Xenophobics Anonymous (Diversity 101)

Diversity has some crucial foundation stones, and the idea of welcoming and including others into your life is one of them. David Sretenovic serves up some morsels from applied linguistics and parenting his toddlers, to give a message of hope for lovers of diversity.

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Over the years I’ve gained some expertise in Applied Linguistics, and there’s one particular concept which stands out head and shoulders above the rest; for me, it’s possibly more powerful and worthy of attention than any other in the field. And I think it holds some of the keys for unlocking and harnessing the depth of human diversity. It is captured by the term “an additive environment”, in the sense of “more value, quality and information” being introduced. In its original usage, an additive language environment contrasts starkly to an environment where another language, or even culture, is undervalued to the point where it gradually atrophies and eventually disappears. Here in Australia, it may come to as a shock to my friends that nurturing an “additive language environment” may in fact be an historical weakness for us as a nation, considering the hundreds of languages that have become extinct since Europeans arrived… but many of us are keen to reverse this uncouth trend! And every time someone uses the word “diversity”, they are echoing this sentiment of historical reversal. When we call for diversity, we are calling for inclusiveness of others… but walking the talk wasn’t easy when Europeans first arrived, and it ain’t easy now. But read on if you love the ideas of diversity, community, inter-generational connection and reciprocal respect.

Inclusiveness. It’s inclusiveness that gives us access to the gold mine which resides within our neighbour (in the biblical sense). But the reality is that living inclusively is hard; moreover, it requires a paradigm shift away from the “fluffy” and “rainbows and candy” slogans which governments and the media use to depict diversity and multiculturalism. It’s so easy to share a meme which lampoons anti-immigration, or to vote for the political party which is welcoming refugees…even go to a candle-light vigil. But including these foreigners, and carrying their burdens… understanding their culture and appreciating which parts of it are sacred. Getting to know why they struggle. Visiting their ghettos and being confronted by the violence in their worlds. Man, that’s life-interrupting stuff. It takes time, effort, money and Saturdays. Public holidays. Sacrifice. Oosh.

I find myself struggling to include my kids sometimes. Well, actually, sometimes I struggle to include anyone but me. Don’t even mention my long-term, Aussie next-door neighbours… let alone the indigenous community on the outskirts of town. The refugees being resettled locally are way down the subconscious priority list – most people ought to admit that to themselves. It’s like step one at AA. I think Australia needs to go to an AA type meeting over this, actually. Xenophobics Anonymous? XA we can call it… hmmm, that’s a bit weird, maybe XO? Yeah that’s better: Hugs’n’kisses Anonymous. And we can advertise it with free beer! I’m being tongue in cheek, of course, and a little harsh too (Australia is awesome!)… but a bit of fair dinkum introspection can go a long way.

Now, although I’m as selfish as any other bloke, I do think I have applied the right idea with my kids from time to time. My daughter, Andje (3 years of age), and Jet (2 years of age), will be sitting and playing beautifully: giggles, interactive banter and intelligent imagination – such a delight to a parent’s ears! But then Jet might pull her hair a little too much. She’ll react, and he might not stop yanking. This spirals into raised voices, shrieks, banging … I’ll be holding back from intervening in the hope they can mediate for themselves. But inevitably sometimes they need me to provide some scaffolding. I’ve pondered what the best forms of intervention are and I think there’s a qualitative difference between these two interventions:

  1. “Jet, stop pulling your sister’s hair!”
  2. “Jet, listen to your sister… she’s upset.”

There are variations on these interventions, but the latter has captured my imagination because I feel like I’m shifting the focus away from me, and onto them. It’s no longer about stopping the screaming (so I can get back to what I was doing, or even to stop Andje’s discomfort). It’s now about engaging with the kids and making this a moment of personal growth and care for one another: I am actively mentoring Jet; Jet is being directed towards empathizing; and Andje is being listened to. Our day’s activity becomes less about an external goal and more about our relationship, shared experience and making space for each other’s very different worlds.

I’ve had to lay down what I’m doing more. I’ve had to let my Saturday plans go sometimes. I’ve had to give up some career ambitions. Oh man, but to see my children’s eyes widen with the discovery of each other and themselves… to see them enjoy the sense of family in all its diversity: it’s so worth it.

To me inclusiveness encapsulates the ethos of an additive environment: adding the priorities of others to your own life without sabotaging yourself. Sure it takes time and energy, and a meaningful sacrifice in order to include the young, the old…those with different languages, strange cultures. But there is a way you can do this without excoriating your own identity and values, or expecting them to either.

Ye Shall Know the Truth and it Shall Frustrate the Bleeding Life out of You

In this blog, David Sretenovic takes the reader to that fork in the road where, in daily routines, you have a choice as to which truth to speak. Captain Obvious swoops in like Superman to do his thing too.

“Well, thank-you, Captain Obvious!” Have you ever heard someone say that? It’s said with a double dose of sarcasm, sometimes in jest but other times with spiteful disdain. (If you haven’t come across this colloquialism, it’s directed at someone who has made an unhelpful and unnecessary observation about something which is plainly clear to all present.) Sometimes it amounts to being told, “Make yourself useful for a change, would you?”

I had a funny thought though (go with me for a second):  isn’t Captain Obvious telling the truth? Doesn’t the “truth set you free” (according to the popular, biblical maxim)? Soooo, if Captain Obvious were a Superhero, then telling the truth would be his super-power… that would make him the greatest liberator of all the Superheros! I’m being silly of course, but to be honest I know people – often religious, preachy folk – who actually think that that’s the way it works. Unfortunately it’s not: simply stating something which is true doesn’t miraculously liberate someone. Moreover, it seems to be a largely unappreciated reality that some truths are simply not worth stating. In fact, in any given circumstance, there are always multiple truths on offer (and you can’t say them all!). Developing my perspective here, I’d like to point to two of the more important truths which present themselves in any given circumstance, one of them being pertinent particularly for the Christian Believer.

I face the choice over and over – and marriage circumstances, particularly arguments with Wifey, spring to mind – as to which truth to speak, to harness, to thrust into our discourse. Something has gone wrong in the home: perhaps a child was disappointed because their favourite pyjamas were unwashed for bedtime; perhaps dinner preparation was left too late and the whole zoo rioted – and I am locking horns with her. I know I am right, and I can retell the story for her, stating each excruciating fact, exactly as it happened. In brutal prosecutor fashion, I could piece together the machinery of her failure so no judge or jury could deny my case. (As an aside, I’ll point out that such an approach, brimming with factuality and truth, tends to have to the objective of putting the blame onto her and off me). But, as a Believer who is possessed by the Holy Ghost, I always have another truth ringing in my ear. “Your wife,” He says, “is a Queen, a gift to you, blameless before Me, and achieving exactly what I have intended for her in life, and in your marriage. She is a holy saint, made exquisitely and perfectly, for you and for Me, and her words right now are emissaries from my throne. I, your God, am speaking to you, David, through her! She is Love to you, right now! And what she did in causing this present disappointment looks to you like a habit and a character flaw which you cannot justify or overlook, but this is not her true character; her true character, in Christ, is peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control… just as the Bible says.” For me, in that moment of heated quarrel, both of these are absolute truths. And at that instance, I can only choose to say one of them. The question is: which one is more helpful? To make this point more generalised: in any situation, you can either state the observable truths, or the gospel-driven, spiritual perspective. 

What I believe is a great challenge of life, and indeed a blaring reason for our need for God and the Holy Spirit, is to be able to make the right choice of which truth to be uttering at the right time. And this is my exhortation: choose the best truth you can at every given moment! Choose the best truth that YOU can see! There is no moral obligation or coercion (on pain of post-life culpability before the Great Judge, as some imagine it) to take one or the other, just simply choose that one which is your best and dearest! Choose it now! Choose it later! Choose it every day, for every person, in every circumstance! Choose the best truth you know, and speak it. 

And THAT, my friend.

THAT will set you free.

Peace.