Culture Studies · Life & General

A Day in the life of a Heretic*

*Perception of Heresy subject to own personal belief and cultural norms

So I’m starting to mention with increasing frequency my ‘white bread’ upbringing – but it’s actually really important! Being raised an Anglo-Saxon, Irish Catholic strongly shaped my worldview and perception of society as a whole up until I was about 15 years old, so acknowledging this is part of my personal process for growth and understanding.
Thankfully I was able to identify that not everything I learned growing up made sense, because I read about other cultures and decided “Yeah! This sounds more like me!”
This learning curve was mostly started when I began my studies in Japanese at the age of 11, as this inherently exposed me to a culture far removed from my own, but other interactions – such as working 12-hour-days with Islamic, Hindu and Jewish people – also worked to inform my world view as it is today.

I’ve been called a satanist, heretic witch more times than I can count – mostly by members of my old community. It doesn’t bother me anymore, but it used to back when I thought that being a heretic was the worst thing ever.
BUT among the shift in religious belief, I learned some actively useful skills and practices, too! So, while I can’t return to the town of my childhood without some of my parents’ friends glaring at me like I stole their dog, the things I gained instead were far more valuable to me than the opinions of some bitter people. Some of these newfound ideologies directly influenced my professional life, which is why it’s up here and on this blog!
So, here are lessons that I attempt to put in practice during the average day of a heretic;

Lesson Number 1 – Don’t treat others as you would want to be treated; Treat them better.
This was among the first, and most important lessons I learned that diverged from commonly-held Anglo-Saxon Catholic beliefs. It’s exhaustively cited from the Bible, and mis-quoted by the Christian community to justify social misdemeanours. When the intention was to treat others with the same kindness that a person would want for themselves, the reality is that it’s more often applied to situations when people refuse to go above and beyond because “I wouldn’t mind being treated that way”. Fact of the matter is, it shouldn’t matter if you mind being treated a certain way; you should treat others better. Pay kindness forward, so to speak. I first came across this concept when I learned of Omotenashi, or the Japanese approach to hospitality. It’s famous for a reason – going above and beyond to provide a world-class service will always be remembered. I know that this works for a fact, because the most positive experiences I’ve ever had in customer service resulted from me taking initiative, and doing more than the customer expected. I’ve memorised an order for a blind customer and walked it to them instead of just handing the food over the counter, and they remembered my name. I’ve organised a customer to receive priority on an expensive furniture item at a discount, simply because I could. I’ve kept a standard so high that half of every workplace I’ve ever had, had a state or national-level manager comment on the quality of my service, even when they were ‘visiting incognito’. I’ve always been requested on shifts where it’s expected that service becomes crazily busy, because my ‘baseline’ standard was always reliably good. So, even though I’m now quite removed from my teenage retail-days, I still strive to maintain the best possible service I can provide in every aspect of my life. Sometimes it will fall short, but that won’t be for a lack of trying.
Be good, and be kind to others even if you don’t seek to benefit, because that is better than you expect to be treated yourself. Someday might even be pleasantly surprised when someone else does this for you!

Lesson Number 2 – You are not a mental health professional. And even if you are, you deserve a break at home. Forcing yourself to constantly ‘placate’ friends and family is toxic and unhealthy.

Christianity, and many other major religions, focus on the whole ‘care and compassion’ angle of religion. This can be useful in many ways – respecting the elderly, treating children with patience, and encouraging kindness in our everyday lives. What some major religions don’t teach is where to draw the line. When you are no longer obliged to stand by a friend or family member, and when you can walk away and wash your hands of the whole affair. I’m looking at you, respected-community-elder-that-gossips-far-too-much, and I’m looking at you, family-member-who-won’t-admit-they-need-counselling-instead-of-alcohol. It’s very well and good to be kind, caring and compassionate, but there is a point where you exceed your duty and your desire to help and end up falling into an abyss that ends up hurting yourself. Toxic people drain you of your ability to be kind and compassionate to others, and regardless of whether someone is a beloved family member or a close childhood friend, toxic people are toxic. No matter how much you love someone…you’re doing yourself, and the rest of your community, a disservice by associating with that toxic person longer than you should. If someone needs a counsellor, don’t be their counsellor – send them to a professional. You are under no obligation to ruin your own mental health for someone else’s entertainment, and you should not feel chained to family obligations if your only part in it is to placate your parents.

Lesson Number 3 – Take your shoes off at the door.
Now, this doesn’t seem like a ‘life-changing’ lesson. Many cultures all over the world adhere to this lesson. Thing is…when I was growing up, this WASN’T a thing. You kept your shoes on all day. Once I got into the habit of taking my shoes off in the home, things just started to fall into place. My floor stayed clean for longer, I finally had an excuse to buy those cute slippers, and my shoes actually lasted a little longer because I wasn’t wearing them all the time. It also made me a little more mindful, day-to-day, of how I entered someone else’s home. I now check the front door every time I enter someone else’s house. Are there a pile of shoes? Mine will join them! Not expecting to stay long? Then don’t enter the house, because then you’ll have to remove your shoes and walk around as if you’re allowed in there. Not only does this mindfulness allow me to be a little more considerate when moving about from place to place, but it also helps me to draw the boundaries between being a ‘guest’ and being a ‘visitor’. If I am showing up unexpected and unannounced, then I am a ‘visitor’ and am not welcome to remove my shoes unless invited to do so.

Lesson Number 4 – Different isn’t bad, it’s just Different.
This was a long, hard lesson for me to come to terms with. It started when I was 11, and continues to this day. When I was a child, ‘different’ was ‘wrong’ and you feared ‘making a mistake and being wrong’. A simple but silly example of this was when my family and I would go to Catholic Mass together. Once, we invited an Anglican friend to join us because she had a sleepover with one of my sisters the night before. She attended in good faith, but was instantly sniggered at by said sister because she ‘did it wrong’.
Ergo, she prayed differently. She didn’t kneel at the ‘right’ times, she didn’t know the ‘right’ prayers, and obviously felt like an idiot as my entire family were synchronised with the activities of the rest of the congregation.
I look back at that event and wince. It must have been awful for that child to experience, and the fact that my parents never said anything about it makes this memory even worse. Adults who understood full well that different religions exist in the world did not once tell my siblings to be kinder to their friends, or explain that ‘Catholic’ mass was only one of many ways to pray, and that it’s not a bad thing. It took me years, and personal experience, to learn this for myself – understandably, considering how little guidance I had from an early age.

When I began high school and worked with the wide range of cultures that made up my part-time job I was able to experience the joys of multiculturalism. Some people covered their burgers in spicy sauce like it was nothing, while I struggled with ‘sweet chilli’. I looked forward to Christmas, while my coworker looked forward to Diwali. My managers and I made sure that our Muslim coworkers had enough breaks during Ramadan, and that our Chinese coworkers got the week off to travel home for the New Year. As I spoke with each coworker about their faith and how they celebrated I was filled with knowledge and a greater sense of tolerance for ‘different’. I was lucky to experience different types of food – often much cheaper, and much tastier, than the standard pie-and-burger meals I was used to. I learned how different grocery stores sold things you can only buy from certain nationalities. I learned that Pandan is a sugar-free substitute for vanilla flavouring, and that ‘sweets’ made for other cultures are often less ‘sweet’ than the sugarcane-filled confections of the West. Somewhat unconventionally, I learned that Chopsticks not only make for mess-free sushi consumption, but can also be used to eat hot wings and snacks covered in powder. I discovered Lassi and Halal Snack Packs and Dim Sum and Miso soup; I found the different ways that cultures respect their ancestors and the different expectations that these cultures had for their children. As I learned… as I grew as a person, I found that my old community was becoming less tolerable.

The Creation of the Heretic
When my eyes were opened to the beauty of multiculturalism and the wonders that it could bring to commerce, advancement, and peace, I started noticing how my friends and family treated ‘different’. I started noticing disgusting racist slurs coming from people I had grown up with, and nothing I said would change their minds. I tried introducing my family to the new and delicious foods I found only for the food – and the concept of the entire culture it came from – to be violently rejected. It didn’t matter to these people that a Halal snack pack was a delicious combination of lamb, garlic sauce, cheese and potato chips – what mattered was the word ‘Halal’ and its association with Islam. I was sneered at when I attempted to introduce sushi, because ‘raw fish is gross’ no matter how it’s prepared, and I was openly mocked on many occasions for my attempts to learn and grow.

That is why I became a ‘heretic’ in my community, and began to question everything I had learned as a child. I was raised in the same community as people who live their every day lives assuming that First Nations Australians are all ‘freeloaders’, yet somehow I grew and learned this to be false, and they didn’t. What changed? Did I challenge myself more? Mingled with others more? Was more open to ‘different’ at the outset? I cannot answer these questions, and I may never be able to. What I can say is why this is important;

I could never operate as a globally-minded businesswoman, or be in my current happy marriage, without an open mind and a tolerance for multiculturalism. I couldn’t interact with foreign business people while holding aspects of their lives in contempt. I couldn’t understand different business practices without understanding different religions and cultures. And, most importantly, I would not be considered to be a ‘world class’ anything if I, myself, am not a member of the world as a whole. Sure, I’m Australian. I perceive my Australian-ness to be inherently multicultural, because that’s the country I live in. I can live in an apartment block with people from 15 different countries, all while calling ourselves ‘Australian’. I can acknowledge the Old Australia – the lessons from the Bush and the Dreamtime – while aspiring for a New Australia – a country that seamlessly integrates the best of everywhere, for everyone. Yet, as an Australian that wishes to be open to the diversity of the world, I acknowledge that everyone is Different, and that’s not a bad thing! It’s just different.

Okay, so this blog post was a little heavy. It addressed my past – a not-so-tolerant part of my life – but it also addressed my desire for a tolerant future. I truly am glad to live in a country that gets to celebrate Buddha’s Birthday and Valentine’s Day and Diwali and Eid al-Fitr. If I want, I can go to parties for every single one of these celebrations and, for the most part, be very welcome.
But just underneath the surface of all the important, serious lessons I learned in my life that guided my path towards ‘Catholic Heresy’, I also learned a few (relatively) trivial things that bring me great joy as a result. Here’s a short list of some of the best things;

  • Japanese bullet Trains
  • Vending Machines
  • Capsule Hotels
  • Temples
  • Live Translation Services (I’m lookin’ at you, Google!)
  • Art
  • Mandalas
  • Meditation
  • Calligraphy
  • Historical Writings on Philosophy, Medicine and Law
  • Robots
  • Musical Instruments unique to their home country
  • Cultural Dances
  • How some countries are obsessed with another country’s thing, but usually only one specific thing. I’m looking at you, Sweden, and your love of Shawarma.
  • How some countries adapted one country’s thing into their own version. Like how Tikka Masala didn’t exist until England decided to ‘make an Indian Curry‘, or how ‘Hawaiian’ Pizza isn’t something you’re likely to find in Italy.
  • Mis-translation. I LOVE findings badly-translated English, simply because it’s unique and interesting!
  • Fun flavours of carbonated beverage. Before I was 14, I had NEVER tasted peach-flavoured tea or plum-flavoured soda. It’s excellent.

There are so many more things that just don’t come to mind yet, but they’re out there!
Let me know if there are things that you love, that you couldn’t have without a little old multiculturalism. I’d love to find out what makes your world exciting!


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