We learn to tie shoes; we tell jokes; we walk on the sidewalk rather than the road; we fold our arms when praying. And we do this all informally, learning from those within our culture.
It's all about putting boundaries in place to maintain order and a sense of oneness within the community. Anyone who doesn't know the boundaries isn't a member of the community, and anyone who crosses boundaries may await expulsion from the community. This breeds the insider - outsider aspect of culture, or the us - them language.
Anthropologist Wade Davis said, "The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit." But when attempting to strengthen the community, we dare not look at those outsiders, for fear of what they may bring into the community, or what may draw us out of the comfort, or awkwardness we call ours.
"Good fences make good neighbors," is the last line of the Robert Frost poem, "Mending Wall." And in this poem Frost talks about what we will or won't allow into our world, including people, even friends, not mere acquaintances. Social control?
With this running thought - can we live inside those boundaries and outside of the boundaries, simultaneously (or nearly so)? I was reared with this - "The Church is not a buffet, you can't pick and choose what aspects of it you want and what you don't, and live that way." I was also taught, "Just because everyone else does it doesn't mean you have to." And I've lived my life in-between boundaries, speaking the cultural language, but not always feeling like I'm one with any specific culture.
I mean - let's see - I'm Mormon, two children (only), worked, went to school while rearing them; divorced, remarried to a recovering alcoholic. I go to church on occasion, but I'm bugged by many of the cultures mor'es, yet hymns sing to my soul. I pray to my Heavenly Father with deep sincerity, and I have a Buddha and a Kuan Yin sitting on my dresser. I have a tattoo, but I keep it covered. I'm a chaplain (rare for Mormon women), and I decorate the bulletin board at church, anonymously. I've been a boundary-walker for most of life, beginning as a young girl, fifth grade, being told I couldn't be a member of their group - and deciding that I would be my own group, my own person, find my own way.
Lately my boundaries are not nearly distanced from each other as in the past. I'm finding that I can, indeed, dine from a buffet - even on Sundays.
Sometimes I stay within the fences of the community, sometimes I open the gate and walk out. And sometimes boundaries are meant exactly for this reason - to know they exist, and in knowing this, have the freedom to wander from side to side; exploring the structure, looking at its origin, questioning and understanding its purpose, and then - hopping over this fence, lifting a leg over that one, crawling through another. Stubbing a toe, tearing britches, getting stuck and calling for help, or digging through and out; often with not much grace! I'm occasionally asked why I do this, why do I wander? I'm curious; more often than not, I'm delighted with what's on the other side, and I am the better.
Education has given me the language to express, and understanding culture has given me the opportunity to choose to look and wander.