This is the third post in a series; if you haven’t yet, read the earlier posts:
Something that everyone must struggle with to varying degrees is working out how much of their identity and character is inherited from the surrounding culture. The reason it’s so important to struggle with this is because I’m convinced that every culture gets things wrong, but when you are in the middle of the culture they don’t look wrong – so you can be unknowingly carried along with what everyone else is doing, even when it’s a really bad thing to do. Of course, it doesn’t usually feel like you are being carried along – it usually feels like you are following the desires that you yourself want as an individual – but that’s because your culture is at least partly responsible for planting many of those desires in you, so of course they feel like they are yours.
This is evident to anyone who looks at history (or even other cultures in the world today) and wonders how people in other cultures can be so stupid. I mean, take the slave trade. (Forget for a moment that slavery is still a modern problem, it just gets given a different name – “human trafficking” – and it isn’t officially endorsed by governments. It’s still just as real. I’m referring right now to the institutionalised relocation of people with particular racial identities, selling them to others for financial gain and then forcing them into labour and inhumane living conditions.) We look back on the slave trade and wonder, “How could people ever think it would be morally justifiable to own another human being and deprive them of their basic human rights?”
But to say this is to ignore the pervasive influence of culture. The culture (for instance, in the United States) of the time accepted this as a given, and it was unusual to think otherwise. When this assumption was challenged, it was met with (literally) violent opposition. As you can see, our cultural context has a far greater influence upon us than Western post-Enlightenment individualism would have us believe (which is ironic, since Western post-Enlightenment individualism has itself had a massive cultural impact on the society that we live in).
So what does this have to do with becoming a head teacher? Well, my cultural identity is bound up in my “generation” (Gen Y, for anyone who’s keeping score at home). Gen Y is renowned for refusing to grow up and take responsibility. My generation is famously filled with man-sized boys who prefer to live at home into their 30s playing video games while their mothers do their laundry and cook meals for them – rather than moving out, getting a job and starting a family.
It took me a long while to realise this, but I began to see that part of the reason why I had resisted becoming a head teacher for so long is because I was doing the Gen Y thing: saying to myself, “That job is for someone else – just leave me alone and let me keep doing the thing I’m enjoying.” To be sure, there were other reasons why I didn’t want to become a head teacher, but at least some of it was this selfish thing that my generation is so good at: refusing to do the hard thing and take responsibility for something beyond my own personal comfort.
One of the funny things that all of us do in one way or another is look down on others for doing exactly what we are doing, so long as it is different enough to us so that we can distance ourselves from it. So we might mock those who earn twice as much money as we do and live in obscenely extravagant and wasteful ways, but the people who earn half as much as we do would say we do exactly the same things but on a smaller scale. I was looking at others who weren’t growing up and taking responsibility (especially with regard to family life, an area where I am relatively advanced for my age) and scoffing at them – not recognising that I was doing exact the same thing, only in the professional sphere.