Thursday, April 13, 2017

Cultural Bilingualism

One of the advantages I have heard of being bilingual is that each language has its own peculiar way of defining the world and so learning a new language helps you think more flexibly.  I think the same thing can be said of learning to think in more than one cultural language.  I think the first time I discovered this was when I took a tour through the beauty of Le Guin's books, particularly the Hainish Cycle, and started to understand the beauty and possibility of looking at the world from a secular humanist viewpoint.  It didn't mean that I chose not to be religious, but instead of viewing the ideas of humanism with angry suspicion, humanism became another layer of potential and alternate meanings.  I could start to look at many given situations and understand them from both a conservative religious outlook and also from a liberal humanist outlook.  This was by no means a comfortable transition, but it increased the richness of how I saw the world.

Later, I found that I was studying myself right out of the radical conservative extremism I had been brought up in.  Things that had seemed impossible to question about the Mormon brand of Dominion theology politics I had grown up with (the theocratic idea that Jesus did not fulfill the political structures and commands in the Law of Moses and therefore to favored by God government should be changed to reflect the Old Testament) simply failed to work anymore.  I can still understand the value of much of conservative politics and appreciate many of the noble goals involved, but I became more of a centrist liberal.  Maybe if I had gone to a higher quality conservative school I would have been perfectly happy being a more moderate conservative and it is the radicalism that really broke the system for me.  Perhaps knowing this is what keeps me a centrist, I can understand political problems from conservative and liberal mind sets without assuming either one to be completely invalid.

Later, as Mormonism no longer held its meaning for me and I have become an Episcopalian, there is a whole new religious language that I am learning.  There is a whole new vocabulary involved, even when the words are the same the definitions change.  When I discuss Mormonism these days it can feel distinctly odd, I either have to intentionally switch back to speaking in Mormon speak or I end up discussing Mormonism from a religious vocabulary that simply doesn't match.  Even though it hurts to change, I believe I have become a fuller human being from the experience.

Fundamentally changing your sense of self hurts.  Finding that entire aspects of your culture or sub culture no longer accept you and you no longer accept them hurts.  It isn't something you could really wish on anyone.  However, I believe there is a value in that sort of pain.  It can force you to learn the language of a new cultural outlook.  Even if you don't accept that outlook as your own, being able to understand the richness of possibility in the world brings its own humility and sensitivity to the wonder of all that might be.

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