What do homeschool buzzwords, political mantras, and music styles have in common? They all reflect the dynamics of a shared culture.
Familiar rituals and recurring phrases can be comforting, motivating, and even inspiring to those in the know, but one downside to the friendly familiarity of accepted ritual is that—for all the coziness and sense of belonging it can offer to those on the inside—a culture of “inside jokes” can tend to exclude those on the outside. While it can be great to build a sense of community by using shared anecdotes, rallying cries, similar ideas, and typical ways of doing things, it’s also wise to consider how welcoming we are to outsiders and how open members of any particular group are to those seeking to join in the fun.
This fall, I’ve had the privilege of attending a weekly Bible Study hosted by a local church. It’s a great chance to enjoy fellowship, prayer, worship, and good teaching with other godly women, a structure that I really need to hold me accountable. Best of all (for me): the fact that free child-care is offered (thank you, kind nursery volunteers!) provides an oasis of peace in my otherwise frenetic schedule.
The worship songs chosen tend to be more contemporary than those I am typically used to, but I don’t mind swaying to the music and enjoying the lyrics, even if I don’t know the words or the tune well enough to join in. I can worship quietly and in the privacy of my own thoughts. But one chorus I did recognize from my childhood days, and I quickly joined in at full volume, flooded with memories of attending my parents’ Shepherding Group and singing along with their guitar-strumming friends.
The music that I know—whether the “old-fashioned” choruses from my parents’ Bible Study days, or the traditional hymns I used to sing in church, or the classical music I grew up listening to, or any of the new genres I grew to learn and love as a young adult—is familiar and comforting to me, and it evokes a certain feeling of peace and belonging.
It’s no secret that music can have a powerful effect on behavior. In the same way, catchphrases and mantras can also be powerful in shaping dialogue and rallying enthusiasm to a particular cause.
Political rhetoric is a prime example. The more extreme demagogues may find great success “preaching to the choir.” But unless they can expand their message to reach beyond those who already agree with them, they’ll never win over outsiders to their point of view. Collecting high fives from the party faithful is a far cry from persuading newcomers to join the cause. That’s why I, personally, tend to eschew bumper-sticker philosophy in favor of the much harder path of actual social engagement, which involves listening, reasoning, and thoughtful contemplation.
Homeschool jargon is another example of this dynamic. Those who grew up in the homeschool community or are otherwise invested in the movement can talk glibly about the pros and cons of the Montessori Method, the relative merits of Unschooling, the best homeschool support groups, which curriculum the state leaders favor, and so on.
But it will probably be overwhelming to the hapless friend who just wants to know whether she might be capable of teaching her kids. Hopefully, our conversations should reflect the happy fact that you don’t need all the textbooks, workshops, seminars, and other expensive trappings in order to teach your children; you just need a servant’s heart and a passion for giving your kids your best (isn’t that basically what all parents want, anyway?).
It’s great to be enthused and informed about our life choices. But as tempting as it can be sometimes to get caught up in the minutia of getting all the details right, we should be careful that our passion for a good cause doesn’t translate into a sense of alienation for those on the outside. Bringing people together in a common cause requires patience, acceptance, and a friendly attitude. Not everyone will want to join me on every journey, but I can make my chosen path accessible by welcoming everyone with an open heart and mind.
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; all other images courtesy of Rose Focht.