Image by Dazzie D
This post started as a friend and I talking about our childhoods, which were a bit unusual for Australians. I won’t talk about theirs, because I haven’t asked their permission, but I’ll explain a little bit about mine.
I grew up in Evangelical Christianity. This was unusual in Australia – in some ways it was a counter-culture; and we defined ourselves against the dominant secular culture. The terms we used were ‘sin’ and ‘worldliness’ and so on. There was much debate about what fell into these categories. A joke in our youthgroup, where we defined ourself against the older understanding of these words was: “My dog doesn’t drink dance or smoke, but it’s not a christian”.
What I want to talk about here is the impact that having another group, different to family and school, had on me. It was a place where some of the usual rules didn’t apply. There was, for example, some pressure to choose work not based solely on consideration of the salary offered. The valuing of honesty led to a curious combination of wanting to speak kindly but also of things not usually talked about (we didn’g get any instruction on how to do this). And the idea of using a person for your own ends was not well regarded.
What this did was create another place, different to the prevailing secular culture. I don’t want to evaluate Evangelical Christianity here, that would take more than one post. What I want to point out is that having another place – neither family nor school – meant it was in some ways a free-er place. It was a place where I tried out and learnt about different parts of myself and tried out different behaviour. I think the effect of this had benefits. It gave me a place to stand ‘outside’ the prevailing culture. And it meant I didn’t feel all alone in my ‘deviance’ from the culture around me. In many ways it served the development of my individuality.
It needn’t be a religious group. In Australia sports clubs are probably the most common counter-cultural groups. It could also be holidays with a different family; where different rules applied and different behaviour to what acceptable in your own family was encouraged.
I think for many of us these ‘other spaces’ were probably important for us to develop our sense of individuality. And we possibly still need them in some way. We need places where we can try out stuff. Where we can try out thinking through new ideas, or different ways of relating, or learning a new skill. These free-er places can be important.
I think we all long for this free-er place in our lives. And I think we can do a lot to help each other have it.
For Ourselves it can be things as simple as setting aside time. Time for just being, or journalling, or learning.
To provide this space for others it can be as simple, and as hard, as just listening.