Just a couple of days before Mercury, the Guide of Souls, turns retrograde across a Pisces/Aquarius span, and I have seen a close reenactment of my Shamanic Dismemberment starting in a colleague and bumped my nose on cultural assumptions galore. In one day, while rewriting stored procedures to run solely of the local database while the SAP system devours all the processing available to the company and so kicks my jobs right off the system.
They do say we’re in the Shadow period of the retrograde now, so I will have a rough idea of what to expect for the next three weeks.
What happened to my colleague was so similar to what happened to me 14 years ago that it startled me…and that’s all I’m going to say about it as I would like to practice Tonglen for her, maybe give back a little of what I’ve learnt – and she’s just at the beginning of her ordeal, so Silence will serve better than talking, I feel.
The cultural assumptions I was banging my inquisitive nose against are another kettle of fish, however, and as such things do they have set me to thinking just a little.
We were walking out of the office, we three women: my boss, a co-worker and myself. The two who are not, at this point, particularly Me are both younger than I, still in child-bearing years and each in their own way concerned about their appearance and the thoughts of people around them. In contrast, say, to me.
We were talking about how difficult it is to find a seat on the peak-hour Gautrain, and I expressed surprise that no men would automatically give up their seats for a lady. My co-worker understood my surprise, but my boss did not. I should add here, perhaps, that my co-worker is Caucasian and my boss is Black, for it impinges on the cultural misunderstandings which ensued.
Well, I quickly learned that in most Black South African cultures, it is mildly scandalous for a strange man to offer his seat to a woman. The underlying ideas are connected to ownership and are quite shocking when seen this baldly.
Except, of course, that the mirror-image Western ideas of chivalry are just as concerned with women as property, if taken baldly and with no background.
I will say for the record that a man opening a door for me or offering me his seat have only very archaic quid-pro-quo undertones for me. Firstly because I am obviously in early cronehood, and thus not a desirable piece of patriarchal property, and secondly because these apparent acts of chivalry are ones I would not – and do not – hesitate to practice myself, whether the recipient be male, female, old or young. I will automatically open a door for someone if I can, and will offer up my seat to anyone who looks as though they may need it more than me. Why? Because we are in community, and acts of kindness and Love are never inappropriate.
And, although the Western assumption of “women and children first” may seem unbearably chauvinistic, it is a good basis for community survival. So is the Black South African cultural practice of a man going through a door before a woman, for the same basic reason: he wants to be able to meet any danger first, before the protected member is possibly hurt.
I will not quibble with such cultural artifacts, as they obviously have, or had, value in community coherence. But I have been made to think. And this is exactly what Terence McKenna meant when he stated that “Culture is not your friend“. For the semi-conscious acting out of cultural norms is a way of being asleep in the world, a way of not thinking things out for yourself, a way of sheltering your divine mind behind the animal one. It does serve us, but only as a reminder to always, always question authority…and then to become your own authority.
Pic: by Anthony Freda