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Being Bold

Image: by cooldesign FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am a people-pleaser.  I desperately want to fit in with people around me.  

I want them to feel comfortable with me around.

I hate the idea that someone would need to be careful what they say, or be embarrassed by their house, or worry about what to serve or eat if we are around.

Deep down I want to just be normal, to blend into the crowd, and not cause any waves.

But the way I am choosing to live doesn’t mesh with this part of my personality.  I don’t like the ‘normal’ choices most of society makes. Though I see these differences as minor (yet important), these choices often make me feel very weird and different.

I believe in these differences and in the difference they have made in my life.  I don’t want to diminish my differences because I do value them.  I want to live and communicate these differences boldly without offending others or being seen as pushy.

There are several ways we are living different than the ‘norm’:

We are minimalists

We don’t have many things, clothes, toys and don’t want them.  We like being able to move with a few bags and not have anything else to worry about taking care of.  This is really weird no matter what side of the ocean we are on.

We homeschool our kids

This is much more common in the US now and most reactions we get from others are positive or at least not negative.  Homeschooling is unheard of over here in China.  They don’t know what to think of it.

We eat funny

In the US we were trying to eat (mostly) vegan but that doesn’t work over here in China with what is available to us.  Over here we eat some meet and some dairy products (they don’t have cheese here but there is lots of yogurt).  Eating over here is almost entirely meat if you have money… and because we are foreigners, people think we have a lot of money.  Not eating meat is seen as very weird here and very unhealthy.

Note: Because I have had questions I am adding that I am not talking about social situations but times when we are purchasing and ordering our own food.  People see it as very different that we buy way more of the tofu (or tofu dishes) than the expensive meats.  It is still Chinese but they see it as cheap and inferior and I prefer it.  The tofu here is amazing!

We don’t smoke or drink

Depending on the crowd in the US this isn’t that big of a deal, but in China smoking and drinking is deeply tied to socializing.  Not drinking with someone is an insult here.

We want to travel as a family

People seem to get this or don’t understand it at all.  When we explain what we are doing many people can only come up with ‘Why?’.  I don’t know how to answer that.   I guess some people are interested in seeing other parts of the world and others aren’t.  I am sure it is hurting my children in some ways but I do believe it is giving them a gift of experience and perspective that is bigger than what they might be missing.

We are Christian

Though my religious life is not free of doubt I see this as the most important part of my life.  I struggle with explaining it, I can’t answer all the questions, and don’t understand it all.  Though this is generally accepted in the US, this has been much harder in China and was what got me really thinking on this post.

In China you can be whatever religion you want (supposedly, I don’t pretend to understand what is going on over here).  It is the spreading of ‘what you believe’ that is illegal.

For this area, and most of all the other areas, I tend to downplay them in conversation or social interactions.  But while doing it I am not being true to myself, I am not showing my children that I am confident in my decisions, and I am not showing others who I really am.

I have been trying to live more authentically, but where it is not socially convenient, I have not been fully sharing who I am.  I mask myself to try to fit in.

This is a confession.  I don’t want to live this way.

I don’t want to be seen as the pushy, arrogant, know-it-all and my fear of that has made me not comfortable in sharing who I really am.

But there is a difference between boldly living my life how I believe – being open and authentic and trying to push my beliefs on others and try to change them.

No one likes pushy people, but when I interact with others I am never intimidated with their different beliefs about life and religion.  It is what makes people interesting and unique.  I admire people who have made decisions in life based on their beliefs even if those decisions are different than mine.  I admire boldness in others but haven’t been consistent in living it out in my own life.

I have been praying about, and trying to make a decided effort, to being bold about who I am.  Sure, there are some people who may still take offence in this, but they are the minority.  I want to give others who I really am because that is what I want from them as well.

Not being pushy, but being comfortable and boldly living differently, has also been the greatest witness in history – no matter what the social change.  I believe in my differences and want to share them with others if they are interested.

Such have been my thoughts over the last few months.

How do you handle your differences?  Do you struggle with being bold?

I love the internet and it’s ability to connect with other similar people.  I was inspired by Leo’s post about being different at Zen Habits from a few weeks ago and stopped pushing this post topic out (something I had been doing for the past few month).  Check it out for his perspective on living differently and tips on how he does it.   

7 Comments

  1. My wife is Japanese and we live in Britain. In the West we are taught to be individuals but in Japan they have a group mentality and prefer to vanish into the wider group.

    When I travel to Japan, or to any country for that matter, I do try and adapt to the local cultures. If that means giving away some of myself, I do in order to fit in and show respect to their culture.

    I am a different person in Japan for example than when I’m in the West even in matters of religion (I pray to Buddha when in Japan and visit Shinto temples). I try as much as it is possible for someone not raised in Japan, to live a full Japanese lifestyle. Anything less, in my opinion is being disrespectful towards your host country and the people who welcome you, no matter how briefly, into their community.

    • Andrew, thanks for your comment. In a lot of ways I agree with you. I think we need to be able to learn and live like other cultures, especially when we are in them, as much as possible 🙂 I was writing less about culture or changing countries and more about my ability to be confident in my opinions, especially when they are different.

  2. Kim Kim

    Love your blog!

  3. Thank you for the post Lori! I can definitely relate. I don’t have a lot of experience with being bold in a cross-cultural situation, but I do struggle with speaking and acting differently here in the US! For a long time, all I wanted was to blend in, get along, not be weird or annoying or to offend. While I still think speaking with love is essential, I’m coming to realize that I need to step up and be honest about my convictions AND struggles. When I think back, a few strong examples or meaningful statements by friends and acquaintances have had profound positive impacts on my life that would be missing without their courage. So I am working to be more vulnerable, open, and real: I’m a Christian saved by faith who homeschools and limits my wardrobe to 33 things, among other quirks. I’m trying to write a book about my struggles with hoarding – that the keeping-up-appearances part of me hopes no one I know will ever read!

  4. I worked for an extended period of time in China and found the key difference between the American and Chinese mentality has to do with how we view ourselves. American’s celebrate the individual while the Chinese celebrate the collective. I found that the Chinese value stability so talking about ones religion could be disruptive so they discourage it. I have always held when traveling to another country, I am a guest in their “home” and try to act accordingly plus I am Southern so the idea of talking religion or politics has been actively discouraged. (Thought I do find that cab drivers in any country will engage in a good political conversation.) It is bold to quietly live your values and beliefs while respecting the values of your host country.

    • Yes Christine I agree 🙂 The difference in the individual and collective is a big difference in world view. Where we are there is a lot of curiosity about foreigners and people ask us all kinds of questions. In so many ways I want to learn and fit in with culture here, but I also want to be able to be ‘ok’ with who I am in ways that I am different. I am terrified of offending people, and too often, it causes me to avoid any questions about how I am different. But learning that I can respect people and still be honest about who I am is something I am trying to learn. In my fear of being different or not fitting in I don’t want it to look like I am ashamed or secretive about my choices. Thanks for your comment!

      • I bet with your friendly and open manner, they aren’t offended by your answers. I think you are brave to interact with the those who are curious about you.

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