Social Question

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Is it easier to form deep, meaningful connections when you belong rather than when you do not?

Asked by Simone_De_Beauvoir (39057points) January 4th, 2010

Let me elaborate: my former dance teacher and I (she has known me since I was 12 – I am now about to turn 26) were discussing whether or not I have rejected my Russian-ness over the years in favor of American-ness because of the many ways I have changed through my education and experiences outside of the Brooklyn Russian community…I questioned her notion of a singular Russian culture (same went for her notion of a singular American culture) and though she admitted to idealizing both to an extent, she still said that no matter how much criticism she’s felt throughout her life for her Russian culture, it was still where she belonged, warts and all, and where she drew pride from…and she said it has hurt her for me to reject so many elements of this culture (she and I used to be much closer than we are now, this issue being one of many reasons we grew apart) that she is so comfortable in (even though she gets that there is much to dislike)...I explained to her that I do not belong to any culture…that as someone interested in sociology and philosophy, I treat all cultures (including the one I was born into) as equal constructs…in that one is no more inherent to me than any other and all are equally up for deconstruction…and just like when believers pity me for my lack of a relationship with a god, she pitied me for my lack of belonging to a culture…

Had this been 5 years ago, her comments would have disarmed me (she is very opinionated, a lot like me in the ways her words cut) but I have gained depth in my ideas throughout the years and a confidence in myself that allowed me to look her in the eye and declare that I stand by my philosophy (a radical one, in her mind) or cultural rejection, of rejection of a nationality…those ‘warts and all’ she discussed associated with Russian culture (like the acceptance of drunkedness, sexism, old-fashioned gender norms, inability to be open with ‘others’ who are not Russian) are not okay by me…notions like sexism are not okay by me in ANY culture and since it’s just so common…

I find that I do not belong to a particular culture but with that comes the fact that I can transcend culture and belong with any individual (regardless of religious or ethnic or racial background) by means of an intense intellectual connection that doesn’t waste time on overcoming ‘differences’ because I put forth no inherent notions of how things should be according to my culture…my husband and I threw around the notion of sacrificing community in order to find singular connections all over the world at any point in time that allows us to ride the same wavelength with people that aren’t in any particular group as well…

Okay, I know this is long…so let me just stop my musings for now…what about you? do you feel that you belong to any particular community and do you find that you can form meaningful relationships with people in that community better than with people who are ‘outside’ you feel that it’s better to belong and to draw pride or do you think it’s just a crutch like any other social crutch…do you think your feelings on the matter have changed over the years…have you built a hybrid culture for yourself that includes elements of the past, your present and allows flexibility for an unknowable future?

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39 Answers

john65pennington's avatar

Thats a loooooong story!. my very short answer is… does not matter where people live, language or looks, if the love is there, then go for it.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@john65pennington ok. do you belong to a culture?

HasntBeen's avatar

I think your explanation is wonderful, actually. Something like that really deserves length.

I think there is a clear arc of “levels” in the maturing of an individual, and being able to locate your identity (“belonging”) in a way which transcends culture is a definite advancement in that scheme of thinking. You could say that much of what “maturing” is all about is moving from an externally-defined identity to an internally-defined identity, and that is exactly what you are talking about… and what she doesn’t understand.

Of course there’s nothing “wrong” with getting your identity from culture (or from family, which usually precedes that developmentally)—it’s a key stage in the development of a person. But a person who is grounded only at that level is not going to understand what you’re talking about, and there probably isn’t much you can do about it. Life and time have to run their course, every individual makes discoveries at a different rate.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@HasntBeen I do not think she lacks depth, either – she is almost twice my age (okay, not an indicator, but still), has had just as many life changes (we both have been moved often, many countries, not all moves voluntary) and, as well as I, lives her life driven by passion – there are many parallels and she finds a challenge in me, that is all. I have a complex reaction to her because she was like a mother to me (when my mother was not able to ‘get through to me’) for so long but was also a source of criticism for so long. I have remained in her life (all of us in the dance troupe that is no more) have – we are drawn to her because she is not ordinary but in so many ways, she is. She gets off on it. Seems that when it’s necessary she will be able to overlook anything ‘inherent’ but when it does not suit her, she will cling to something ‘fundamental’ (like culture) to justify her own views. I am intrigued. Thank you for your response. It is well put.

Arisztid's avatar

Of course having something in common with another person adds an already forged link with that person. The more of these you have, the more ties you have with the person and the easier it is to get to the “meaningful connection” phase.

Some people use culture, some ethnicity, some gender, some use things like preferring musical styles, etc. It is kind of like a shorthand… you have a definition that you share so that defining “x” is one thing you can skip other than fine tuning.

I do not share all aspects of any culture with another person. I pick and choose what ties “bind” me. It is nice to speak with another Rromani because I do not have to go through explanations of “what” we are, what our culture is, our history, experiences in our lives that are due to this ethnicity, etc. Other than fine tuning this tie is already made. However, someone being Rromani does not automatically have an “in” with me. It is just a commonality.

It sounds like your teacher is more attached to culture than I am.

I am more interested in a person’s morals, ethics, likes and dislikes. Those are the shorthand that allows a faster bonding for me.

HasntBeen's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir : sorry, I didn’t mean to suggest she lacked depth. And also, in my enthusiasm for your explanation, failed to answer the question! :)

So as @Arisztid says, I think it is easier to form connections with someone if you have a lot in common, and culture is surely a rich area for that kind of commonality.

But I also think that kind of bond tends to be shallower than what is available when the basis of the relationship is less grounded in external details like that. @Arisztid mentioned “morals, ethics, likes and dislikes”. In my view, that’s stuff that happens at a deeper level than culture or other ‘accidental’ points of connection.

Really, I should just say “me too” to Arisztid’s answer instead of blathering on :)

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@HasntBeen no, please blather on – your answer this morning is why I find fluther inspiring.

HasntBeen's avatar

Ok, well then drilling further down in your explanation, we come to this:

“I find that I do not belong to a particular culture but with that comes the fact that I can transcend culture and belong with any individual (regardless of religious or ethnic or racial background) by means of an intense intellectual connection that doesn’t waste time on overcoming ‘differences’ because I put forth no inherent notions of how things should be according to my culture…my husband and I threw around the notion of sacrificing community in order to find singular connections all over the world at any point in time that allows us to ride the same wavelength with people that aren’t in any particular group as well…”

Here I think I know what you’re talking about, but I suspect you’re struggling for a vocabulary appropriate to the topic. So I’ll tell you what I think about that—

The issue of what it means to be “connected” with someone is pretty deep, and you can find answers at multiple depths as you study it. A couple of drunks in a bar find a connection in the fact that they both tend to fall down on the way to the john, perhaps. Lovers find connection in a lot of different things, including their physical relationship. People at political rallies find connection in the commonality of their viewpoints.

Then there’s the opposite viewpoint about this: everybody is already connected, and from that perspective there’s nothing to do…. you don’t need to become connected, and in fact you can’t become connected: how could you become connected unless you were separate in the first place? If you weren’t separate to start with, there would be no “connecting” to do. That’s actually my view from an absolute perspective: everyone and everything is already deeply connected, everybody belongs to the whole. So, that’s it. End of the game, yes? Well, not quite. Because the fact of this connection is obscured frequently, and removing the obscuring barriers is still a lot of work.

But to flip back to the conventional view (that connection is something to be created), what makes a connection deeper or more authentic? @Arisztid listed a few things. I would add some more—commitment, for example—commitment to a common goal or set of values. Commitment isn’t just “we believe the same things”, it’s a proactive and creative act of will in which you align yourself with something for a purpose seen as greater than your personal wants or desires. That’s pretty powerful connection-generating stuff.

Then there’s appreciation as a basis for connection—when two people have an authentic understanding of who the other is and what value they have, that can be a very deep kind of connection.

Anyway, I wander. But the point is that “we share a culture” is pretty weak compared to some of the other possibilities for forming connection.

ETpro's avatar

Thanks for a great question and in-depth explanation of it. It made me think of my own post-cultural attitude.

My family must have had deep cultural roots at some point. The patriarch on my mother’s side emigrated here from Scotland and was a 33rd Degree Mason. I can’t say whether the Scottish cultural traditions were consciously set aside by a particular generation of my forebears or whether they just slowly melted into what amounts to Americanism. But they were gone by the time I came along.

Likewise, on my dad’s side. I didn’t know much about his family till I was grown and he became interested in researching his family tree. It turned out that the Hankins branch of his family owned Bacon’s Castle in Surry, Virginia, before the Civil War. They lost the property during Reconstruction.

Given that history and growing up in the Tidewater region of Virginia before desegregation, I could easily have adopted the “South will rise again” racism that was rampant among my friends and acquaintances. Yet somehow, I came through that heritage rejecting it as wrong.

Regional customs still have a place in society, making it easy for a cohesive group to connect. But their role is diminishing as global trade, travel and intermarriage erode the foundations of parochialism. And washing away those false differences strikes me as a generally positive thing. It is a step toward the ultimate maturity of mankind. Welcome to the journey.

marinelife's avatar

I long ago came to stand apart from a particular place or a particular culture. I was raised a military brat so I moved around every few years. it made me an observer in my own life. I always felt set apart from or outside whatever culture I was in. I would have to study that culture and quickly take on protective coloration in order to be accepted. Children can be very cruel to those who are “different”. (“Hey, y’all talk just like those people on TV.”)

I don’t think it means you cannot form bonds which are deep. It just means that someone stuck in or immersed in a particular culture may not be able to form bonds with someone who has moved outside that culture.

HasntBeen's avatar

@Marina gets a Phrase of the Day™ for ”...quickly take on protective coloration in order to be accepted” :)

@ETPro: why do you think you rejected the racism of your friends? How old were you? What was the thing or person that influenced your moral perspective to make that a viable option?

ETpro's avatar

@HasntBeen I never bought it to begin with. I’m not sure why. My mother was a school teacher, and head of the Science Department at the local High School. She often had to work extended hours on lesson plans and departmental issues, so she hired a maid early on. I was raised by a wonderfully warm-hearted black woman just as much as I was by my own white mother. It was obvious to me that Caroline, the maid, was just as loving and intelligent and decent a person as the whites who wouldn’t share the same end of a bus with her. In some ways she was a more decent person.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

My ethnicity is such a mixture that it is difficult for me to draw an identity from it. My fathers side of the family is originally English/Welsh but has American roots going back to the 17th century. My mothers side is ethnically German although both places of origin are no longer part of Germany (East Prussia and Alsace) and only second generation American. So there is no strong ethnic tie for me.

My regional American heritage (northern New England) is stronger than ethnicity. I’ve lived all over the US and several other countries and never felt a sense of comfort of place outside NH,ME,VT. Living in the Deep South during my Army career I actually was made to feel very unwelcome. “Damned Yankee” and all that.

I was diagnosed only a few years ago with Aspergers Syndrome. I now know that there are other people in the world whose minds function (or malfunction) the way mine does. It is hard to strongly identify with a group of people who don’t function well socially but it does give me a point of reference and identifying “label”.

My autism has probably separated me from a percieved need to identify with a group; I am essentially a loner. Even more strongly a loner after the events of the last several months. I can understand at an intellectual level the need of “normal” people to feel that they are part of some identifiable community, but it needn’t be ethnic.

Sorry about the rambling. I had orginally not intended even to write an answer. Just throwing this out for what it’s worth, not really knowing why.

eeveegurl's avatar

*Things in parentheses for background information.

I can understand where you’re coming from. I was born in Hong Kong, and for most of my life, grew up in China, while studying in an international school. My parents are very much typically Chinese. (They speak English, with an accent, and my grandparents only speak Chinese.) I grew up very Americanized. All my friends were American, we grew up watching American shows, eating American snacks. I’ve had multiple people comment on the fact that I’m “so American, dude”.

Living in Hong Kong now, I associate very much with being American, and feeling different from everyone else. Luckily, Hong Kong is very much an international city and there are expats abound. I can get around fine, even then I get various questions asking where I’m from and if I went to school in the US. I spent about 3 months in the US this summer, living with my boyfriend, and similarly, just as I felt awkward in Hong Kong, I also felt awkward in the US. Once again, I felt like I didn’t fit in. I’ve basically come to the conclusion that I really don’t have my own culture, and that I don’t fit in much of anywhere. I’ve ended up bonding with a lot of Asian Americans, being able to feign American-ness while I’m not physically there. We all feel very much like international kids, not really having our own distinct culture.

With that said, I love the various cultures or groups that I belong to. I love getting together for Asian family dinners where “the family” consists of 14 members (and one big round table!) I love talking to my American friends about my thoughts, opinions, and values, because they all grew up with the same type of thinking that I was brought up with.

In many ways, it’s like being in a Venn diagram as the overlapped section. I’m not entirely part of one, not entirely part of the other, but in the overlap, I find my own niche of people to bond with, and, although usually more superficially, I find I can also bond with people from either group by sharing similar experiences.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@eeveegurl I like your Venn diagram analogy. Some of my “circles” don’t overlap. I have a sense of place but no real sense of identity. +GA

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@HasntBeen I wasn’t struggling to find vocabulary – it’s just that the way I write can be sometimes difficult to read or interpret. No biggie, I think in multiple languages and write that way too.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@ETpro however, globalization and westernization of certain cultures has led to nothing good, imo. so many countries are now ‘like America’ (Russia moving in that direction) and people find that they want nothing to do with the business driven cut-throat atmosphere that brings.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land thanks, I always appreciate your contributions, you know this.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@eeveegurl yep, nice image with the overlaps

ETpro's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Not stated as an endorsement, just a fact. I would say the jury is still out on how the negative versus positive will balance. But there can be no doubt it is an influence decreasing current parochialism.

wundayatta's avatar


Sharing cultural memes facilitates communication. Yes, the barrier of a different culture can be surmounted and people can build relationships with those from different cultures. It’s just harder.

For certain people, it’s easier than for others. I would think that an open and curious mind would help in facilitating such relationships. Having a commitment to learning the other culture will also help, as will willingness to try new things, and a reduced fear of different things.

Sometimes people are forced out of their own culture. I don’t know if it would necessarily be easier for an outcast to form deep meaningful relationships with people from other cultures. Yes, they have no other choice but to find relationships in another culture (or subculture), but does having no other choice make it any easier? I doubt it.

Think about any group with an established culture. What happens when there are new people infusing into that culture? I wonder if one could think of an example of this like, oh, say, fluther!?! People who have been here a while and have learned the hidden cultural rules do better—at least in the sense that they don’t complain about everything as much.

Folks from other online cultures, whether they come individually, or as a group, have a period of time where they don’t understand the new culture, and there will be more conflicts and less building of cross-cultural relationships. As folks get to know each other, and as the new people learn the existing culture, it will become easier to establish relationships across the cultural boundaries. We will develop more of a shared sense of history and approach, and we will all have a bit more experience. It makes building relationships easier.

There will probably always be a sense of difference for people from the “outside.” Askvillers, such as myself, have knowledge of that culture which we bring here. Non-Askvillers don’t share that. The other waves from all the other places (and I don’t even know what they all are—talk about cultural ignorance) will also maintain their own subculture that contains memes understood only by them.

I have no idea what ABers did or how they related or how their interface affected their relationships. I asked them to tell me more about what it was like where they came from, and why they wanted to leave it. I’m curious, and I like new things, and I appreciate the contributions that new ideas and things make to our culture. Others, I’m sure, are made fearful by it. I hope that the knowledge gained through the answers to my question helped others as well as helping me.


So yes. It is easier for people who share a culture to build meaningful connections than it is for people who are from different cultures. It takes willingness and commitment to transcend the boundaries between cultures. For some people, this is easier than for others. I wish everyone was more curious about other cultures. I think we’d have fewer problems if people were willing to listen and watch instead of forcing newbies into the existing culture.

tinyfaery's avatar

I have never felt part of a culture. I am biracial. I grew up in a Latino barrio. I have never been able to speak Spanish. I took a bus to other parts of the city and met people from cultures all over the world. I never belonged. As a child it was hard, but now I am glad for it.

The connections I made were never based on race, culture or language. They were based on individual preferences and personality traits.

Nothing has changed since my childhood. I don’t belong to any group and therefore I have no group allegiance. I have never belonged so I feel no need to start now.

Yes, I am not very social, and I do not make connections easily, but when I do they are never based on some sort of group think, they are based on the individual.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I also think in multiple languages, but to my sadness the French is beginning to fall away

Blondesjon's avatar

It is never easy, for any reason, to form a deep and meaningful connection.

That is why they are deep and meaningful.

Jeruba's avatar

The East Coast community to which my family belonged when I was a young person was a fairly homogeneous blend of Western European nationalities. I say homogeneous because we were all pretty much the same in being white native-English-speaking middle-class families. Within that blend there was a lot of apparent diversity: white collar and blue collar, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish, and Western European from Finland to Italy. But I think those distinctions were much more important to our parents than they were to us, the young people. Culturally we were all pretty much the same: we spoke the same language, used the same slang, subscribed to the same behavioral norms and fashions, and listened to (more or less) the same music. And this culture was not French or Irish, Jewish or Protestant, professional or laborer. It was just American. At least, that’s what we thought at the time.

So now I don’t really have any cultural group to identify with. All kinds of cultural pride reside in people with distinctive national backgrounds, who are encouraged to celebrate their heritage, but you don’t ever talk about being proud of the background I came from. You are supposed to apologize for it and bite your tongue if you think that’s “American” because you are thereby disrespecting someone else who does have a distinctive ethnicity and a non-English first language, and you risk being accused of racism.

My great-great (or more) grandparents were English, Scots, Irish, French, German, and Dutch, but I am none of those. My grandparents were all American- or Canadian-born, and not one of them was of any single heritage or strain. What am I? The only communities I belong to are those I have deliberately sought out and joined, and for the most part they do not go very deep.

People of a background similar to mine are not expected to talk about it, much less to acknowledge that sometimes they feel a little lonely for a time when they did know who their community was.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Jeruba I find it difficult to acknowledge that I want to belong too because then people throw religion to me as a solution. It is not.

Jeruba's avatar

I agree, it absolutely is not.

ETpro's avatar

@Jeruba & @Simone_De_Beauvoir You guys sound just like me. Want to form a community? :-)

jangles's avatar


I feel that culture is inescapable, though i can pick apart what i like from ones all around me, they are not really me. Even the combined effort is simply a process of comfort and adapting to my environment, so if i were in another place, another environment i mean, i would be entirely different in what culture influenced me.

In trying to avoid being attached to a cliché culture haven’t you run into a cliché counter culture?

However, the idea of nationalism and a formulated culture that is emplace to encourage like mindedness and that decreases variety, for a easier sold consumer market, is something that almost forces us all to band together to form a more beautiful culture, one that’s driven power is love, and beauty. Not money and control.

My point is, I believe you can’t transcend culture and instead of remarking upon your disgust for letting yourself be a part of a formulated culture seriously, I think you should just pass off others wants, to conform you to their ideas of being with their culture as laughable.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@jangles I never said I was disgusted with culture – I said I can look at all cultures from the outside, even at countercultures as well – there is no way to escape culture, I understand that, I was just remarking on the fact that no one culture in particular is where I draw pride from.

ETpro's avatar

@jangles I don’t see what @Simone_De_Beauvoir is describing as counterculture at all. Far from it, what she’s defining seems to be not the lack of any culture but rather typical, mainstream American culture. But that culture is rapidly changing, hence the sense of being disconnected and unable to even speak up for beliefs and social norms that, 50 years ago, were assumed to be permanent, mutable parts of being American.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@ETpro I don’t think I’m speaking up for any social norms from 50 years ago – god forbid

jangles's avatar

Perhaps i didn’t read correctly the story or the overall question or point you were making. I guess disgust was the wrong word choice. However it seems that your
“self-created” culture is one you do draw pride from. (as your story depicts you “a confidence in myself that allowed me to look her in the eye and declare that I stand by my philosophy (a radical one, in her mind) or cultural rejection”

Which made me say what i did say, that cultural rejection has personal traits to it but its still fundamentally a culture, one that i believe is mostly outside influenced. In that sense I dont really see that its different from one’s that you reject. (I understand how they are different, thus why I said in that sense)

Culture by its definition (the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.) doesn’t imply that it has to be a group of people,.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@jangles obviously my own constructed ‘culture’ is also a construct.

jangles's avatar

Indeed, in retrospect I realize I didn’t really have much of a point but that i felt initially you took your cultural beliefs a bit too seriously. But after re-reading your story so many times, I have changed my mind. Terribly sorry if what I said was offensive, i did not instead it to be so.

I rather admire your indpenedent views on the matter and hope others try and keep in mind that culture can be a very personal thing and empowering thing.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@jangles I wasn’t offended by anything that you said. Thank you for discussing this with me and for being honest.

Jeruba's avatar

The mention of a counterculture made me suddenly wonder if the youth of my time—who were The Counterculture, the youth of the sixties—were so ripe for that experience precisely because we did not have a clear cultural identity apart from one such as I described. Certainly I identified with the young people of my generation far more strongly than with any race, ethnicity, distinctive (non-American) nationality, socieoconomic group, or religion. And so I took my politics, my contemporary musical preferences, and my style of dress from them. I did keep my own personal values and tastes, intellectual identity, and aesthetics.

And I tend to assume a certain commonality with them even now, much as you might with someone who came of Russian parentage.

lindsey23's avatar

I grew up both in Europe and in the US, so I do have a hybrid culture. My family all adjusted to the transition differently, so we each have a different way of being “bicultural.”

Personally, I think that this applies to everyone: We accept, reject and create ideals. Trying to conform to a group or culture is dependent on how you interpret said group; therefore, there is no uniform organization of any sort.

While I find that I can relate well to people who have similarities with me and that I meet in contexts that are highly relevant to my life (i.e., colleagues, those with shared hobbies, family members), I also find that I can connect well with people who are seemingly very dissimilar to me.

In other words, I view “belonging” as a forum for finding connection, not an automatic source of it.

Joybird's avatar

Do you really think you need to belong in order to form a meaningful connection? All that is really needed is a willingness to share with some level of emotional intimacy with anyone in the moment. I had a deeply meaningful interlude with a woman in her late 70’s the other day while waiting to have testing on my heart. It all started with a shared statement about CNN that was playing on the TV and the feeling that it was stress provoking. We talked as if we had known each other for decades and I have no doubt that I will be on her mind off and on as she is on mine.

The requirements for deep and meaningful are simple: willingness, openess, and emotional intimacy.

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