Katherine Rosback's article "Crossing the Line: When has Team Building Gone Too Far?" really raises some interesting thoughts that are associated with some things I've been questioning lately, namely about the ethics of participation in culture in general. I'll wait while you read Katherine's article. Would you like another cup of tea?
I began thinking about this while I worked on a project in Japan. It appeared to me that some, maybe many, Japanese folk criticize others for not being Japanese enough. I think it's an example of what is often called "high shame culture." Think about that for a moment. If you have Japanese parents, how can you be any more Japanese? And what leverage could shame provide to further that end? Obviously, in the minds of many Japanese, being Japanese is about more than merely being Japanese. But who determines what being Japanese is all about? The Ministry of Japanese Cultural Conformity? What are the consequences for having your identity stolen in Japan? Is there of necessity and at a minimum a genetic component? Could I be Japanese? Would I want to? Could I choose to? And what if being born to "Japanese" parents, could I refuse to be Japanese? What should the consequences be, if any?
Ironically enough, as I have been thinking about this issue lately, a friend of mine, who is from mainland China, commented that I look Japanese. I told her that I think I am turning Japanese. Hmmm.
But what if we're not talking about the Japanese anymore but the Aztecs? At what point does a person really make a willing offering of themselves to Quetzalcoatl or Tlaloc? I'd be surprised to find out that you aren't as disgusted by ritual human sacrifice as I am. But in so many ways, we all sort of engage in these sacrifices. In some ways, we all place other people on the alters of our cultural identities, whether they asked for it or not. And yet I don't believe that culture is value neutral. I'll take the US over Aztec culture any day, and I'm suspicious of anyone who wouldn't.
Exposure to this made me begin to think that culture is very rarely a free transaction engaged by people who have given due consideration to the exchanges taking place. At some point some of us do grow up and say, "I can't abide by that" or "I willingly choose to participate in these mores" to the things we're aware of. But there are so many subtle requirements that go beyond our awareness oftentimes.
Of course, this makes me think about my own children and the cultural imposition we (my wife and I) make on them in our raising of them, such as the assumptions we make about truths, what's good and bad, what's noble and opprobrious, etc.
Translate this to business cultures. It doesn't take long to recognize that businesses possess a culture. Who determines how that culture is imposed? Is it transactional? Is it governed by the laws of contracts? Should it be?
I know I may be pushing the limits of propriety here, so please take my comments in the, ah, professional, academic vein in which they are being made. A friend's wife recently went through breast augmentation. She now, how shall I say, "sports" a 36DD. She's proud of that. Why? Two other friends have recently done the same thing, though not as extremely. In each case I attempted to ask a few tactful questions about motivation. I was surprised to find out that, at least consciously, the women were not being motivated by the desire to be attractive to other men (after all, they claim they are happily married and emphatically not seeking new significant others). In each case, I observed that the women in our circle of friends and other neighbors were the ones making comments and side commentary, not the men as I probably stereotypically expected.
This woman has had breast augmentation mamoplasty. Why would she do that? Are the results really as fun as they look? Do you feel motivated to get your breasts augmented with mamoplasty?
What I wonder is: do women more than men create the expectations of female culture and the more "outward" expressions of them? In other words, I think we superficially assume that gender roles are imposed by more across-gender dynamics than within-gender dynamics. I observe the same thing in regard to women and their clothing. I'm convinced that women dress for women more often than they do for men. So what's my point and how is it related to this issue of culture? Obviously, there seems to be some assessment of what it means to be a woman from within the ranks of women, and "womanness" seems to be imposed regardless of whether or not the participants in the larger culture signed up for the assessment.
In what ways do the various cultures we participate in motivate us to become what we are not, what we likely would not do otherwise? How does your business, church, garden club, etc., make you consider, metaphorically of course, breast augmentation mamoplasty?
"You are totally bonkers," said George.
Editor's note: After some parallel discussion on this theme some time later than the original post here, a friend of mine, The Damascene, penned the following little quatrain. He has allowed me to share it here.
I have noticed a swelling trend
Among my friends and acquaintances
To fit the part and look the role
Through quite unnatural maintenances