Understanding our situatedness, blowing up assumptions

What are the things your brain has been conditioned to believe as “true”? What should you re-examine, pull apart and re-assemble with intention?

Today’s moment of reflection is brought to you by the word: situatedness

It’s a compelling phrase used in research, anthropology and philosophy that calls out the importance of recognizing the power of perspective. 

Situatedness is the notion that our own experiences (historically, culturally, familially and personally) dramatically shape the way we interpret and respond to the world around us—and that to understand and impact the world around us, we must look outside of our own perspectives to understand the ‘why’ behind others’ perspectives and behaviors.

This awareness and sensitivity to the motivations of humans plays a big role in what we do at Black Sheep—and is a critical exercise to evaluate your own pre-dispositions and embedded beliefs as you navigate your daily life. What are the hidden narratives that inform your personal, religious, social and political beliefs? 

I recently returned to school because Imissed spending my life writing long-form essayswanted to go deeper into understanding how humans understand the world around them and can be moved to take action on things that matter to them. This past semester, I participated in a cultural studies course in the Harvard Divinity School on fostering religious literacy to lay the foundations for a more peaceful global community. And, holy shit, was it intensely informative about my own pre-disposed attitudes and perspectives.

So… religion. Weird that I’m bringing it up, maybe? The thing about religion is that it’s not just “religion” like… where do you go to church on Sunday or what did your parents make you do on Easter Sunday growing up? Religion is deeply embedded within our culture and influences many (MANY!) of our deeply rooted assumptions about each other and the world.

These embedded beliefs, in turn, influence voter decisions, policymakers and the overall cultural experience at large which keeps our shared society moving forward, stuck in a rut or moving backwards. Those deeply held thoughts that define our situatedness influence our behaviors in ways we can’t even understand until we start unpacking them and getting uncomfortable. 

Think of some of the things you “know” to be true or not true: the trustworthiness of the police, the personal morality of women who use birth control, the coarser and finer points of your religious practices, the role that government should play in specific social issues, your feelings towards the immigrant community… 

Just knowing that those embedded assumptions exist isn’t enough. We have to continuously challenge our own personal biases that impact the way that we relate to the world around us and seek out the root causes and stories that drive the communities fears, dreams and needs that we want to activate too. 

It’s in this unpacking and understanding our personal and community situatedness that moves the needle when doing work and starting movements aimed at changing hearts, minds and behaviors. 

We must uncover and hold close a burning curiosity about “THE OTHER”. It is my belief that the language of situatedness invites this curiosity and lets us move past our initial fears (of how things have always been, what truly shapes us and what we have to change to make the world better) as we scratch beneath the surface… past the racy, blood boiling headlines in the news and past the normative assumptions that kick cycles of structural, cultural and direct violence into the world.

We must be especially attentive to those that frighten us. THEIR context matters, their perspectives are also shaped by powerful experiences—just as ours are. 

There is beauty in “THE OTHER”. We each interpret life differently, our understanding of the world is based on a myriad of experiences and stories told to us early on in life. Putting peoples’ beliefs and actions into context based on their family history, regional politics and military conflict, their general cultural upbringing and family socialization—all of these things shape our perspectives.

Everything we see, hear and understand is shaped through the lenses we look through, whether we know they’re there or not. But now we know and now we need to ask ourselves:

WHY do I feel that way about a particular religion or community? HOW do I really feel, when distancing my thoughts from my previously embedded beliefs?

WHY does my religion, nation or cultural tradition feel a certain way about a social issue?

WHAT are things that I believe to be infallible, who told this to me and what might be the greater truth? And why would someone in another community disagree with that?

There is nothing inevitable about violence or peace, nothing accidental about building a better world. And the first step to either is awareness — then activation. Opening up, getting uncomfortable, questioning it all and then linking arms together as we step forward. 

Katie Laird