It’s a survival thing. When a person is an Outsider — someone who doesn’t “belong” to a group of one sort or another for whatever reason — there is a kind of invisible barrier that rises up between them and the people who do belong to that group. It’s a very real divide.
“Same” is good, the prevailing culture code says; “different” not so much. It’s a built-in herd thing, I suppose.
Every group has a culture code. Every group will say that there is Right and True and Real and then there is not-right and not-true and not-real. Everybody who identifies with a particular group (or wants to) is likely to act and at least pretend to think the same way. They all do the same sorts of things.
“Different” means “other.” “Other” is strange (and possibly dangerous) to what is Right and True and Real for whatever culture one happens to be living in at any given moment.
“Other” may feel like a threat and the group closes ranks.
It reminds me of the scab-chicken game. Sometimes there is one bird in a chicken flock that has some injury or some weakness or flaw that the other birds in the flock notice.
Chickens are mean birds. The designated scab-chicken invariably gets picked on and shoved around until it is driven away out of the flock, and, in the wild, that’s a death sentence for the bird. It takes a stubborn bird (or one with few options) to hang in there.
If you are an Outsider, you’re automatically the scab-chicken. It’s a real possibility that you will suffer the same fate as the benighted bird – not being allowed to eat in peace, not being allowed to hang with the other birds — a target for pecking beaks and feather-pulling, bullying shoves and chivvying squawks.
If you cannot find a way to at least look like you’re able and willing to navigate and walk the way the people around you expect of a fine and upstanding member of the group, then, obviously, you will not be considered a part of that group and you won’t get the bennies that come from belonging.
If you want to be a part of any group, you will probably be advised by “people-in-the-know” to do what you must to suss out the code of the culture you’re trying to break into.
If they’re your mentors and guides, they’ll teach you the moves they say you have to make to adapt to the parts of the culture codes that the group finds valuable — the ones that will convince a particular group that you, too, are one of the “right” ones.
These people are not wrong.
If the tolerance level for difference is not high in a culture you’d like to join, then you are likely to be tripped up or held apart by other people in the group if you insist on walking your own kind of walk. Some of these people may actively work to do you dirty.
Socio-linguistics experts call the chameleon-like Outsider adaptation to a particular culture code that is not their own “code-switching.” Every professional success or life coach around has some technique or system or method that is supposed to help you fit in with whatever your favored culture happens to be.
Because language and communication are such a large part of how we relate to other people, it makes sense that the people who study how languages work would have a word for it.
But communication between people is more than just language and words. It’s also about non-verbal communication. The way you talk is just one facet. How you dress, the way you wear your hair, what you eat, even the way you smell and the way you move are all non-verbal ways of communicating.
The choices you make when you entertain yourself and how you spend your days can be bonding things that meld you into some group or other. They can also keep you separate.
Codes are mostly well-defined mash-ups of all the different signals we humans make. In order to fit in, we want to send out the “right” signals.
But then, there are the guys who study Happiness Science and the ones whose practice is to coach you in going for Happy. These experts point to all kinds of studies and such and tell you that in order to reach true happiness and peace of mind you have to be your own, true Authentic Self.
I love the work of internationally known motivational speaker and author Iyanla Vanzant. She uploaded a series of “Slice of Life” videos that sound like spoken poems. This one, “Who Are You,” was published in 2011.
Now comes the big question: How are you supposed to be this “authentic” person walking your own walk if all you’re doing is emulating and echoing the actions of the people who belong to some group or other to which you want to belong?
An interesting conundrum, that.
BEING THE OTHER CHICKEN
Okay, so you’re one of the “different” ones.
(Allow me to let you in on an open secret: EVERY ONE OF US HUMANS IS ONE OF THE “DIFFERENT” ONES. Mostly that’s because each one of us makes choices that are not identical to choices made by the other people around us. All of us are funny that way. Shhh….Don’t pass it on.)
- First thing to remember: You do need to know who you are or you will not be able to get to the place where you want to be.
- Second thing to remember: You can choose how much of your authentic self you will share with the people around you.
The first thing is just the basic, one-size-fits-all ground rule. KNOW THYSELF. The ancients tell us that, over and over again in every culture.
There is a reason for that. You have to be your own self because if you look around you, you will notice that every other self is already taken.
The second thing is something we tend to forget: FULL DISCLOSURE CAN BE DETRIMENTAL TO THE QUALITY OF YOUR LIFE. Only you can decide how uncomfortable you can stand to feel.
Masks serve many useful functions. As many of us have learned during the worldwide Corvid-19 virus pandemic response, face masks can help keep us and the people around us safe.
The problem with masks, though, is that you do have to remember that they are masks. They do come off.
It’s always a balance, isn’t it?
You are always going to need to balance the drive to fulfill your own needs and wants and the expectations and aspirations of the society (all of it made up of other people) that surrounds you and that enfolds you.
I came across two YouTube videos that present intriguing glimpses at ways we can use our awareness of code-shifting to further our own purposes.
The first was published in 2020 by Diverse City LLC and is titled, “RACISM: The Code Switch.”
Diverse City LLC, it says here, is a consulting firm based in Los Angeles and Seattle that helps corporations “assess, and solve issues of growth and development in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).”
In the video, a young black man answers a colleague’s unsolicited advice about how the young man could fit into their group “better.” It models a graceful response in an awkward situation.
In the second YouTube video, published in 2016 by the Stanford Graduate Business School, the school’s Business Lecturer, Richard Cox, explains and models the social cues and gestures we can use to signal people about how they can interact with us.
In the video, it is fascinating to watch the way Cox uses his body language to signal that he is giving the other person permission to approach him and, alternatively, to signal a request that the other person back off.
These videos and others like them can help you navigate through the Bog-Lands of Code-Shifting.
One fascinating website you can explore is “SOCIALINGUISTIC ARTIFACTS,” a collection of audio and video pieces, images, news articles, and blog posts as well as links to other websites that were submitted by followers and curated by the Reed Institute guys who put up and maintain the site.
Click on this button to go there:
IT’S REALLY ALL ABOUT MAKING CONNECTIONS…..
All of this code-switching stuff reminds me of my own experiences, wandering through various mind-scapes built by people who came from very different cultures and who were all needing to make adjustments to living in a new world that they were building together.
Hawaii remains a social laboratory of sorts. Those of us who live here cannot help but explore all of the ways we can connect with each other.
We live in a place that has a cultural code built around a diverse collection of minority races from many parts of the world. In such a place there are many opportunities for an individual to be included (or excluded) from a wide assortment of different groups.
It is also a place which has recently been demonstrably easy to isolate from the rest of the world. When the planes carrying visitors stopped coming, we were left once again with Just Us, and the Us we have living here is still very diverse.
I have a friend who used to work as a bailiff in one of the highest courts in the state of Hawaii. One of his talents is being able to speak a multitude of different flavors and dialects of Hawaiian Pidgin, the “creole” language developed by the immigrants who came here and the natives who lived here.
One of his jobs was to make sure that the people who were not able to speak or understand Standard English well could communicate their thoughts and feelings in the intimidating and new-to-them world of the justice system.
Watching him deal with the confused and often frightened plaintiffs and defendants, flipping through the different dialects with ease and smoothing out the process for them, was a wonderment to see.
Hawaiian Pidgin continues to evolve as a language in modern times as the young people carry it forward (despite continued discouragement from the state’s Department of Education, among others).
Some people say that modern-day pidgin is a way to help the young and the rebellious to establish a self-identity. I know that speaking my own brand of it often feels like coming home.
This final YouTube video is a TEDxTalk published in 2014, featuring hip-hop artist, poet, and public speaker Poet Ali at the TEDxOrangeCoast talk. It is a beaut!
Here’s a poem:
CANCELLING MY SUBSCRIPTION
Why you gotta make ’em hard?
You thrash around like a maddened bull,
All wild-eyed and snorting because
I will not bend your way,
Will not agree your say is the only true
And your “should” is the one that’s real.
And…everybody ELSE agrees, you say,
So why not me?
Mostly that’s just ’cause those others are
Tired of talking already.
They are walking away before
They turn into screaming meemies.
They do not care enough for that.
You just don’t get it.
And me, I’m getting really tired
My own self.
I’m starting to feel like that mean warden
In the “Cool Hand Luke” movie.
“What we have here…is a failure to communicate.”
Your name ain’t Luke,
And you sure ain’t cool!
So…here’s my notice:
I am cancelling my subscription to your issues….
By Netta Kanoho
Header photo credit:. “Does the Lily Weep?” by smilla4 via Flickr –CD BY-NC 2.0]
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