While attaining the white belt we learned that everyone has a culture and that culture shapes our thinking. It informs how we make sense of the world around us and teaches us to believe that the behavior we practice in our culture is “normal”, while the culture of other groups is “foreign”. We tell ourselves this story so much that it almost always leads to naive realism, the belief that we see the world as it really is and anyone who disagrees is somehow bigoted or misinformed. This bias causes humans to split into tribes because we believe that our group is right about the way things are. It’s a fallacy, of course, because we have done little more than create a club based on our culture.
E.B. Tyler, the founder of cultural anthropology, defines culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. It is the stuff that helps groups of human beings survive in the world. Culture itself is an adaptive tool that allows humans to thrive in almost any environment. This can be seen, for example, when comparing the Inuit (Eskimo) people to New Yorkers. Both groups are human but couldn’t be more dissimilar; their cultures adapted to incredibly different environments. Which one is better? That depends on where you’re coming from; one could argue that the pizza is better in New York, but the Inuit would much prefer a seal burger.
The answer is really neither is better. Both cultures have evolved over generations to serve the people living in that environment. If you dropped a New Yorker into Nunavik Canada, their chances of thriving would be very slim. The same could be said if you dropped an Inuit into Times Square. Their culture just wouldn’t match the new environment and their lives would become very difficult, very quickly.
The point of all of this is to understand that human beings are largely the same but our culture is vastly different. It is also important to note that not every culture is best-suited to its current environment. In the past this wasn’t as important because people largely stayed in their corners of the Earth. Technology, however, has made the world smaller and humanity is being forced to comingle in a way that has never been seen before in history. As the great Katie O’Brien puts it, we are sitting down to “humanity’s first family dinner” and we’re all going to have to learn how to deal with drunk Uncle Bobby.
Practicing Mixed Mental Arts will help us do that. We learn that Uncle Bobby isn’t just a drunken asshole who yells at grandma and hugs us in an inappropriate way. We learn that he is a product of the good, the bad and the ugly of his culture, just as we are. We are all the same, and just as our culture has a group that we consider “drunk Uncle Bobby”, there is another culture somewhere that considers us the drunken uncle.
The white belt is about discovery. It teaches us that everyone has a culture and that to some extent we all get caught up in the bias of naive realism. The yellow belt is about practice. In our daily lives, we learn to clearly identify how culture affects the world around us. Whether looking towards the Middle East or America, into Islam or Atheism, we begin to see how profoundly human beings are affected by their culture. Good vs. evil is a myth and it is only tribe vs. tribe. Everybody thinks they are the good guys. For the practicing Mixed Mental Artist, the result of this practice is empathy, the ability to understand that even the behavior we consider the most appalling would be practiced by us if we were raised in a culture that deemed it normal. Seal burgers anyone?
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”
And yet, looking outward is only the beginning. All of that learning about how culture binds and blinds others was just practice so we can begin to look at our favorite subject–ourselves. The difficult work in the yellow belt is learning to see our own cultural blind spots and identifying how we are a product of our culture. It is in figuring out how naïve realism affects us and how to slowly separate ourselves from that distorted view. This isn’t easy to do, but we can learn how with practice.
This is the yellow belt of Mixed Mental Arts.
- Are you ready to actively learn the effect of culture on others?
- Are you ready to consistently notice the log in your own eye regarding your cultural blind spots?
- Do you want to let go of the biases of culture and naïve realism to try and develop a more realistic world view?
If you answered yes to these questions and you are ready to practice them daily, then you are ready to put it on.
Wear it in good health and get out there and practice.