Simon titled his inaugural post “Go For Launch – at last…”; I find the space exploration metaphor very apropos of the journey on the whole. One of the things people often experience upon returning to their native culture, yet are often unwilling to talk about, is reverse culture shock. I liken this to the phenomenon of space craft tending to burn when re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere—the friction on the way back from space is much greater than it is leaving the planet.
Knowing that much of my impressions are colored by the lens (tying back to my initial post) of unavoidable re-entry friction, I want to share what really stood out for me immediately upon returning.
Gratitude and happiness
Coming back from a place where so many have so very little to the hyper-commercialism of American Christmas likely added to the re-entry friction. Perhaps this is because the majority of the people I met that had so very little seemed much more grateful for and happy with what they have than most Americans. Our culture is founded on the ethos of the American Dream, and I fear that this ethos has created an national sense of entitlement and privilege. Not only are we often ungrateful for what we have in the present, but we spend so much time focused on what we don’t have—that next raise, the next career move, a bigger house—that we make ourselves profoundly unhappy because of it.
Community and Openness
Another standout point of contrast was the deeper sense of community and openness to others that I encountered that seems sadly missing in American culture today. It has been many, many years since I’ve observed anyone inviting someone into their home for coffee just to chat; the pace of our lives has sped up over the last several decades such that these kinds of activities that strengthen friendships and community bonds have fallen by the wayside. In contrast, while doing a site visit at a water plant, an employee brought us to his brother’s house to use their bathroom and, sure enough, out came the tea and biscuit (chai and cookie) service and a tour of the house. The Indian people take hospitality to a high art form!
Admittedly, reverse culture shock classically highlights all of the best of the culture one has just visited and underscores all that one dislikes most about ones own home culture; maybe it’s easiest to be hardest on one’s own culture as it is easiest to be hardest on oneself.
After a few weeks back in my home culture, my outright scorn for the “ills” of American society has finally transformed to a sense of mindfulness of my own actions and lifestyle, combined with a desire to engage with and challenge others to find happiness in the present and to take back some pieces of our time to just “be” with our friends and neighbors.