Monday, July 02, 2012

Top Ten Taxonomy

I wrote this for my last newsletter and got some great responses... so I thought I'd repost it here. 

Sometimes when I’m working with an ethnographic research team I ask them to brainstorm a list. What are the top ten things they are learning about their host culture? Or, better yet, what are the top mental categories in the minds of ordinary people in that culture? What do their lives revolve around, and what do they focus on and talk about? We build a taxonomy of what seem to be the most important things, maybe the things we most need to understand to “get” how the people think and how the community works.

What kinds of things do you think would make the cut if the list was about you? What do you treasure most, and how does that play out in your day-to-day priorities? In what ways are the people around you the same as you? How are they different? It’s hard to even think in such terms if we have never known anything else. We may just take it for granted that the way we see and navigate the world is the way everybody else does (or ought to).

As a single person living more than 1000 miles from my nearest relation – and with a call on my life closely tied up with the kind of work I do – I have to confess that in many seasons “family” barely made the top 10 on my priority list. Oh, I loved my parents and my sister, but our lives were really not all that intertwined. Work, church, and friendships generally came first. Quests for personal fulfillment, inner peace, and the chance to read just one more chapter of my latest book may have rated even higher. And, to be honest, some simple pleasures like hot showers, coffee, sunshine, exercise, and a good night’s sleep also made the list. Walking with God was priority, if not always at the top; it’s what made all the other pieces work and gave them significance.

Looking at ordinary people in my own culture as well as Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and all kinds of people around the world, I realize how unusual my life has been.

Now I’m married. Now I have a family. Amazing. Who ever thought? The blessings catch me by surprise. Yet so do the responsibilities. Things from Chris’s priority list, or Daniel’s, have to find a place on mine. All I need to do is compromise a bit; it shouldn’t be that hard. But I seem to be out of practice! I never understood how questions like who does the dishes or which way we fold the towels could be such flashpoints in a new marriage, but now I think I get it. Sometimes it feels like my whole way of life is in danger and hangs on things like what kind of light bulbs we use and who decides. One more way I have to change or adjust feels like it will be the final straw. 

I feel pretty ridiculous for responding that way. Guess it’s like the difference between visiting another culture and buying a one-way ticket. I wonder how long it will take for me to get used to this. What would it look like to put family first? How will this play out in the years to come?

If you can remember what it was like to adjust to marriage, I’d love to hear your story. Thanks for praying for us, too. We really appreciate it!

>> See this helpful article: Marriage: The First Year.


jill said...

My husband and I really did have to "which way to roll the toilet paper" argument when we first married. I won. I won because he really didn't care all that much. Which I guess is my lesson for marriage--the spouse who cares the most should probably be heard and accommodated. Marriage isn't 50-50--it's "love does not demand its own way (and) . . . keeps no record of wrongs." It seems to have worked, anyway. Twenty-six years so far.

Marti said...

That's good advice, Jill. I've heard others suggest asking, "on a scale of 1-10, how much do you care about this one?" Figuring out what I really care about - and what he really cares about - has been trickier than I had anticipated, though. Both of us have a tendency to act as if we don't have an opinion when we really do. Other times I do the opposite, from a fear of being steamrolled (or of my friends and family thinking I am). Have already found, though, that I really can find genuine contentment in something I wouldn't choose myself when I see it matters to or pleases him. That at least seems a reaction worth cultivating!