Of all the places I’ve ever been, the greatest culture shock I ever experienced was in Taiwan.
I’m not saying that culture shock is a bad thing, I’m just saying it’s shocking. It does not matter how prepared you think you are to soak in and learn from people in a new environment, when the natives don’t speak your language (better said, when you don’t speak theirs), if feels as though you might as well be visiting another planet.
One morning, I decided to play a mean trick. I put on my favorite tee-shirt and casually strolled the campus at Fu-Jen University in Taipei. The rubbernecking and gawking stares I got were outrageously funny. It was as if I were a walking billboard. People would interrupt their Tai-Chi routine as I walked by to try make sense of two white, boldface words inscribed on a black background across my chest:
That’s a like from Euripides Media, in Greek, which loosely translates into English as “No Pain, No Gain” (better expressed in Spanish as “Vale la Pena.”). Of course, the words above are transliterated with Roman letters. The letters on the tee-shirt were in Attic Greek.
Those who were accustomed to seeing things written in English, even if they did not speak English, wouldn’t have given a Nike or a Coca-Cola tee-shirt a second glance. But Greek! I got them to double take with my Greek tee-shirt. I was so mischievously proud of myself that day. I gave the native their own culture shock.
I had my second biggest culture shock of all time not in some foreign country, but here in my own, and I’m still having it. In someways, I find it easier to relate to the Chinese in Taiwan or Epic tales of Ancient Greece written by Homer than I do with up and coming hipsters here in the US. It’s as though we don’t speak the same language anymore.
My parents are Baby-Boomers, I am a Gen-Xer (Generation X-Wing to be more precies, because I reached the so-called age of the use of reason around the time I saw Luke Skywalker swinging across the core of the Death Star with Princess Lea in his arms at the drive-in movie). They call the next generation, after mine, Gen-Y or Millennials. I call them Generation Shock (Born into the world of Shock and Awe).
When I talk with parents who have kids in high school or college, I am always met with the same concerns. Parents are shocked at the degree to which they cannot relate to their kids.
“We never questioned what we were told,” they tell me (Really? Seriously? I doubt that.). “My kids come home from school and ask, what’s wrong with gay people? Why can’t two people be allowed to love one another?”
“Why is the Church so oppressive? Why do they still deny women their rights?”
“Why can’t a woman do what she wants with her body? Why is the Church so anti-choice?”
“Why are Catholics against universal healthcare when they say they are pro-life? That’s hypocritical.”
“Why is Christianity against science? Evolution is a proven fact. The universe started with the Big Bang. Science can prove those things. But you insist on believing in talking serpents, and hell, and apparitions, and things you cannot prove.”
Before you know it, your 15-year-old declares himself an atheist. Your daughter starts advocating the legalization of marijuana. The college tuition you are paying supports these ideas that you are opposed to. And sending the to a Catholic University does not seem to make much of a difference in that regard.
No matter what you teach them at home, the world today is going to feed them these ideas. How does one cope with the reality?
I’m afraid that the answer does not just reside in how we educate our kids. I believe we need to educate ourselves. We don’t need to throw our values system out the window and compromise our principles in order to save our children. However, in order to be able to dialogue with them, we first need to speak their language. Then we can help them to understand ours.
Education is never just about transmitting information. It rests on the premise that the person you are trying to educate has the natural ability to “get what you are saying” and find it reasonable. This is where I believe we have the upper-hand over “Generation Shock.” The information age just feeds people sound-bytes that seem convincing at first. Sound bytes that encourage people to think for themselves, to think logically and critically — but that’s all. It does not explain things logically, or teach critical thinking skills beyond just “question everything you’ve ever been told.”
I find that when I use logic and critical thinking skills, young people start to take me seriously and begin to question themselves. They are not accustomed to actually hearing your typical dogmatic, narrow-minded, papist, like myself, explain himself in terms they haven’t even heard from their secular-minded heroes. They start to realize that in order to understand my Greek tee-shirt, they need to double-take and admit to themselves that maybe they are the ones who don’t get it. To find out what it is that maybe they don’t get, they need to shift their paradigms, open their minds, and ask, “What is it that I’m not getting?”
Both sides have to be willing to wade in the chilly waters of culture shock until our body temperatures adjust and we can explore the questions of our changing culture together.
People naturally want to relate to and understand one another.