#atozchallenge: The Moral Relativism of a Global Citizen

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People who are bi- or multi- lingual tend to have different personalities when they switch languages. I speak multiple languages fluently, and perhaps I have seen a difference in what I think/how I express those thoughts, but I am just one person, and anecdotes are not data.

Do people who have lived around the world have different ideas about morality and ethics? I’m not sure, but I can imagine it depends on how you lived in those countries. If you were sheltered away on a military base or in an ex-pat enclave, then your moral and ethical upbringing would be as close to your home culture as possible, or even more extreme, in some cases.

I am probably  more liberal than some people my age living in Georgia. I am probably more aware of international events because I’m able to read newspapers in multiple languages with various contexts. But is that because of my cultural upbringing or the fact that I am not part of the majority culture in the first place?  Am I more progressive because I have to think and process in multiple languages and across multiple cultures?

There is more to morality and ethics than knowing what is offensive to one culture or the other, but many times that is what it boils down to in daily discourse. It’s easy to dismiss cultural mores when they don’t match up with our own as ‘barbaric’ or ‘strange’, but it is worth it to actually look at the place it comes from and compare it to our own before dismissing it outright. – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by K Wol

#atozchallenge: Liberté, égalité, fraternité

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I am stopped every time I go to France. I don’t mind; the security theatre must be played by both actors. But I am stopped every time, and questioned about my movements. I have an EU passport, so I naively thought that granted me some latitude, some freedom, but it does not.

I am asked why I speak French so well (I’m a French teacher); I am asked how long I’m planning on staying (a week, two?); I am asked where my place of birth is (yes, that is an American military base–my mother is German, hence, I have jus sanguinis, or birthright citizenship). It is a constant play. Then, they open my bag on some pretext, compliment my packing skills (almost every time) and then I am sent on my way. I am not offended or put off, but I feel that the official French line is that brown people who speak their language are suspicious. It’s ridiculous considering France’s long history of colonialism and imperialism.

Living in a militantly secular but historically Christian nation is interesting, coming from a ‘secular’ but actually quasi-Christian nation like America. Living in a militantly secular state means that ‘ostentatious’ displays of religion are offensive, and talking about Christian holidays in the classroom is verboten.

I was a senior in high school in America when France passed its law against ostentatious displays of religion. I remember being outraged and disappointed: France for me had been the bastion of culture and true liberalness of thought, society and politics. When you live in the Bible Belt, anything seems liberal. I’ve learnt since that France is still entrenched in its colonial mindset, and is still struggling (and in some senses, failing) with immigration and integration.

Being a French teacher means I not only teach language, with vocabulary and grammar structures, but also differences and similarities in culture. Most of my students think that France is a liberal bastion, just like I did, but I am slowly opening their eyes to the fact that even in la belle France, there are some ugly and deep scars. – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by Nuno Lopes

#atozchallenge: Ain’t I a Human, Too?

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My father is from a very small town in Georgia. That small town hosted a neighbouring county’s first desegregated prom…in 2014. So this is what he has known his whole life.

I am a bi-racial woman. My father is a Black man from Georgia and my mother is a White woman from Germany. My whole life, I have been running between the two identities, forcing myself into one ill-fitting mould or another. I speak fluent German, I have very European political views, but I have to deal with the reactions to my skin colour at every step of the way.

Many people complain about micro-aggressions, that they are not real or that they are exaggerated. I have never been the victim of overt racial violence, but there have been little things that pile up and chip away at my identity. My questions, of course, are rhetorical.

‘You’re not like those other Black people.’ What are Black people supposed to be like? What other Black people? I realise you are talking about some stereotypical Black person, and you will tell me in lurid detail all your anecdotes, but I don’t want to hear it.

‘You don’t sound Black.’ What do Black people sound like? I have had students tell me that they didn’t know Black people could have British accents. I usually show them a clip of Idris Elba.

‘You’re very smart for a Black person.’ Black people cannot be intelligent? Are Black people not seen as intelligent?

‘I didn’t know Black people could [fill in normal activity here].’ I get this a lot as I am an avid swimmer and surfer. The stereotype of Black people being unable to swim is a purely American one; I explain that Black people in America weren’t allowed into public swimming pools, and are sometimes forced out of their own neighbourhood swimming pools as well. I’ve been swimming since I was three years old.

I am very tired of hearing these; I hear it at least once a week. There is a startling ignorance of Black culture and history, of the richness of it. It depresses me, but does not surprise me. White rules without question, at least in the West. – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

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#atozchallenge: Am I a Fellow Traveller?

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I was given the Communist Manifesto as a gift from a friend. I’ve read it a few times, trying to reconcile what I’ve read with what we are taught to believe about Communism, the big red evil. Many people have suffered under what have been termed communist regimes, and mostly they are so far removed from what I’ve read and studied.

Of course, everything works as a theory. Trying to control a population or create a society by force will not work. Choosing what “flavour” of communism works well is one thing–the Communist party in China looked quite different from the Communist party in Cuba, but forcing a population to one ideal is usually a bad plan.

So what should Communism look like? Could there be a perfectly functioning communist system, or are humans too selfish, too engineered by our current capitalist system? What would communism look like, after we all receive a basic income and choose how to live our life?

On a personal note, my idea of a well-run communist society is everything I’ve read about Swedish kollektivhusor cooperative housing. I’m not an expert on it, but it sounds like an absolute dream.

The term fellow traveller is often considered a negative–sometimes it was used to accuse someone of being a Nazi sympathiser. I am obviously not one, but I feel as if I have much more to learn before I can consider myself a card-carrying anything.

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If you’d like to read the other posts in my A to Z challenge, you can check them out here.

Photo by Anil Ozturk

#atozchallenge: Educating without Moralising

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It is frustrating to be a teacher and not be able to talk about politics in depth with my students. I am sure that government teachers struggle even more than I. I cannot teach politics, or share my own political views, but transmitting my personal ethics and morals should not be too difficult.

I teach in Georgia, a part of the Bible Belt. I am not Christian, nor was I raised as one. My moral compass and personal ethical trail is much different from a majority of my students. How do we educate morality without forcing one’s own morals on our students? Should we even try to educate morality, or is it up to the parents, churches and non-school environments? What part do I as a teacher play in my students’ moral and ethical upbringing? Perhaps I am worrying for nothing, but we do have interesting and deep discussions about life in my classes, and I worry that sometimes I am unduly influencing them.

For me, the answer is neutrality. I teach the French point-of-view without mentioning if I agree with it or not. Since I’m German, I get a free pass for any ‘weird ideas’ I might have, but that is a lucky thing. Simple morality lessons are easy: talking about racism from the French point-of-view may open the discussion to racism in America, but my students will only hear what the French think about racism and not what I think.

Remaining neutral in the face of obvious bigotry is difficult, and I admit I’ve slipped in the past. Luckily, the easiest thing for me to say is ‘This has nothing to do with French, let’s get back on topic.’ It’s cheating, but it works. – SDM

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If you’d like to read the other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by David Mark

#atozchallenge: The American Dystopia

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When we think of a dystopian society, our mind goes to film and literature: The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, The Lord of the Flies, 1984.

Is America a dystopia? If you are sick, poor, non-white or any combination of them, life must look like one of these stories. When I think of America, I think of two things: the multitude of guns in our society and the lack of affordable, universal health-care. These are, for me, two sides of the same coin.

Guns are everywhere. Guns are also the only tool used for one purpose: to kill. Owning a gun makes a person statistically more likely to die by that gun. I have used guns and lived around guns my entire life, but if we woke up tomorrow without them I would not be upset. Nor, I suppose, would anyone else. There is no problem a gun has solved that has not escalated to a bigger, more indefensible problem. Good guys with guns may kill bad guys with guns, but the gun will still be there for the next bad guy.

It is cheaper for me to fly to the United Kingdom and receive routine care than it is for me to pay for health insurance monthly and receive the same level of care. This sentence should make no sense to anyone reading it. I am a person with no health issues, so I have basic health insurance one step above ‘catastrophic’, but even then my out of pocket expenses are unrealistic. So I am happy for my ability to use the NHS for my once yearly check-up and leave everything else well enough alone.

A country where it is easier to die than to be healed for me is the very definition of a dystopia, and America is that country. It is a developed nation where it is easier to get a gun than a doctor’s appointment, if you are not properly insured. And even if you are properly insured, as I am, finding a doctor that will accept said insurance is even more difficult.

It will take a long while for America to change its ways, and I do think it may do, but for now, unless we are careful, our society is at the breaking point, and may yet tilt into the abyss.

Until next time. – SDM

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If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by unsplash

#weekendcoffeeshare: A Change of Pace

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I never planned on taking a personal picture for this site. Usually, I am downstairs on my sofa, stretched out in front of the television. But very heavy storms yesterday flooded my living room, causing me to seek refuge in the two rooms upstairs. So if we were having coffee or tea, I would drag my bedroom chair into my office for you so we could chat.

So here is my desk for now. It is barely big enough for my laptop. At least my chair is comfortable and my office is a pleasant refuge. And yes, the woman in the green shirt on the right is me, but a 20 year old me at a concert in France.

I am on Spring holidays now, and if not for the living room flooding, I would be overjoyed. I have whole wodges of time to do nothing, except the little things that are on my to-do list, like get through my massive collection of New Yorker magazines and my backlog of podcasts.

I’m also writing my a to z challenge posts. I am already getting a lot more feedback than I did last year, but it is slow going once more. I am enjoying reading other peoples’ challenge posts, and I am getting into the habit of commenting.

So that is where I am currently. Let’s enjoy our time together. – SDM

NB: Check out the other weekend coffee posts here!