Global Sustainability Newsletter

Issue 11 - April 2010

A PERSONAL NOTE ON CULTURAL DIFFERENCES

I left Poland in the middle of 1981 at the height of workers' unions strikes, general unrest and fears of an imminent Russian invasion. The communistic system's controlling modus operandi, corruption and lies about equal approach to people's rights and welfare have been exposed after decades of "socialist experiment." There was no future for me and my family in that system.

I have never regretted the decision to leave and I am truly grateful to the Australian authorities for granting me and my family immigration visas and permanent residency in this country. So, here I am, writing an article for my website, after living in my new country for thirty years and still reeling from inequitable experiences in the other political system. However, the fact that I left an unfair system did not prevent me from using my faculties to critically analyse the capitalistic system, which as it turns out, is also unfair, but without any false claims of fairness.

In this personal note I would like to highlight differences between the culture I was brought up in, and the Western culture I immigrated into. When, during my first years of immigration, anyone mentioned discrimination against women, I was getting impatient even with the mention of the concept of discrimination. It was hard for me to imagine that at the end of twentieth century anyone would be so crude in their thinking as to discriminate against anybody, let alone women. Sometimes I thought that people were trying to joke around me, saying these things about discrimination, and I considered these to be the jokes in a very bad taste. However, as time passed, I was discovering the reality of discrimination against women in my own personal experience and I was totally horrified.

In Poland my only exposure to discrimination was when I learned about it in history lessons. In everyday life men and women have been experiencing harshness of socialist reality in the same way; usually both, a man and a woman, had to work to be able to support a family. Both my parents worked in full time jobs. It had never occurred to me that in my adult life I would not have to work. Professional work or any other work was a right and an obligation. Later on I discovered that a good job can be a source of tremendous pleasure and satisfaction as well as remuneration.

Historically, Slavonic people were different from Anglo-Saxons, Germanic or Nordic tribes. Poles were rarely matching the war-like attitudes of their Western adversaries. Most of the time in the history of Poland, the country had to defend herself (not always successfully) from the expansionistic moves of the surrounding neighbouring states. This has been repeated time and time again. At the beginning of the Second World War, Poland's entire military force which was relying on horses as a transport means, was crushed by Hitler's tanks and mechanised military in three weeks. In the aggressive minds of Hitler and his generals, Poland was just too weak to consider her an obstacle of any kind.

This weakness of military power of Poland has often been mistaken for the weakness of Polish mind and spirit of freedom many times in history. It has never occurred to any aggressor of Poland that this country may have something in its national psychological make-up, which they (the aggressors) do not have. Even today, some people living in western countries, including Western Europe, Germany and the United States, consider Poles as slightly inferior, seeing only thieves and criminals as making the majority of the nation, which obviously is not the case. But here we are witnessing arrogance and prejudice. Prejudice usually comes from an inferior person, who has a need to feel superior over someone. Consequently, when they find someone who behaves differently, they will use their rationalisations to prove to themselves that such a different conduct does not make sense and therefore must be inferior.

I do not want to describe Poles as exceptionally good and wonderful people. We have our faults and our virtues, as any other ethnic group and nationality. But what I want to advertise to the entire Western civilisation is the truly gender-integrated nation, where there is no ingrained discrimination against men or women. Men are respected not because they are men, but because of the kind of persons they are; the same happens with the respect for women. Additionally, following the overwhelming historical tradition and long ingrained cultural values, men are brought up in a full respect of the feminine; they have great respect for their mothers, wives, aunties, female work colleagues, and so on. The annual International Women's Day on the 8th of March was never a political show of force in Poland at the time when I grew up. It was an opportunity for men to show their genuine respect for women in their lives, to buy them flowers, to kiss their hands and to show how much they appreciate women's contribution to the quality of life of couples, families, working relationships and the entire country. Polish men are strong enough to say to their women: we love and respect you for what you are, for making my life better, gentler and more beautiful. I do not think, however, that they ever consider this attitude as strength; rather, it gives them real pleasure to be genuinely kind (as opposed to being just polite) and such a conduct they consider fit for a normal male. And in the area of religion, Poles have never ceased to worship Mary, Mother of God, who is the official Patron of the country.

There are other societies in the world where the feminine is respected in similar ways. We see strong feminine influences in the cultures of Irish, Italians, French, Latino people and all those with historical links with Spain and her colonies. There are also remnants of some ancient cultures which give due credit to the feminine, as well as some nations of Asia and the Pacific. Unfortunately, human ignorance has prevailed in many religions and a male personification of God, which in itself is a proof of gross distortion of reality, prevails, allowing the male part of societies to be particular arrogant in thinking that they are (rather than women) better representation of God on Earth. Hence their behaviour toward women is never short of condescending, patronising and "all knowing." Consequently, men allow themselves to make most decisions without consulting their spouses or female colleagues.

As in any cultural upbringing, the majority of men in the Western world today do not appreciate the influence of culture (they were born into) on their own worldview and cannot understand the differences between their own behaviour and the behaviour of men in other, more gender - integrated cultures. What they think is that they are right in any situation they find themselves in, because their fathers and their peers would do the same, and their grandfathers again would behave in similar ways. These male citizens of the western civilisation do not have any bigger picture of the world's cultures; they do not know any better. This is why it is extremely important to bring these issues to the fore and to start educating people everywhere about other cultures, and especially those cultures where masculine and feminine values have been well integrated and are working hand in hand for the good of the society.

Danuta Nowak