28. My Indonesian partner at that time was already 30, and not married yet. And yes, I could clearly feel the impact. Well, not so much the impact on me, but rather the impact on her. Friends and family members where constantly nagging her for when she was going to get married.

Obviously this changed things for me as well. Not that we were not planning to get married anyways (which was canceled, but that is another story), but you could feel the pressure of doing it fast. As fast as possible. Especially because her younger brother was waiting in line, as we was not supposed to marry before his older sister.My  Australian friends like to say: “the struggle is real.” In this case I would say that the pressure was real.

Your identity depends to a much larger extend on the expectations of the society you live in than you may think

Yesterday I had a chat with my friend about loyalty in relationships. He said something that really stuck in my brain: the concept of exclusivity in a relationship is just “burned into my psyche”. And that’s what culture does. It programs us to think in a certain way, and not to deviate from that thought. Essentially that is a good thing, because learning these rules enables us to function in a society. The only problem is that these rules are arbitrary. From an outsider’s perspective, they do not necessarily need to be “right”. From an insider’s perspective, they are often not even debatable. They are just the truth.

I am not saying that this is a problem. What I am saying is that sometimes it is useful to look at these rules critically

There’s a term cross-cultural communication experts use which is quite interesting in this context: goodness of fit. The idea behind is that people’s temperament and personality may or may not suit the environment they live in. Can you see the implications of that? It basically means that people that are perceived as troublemakers, may be the ideal fit for another society. They were just unlucky enough to grow up in a place they ‘don’t belong’.

Ok, I admit I don’t mean it in such a harsh way, but I’m saying it like this to get my point across. A very controlled and quiet boy who does not display his emotions too openly may be considered weird in a western society, but in Japan he might be the son every father wishes for. What this means is that for some people, the unfit expectations of their society are the reason why their potential remains unfulfilled.

What gives a person self-esteem?

A person has positive self-esteem when they have a good sense of who they are, what their beliefs are, and which groups they belong to. If she lives in a society whose expectations she can not fulfill, then she will inevitably feel lost. On the other hand, if she has a very stable sense of who she is, and then she moves to another country, it can lead to trouble as well. Her identity might be shaken up as she learns about the new, unfamiliar values of her host society. She then ends up in an identity crisis herself, and it depends on her whether or not she is able to accommodate and adjust to her new role expectations.

Yet it is interesting to think about the question what happens to a person who does not fit into a certain society, and who then moves into a country that suits her better. One of my friends, a very outgoing, talkative, and highly sociable Japanese man, spent a longer period of time in the USA. I never met him while he was still in Japan, but I do know that every person he meets thinks he behaves and talks just like an American. The values of the American society just suit his personal identity better. Now, I’m not suggesting at all, that he should stay in America on the long run, and he doesn’t. He’s back in Japan now.

All I’m saying is that our identity does not need to be tied exclusively to that of our home country, just like for some people relationships do not need to be tied exclusively to one person. We can pick and choose which values and beliefs suit us the most, as long as we are still able to function in the society we live in.

 

 

 

Tim

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