Margaret Atwood once said that “Context is all.”
We are all informed by the tenets of our cultural landscape. What we hold to be precepts of living are dictated by the assumptions and invisible rules that are assimilate within us from birth.
But everything is context. Our beliefs on customs of race, class and gender semi; our beliefs on how much to prioritize family and friends versus work; our beliefs on how much we connect with nature…is all environmentally informed.
We are not taught to think critically about these beliefs. Were not taught to examine which beliefs we proactively desire to adopt and which ones are just there because they are passive vestiges of times longsince gone.
Oftentimes the best way to get a good grip on the structures of our context is actually to remove ourselves from it. Placing yourself in a new environment with different value systems and belief sets will expose to you which beliefs of yours are actually just assumptions
It will also expose the power of cultural relativism: the idea that it’s difficult to judge but customs or effects of a different culture without actually understanding and immersing oneself in it first. Some things that we may see around the world might seem backwards or ludicrous, but then when we look at the system in which it’s actually entrenched, it reveals itself to make quite a bit of sense.
Not everything should be simply accepted because of cultural relativism or empathy for other belief systems; but removing yourself from your assumptions can at least give you the tools to ask the right questions and come up with answers that are empowering to you.
It also provides a powerful lens to examine the stories that we tell ourselves about our own identity, and how “true” those stories feel when we’re outsides of an environment where we have to live up to them. And sometimes it can be at least surprising, or at best shifting, to see what we discover.
Atwood was right when she said context is all. It’s up to us to examine as many different environments as we can in order to see our own assumptions of context and identity… dissolve.