Posts Tagged ‘culture’

group at round table

A representation of group at Kaldi’s.

A few days ago, I was sitting on Kaldi’s patio after my daily visit to the Arch. To my right was a group of four who apparently work out of the same office. It is an interesting ethnic mix: South Asian, East Asian, African-American, and Hispanic. This wouldn’t happen in many small towns across America. I enjoy the complexity and cultural diversity of urban living in downtown Saint Louis, (more…)

Waiting, regardless of the reason or whether or not it is volitional, adds interest, growth and enhancement to Life’s Designs. On the morning of August 19 on my walk down Locust Street and back up Washington Avenue, I saw a friend on the other side of Washington sitting in front of the Washington Avenue Post coffee shop. He was drinking his morning coffee while waiting for a friend to join him for a bike ride.

Whether sitting drinking coffee while waiting for someone, standing in line in a supermarket, waiting in an airport lounge to board a plane, or sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting is a good opportunity to observe other people. We often call this “people watching” and engage in it mindlessly. However, by observing cultural nuances surrounding you, you can discover designs in other people’s lives that can enrich your own.

For waiting to be productive, one must observe with the intent of learning how people respond to or deal with life in the moment. I’m not suggesting we approach these observations negatively. Most of us don’t need to exercise aspects of our personalities that cast negative aspersions on people. That activity often comes without exercise, it saddens me to say.

Observations made during productive waiting involves a desire to learn, to expand horizons, to enter into a different perspective. Once in a Walmart store while standing in line waiting to check out, I observed a mother, of an ethnicity different than mine and others in the immediate area, discipline her crying child, who was creating something of a small “scene.” Here was an opportunity for productive waiting while standing in line, an opportunity to broaden both my societal and cultural understanding.

Certain cultures have child-rearing practices that differ from other cultures. This is true of cultures at the micro level of local communities and neighborhoods as well as cultures separated by national origin and lingo-ethnicity. My thought response must not be an immediate negative criticism of what is being observed without first seeking to understand the cultural norms from which the mother is operating. Why did she use language that seemed cruel and harsh (I say “seemed” because of the tone of her voice, her facial expression and the child’s reaction. I did not understand the language she used)?

Her approach effectuated a response in the child that both stopped the crying and elicited in him a meek demeanor though not cowering nor fearful. The approach quieted the child, but was it the best action for long-term development for the child? I don’t know; I don’t fully understand the culture. I did appreciate the resolution that appeared to be somewhat good for all, the child, the parent, the clerk, and the people in line. I wish I knew more of the culture.

I could have had an immediate impulse to be critical of the woman for speaking, what seemed to me, sharp and angry words to a defenseless child. Or, I could appreciate an interaction that brought peace in a stressful situation, even though I didn’t fully understand the transactions between mother and child due to my lingo-cultural disadvantage. Also, the clerk, to provide harmony within our American society, which values peace and minimal invasion of personal space, handed the child a sucker, with the parent’s approval. The child was happy, the mother smiled, chatter started up in the line as it began to move again, and life returned to normal.

Productive waiting can also be a mirror that reflects our own attitudes and actions. We can see in other people something that is positive and good and recognize that our own life comes up short. As a college freshman, I once waited in line in the Hannibal, Missouri, downtown post office to mail a package. A professorial type person was at a counter off to the side going through mail he had retrieved from his box when a younger person my age entered the post office and greeted him. They struck up a conversation obviously knowing each other. I watched and listened, not so much to specific words as to the flow. What struck me most, and what I remember after fifty-five years, is that the younger late teen would interrupt the forty-something, who would immediately stop what he was saying, even in mid-sentence, and focus attention on the younger would-be adult.

I felt warmth slowly rise to my face, not so much because of embarrassment for the youth as for my own personal guilt for the times I had done the very same thing. That day in the post office while waiting in line I observed, I learned, I vowed not to repeat the poor etiquette of the youth, and to follow the example of the man, whom I later learned was a professor and who would teach one of my college classes. I learned the importance of focusing attention on the person with whom I’m talking, to listen actively, to refrain from focusing on myself and my next great contribution to the conversation. The person buying stamps at the window was through; it was now my turn to mail my package.

Engaging in thoughtful observation while waiting can be productive. We can learn and grow. Our horizons can expand. We can become better people. The designs of our lives can be enhanced.