Globe_light TerreDeFeu2

A collection of articles about cultural belonging, home and migration

By Cecile Buckenmeyer, Jun 7 2018 04:46PM

Recently, I found myself discussing with a client the idea of experiencing life “like a sardine”. We had both seen shoals of sardines on the BBC’s Blue Planet II programmes and this felt like a good image to speak about “feeling part of” and “being carried by” a flow, an entity much bigger than ourselves.

Since this conversation, I have felt drawn to this image. I keep going back to it a bit like a sardine might briefly wander off and then return to the shoal again. This article is not about zoology or fishery, it is an exploration of the meaning that a shoal of sardines may evoke in the human Psyche.

When I spoke to my client about sardines (and it could have been about starlings), I was in fact thinking about the Tao – the flow of the universe and the idea of becoming one with the Tao. Having made this connection between sardines and the Tao, I am now curious to find out whether I can in fact learn something from the sardines about the Tao and other things.


First teaching: a sensory experience

The first teaching of the sardines is the gift of a vivid, sensory experience: if it was a sensation, how ‘becoming one with the Tao’ might feel like? Watching Blue Planet, one can briefly feel like a sardine, both animating and being animated by the shoal. Meditation is known to facilitate an experience of the Tao, of being in touch and in harmony with the world around us, but the sardines make me think of other human activities such as being in a choir or an orchestra. When a large group of people sing as one voice, they become a living, human shoal; they are not a collection of voices. The singers may feel – even if it is fleetingly – that they participate in something that is bigger than themselves. As listeners, we may also experience that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. What is precious about this moment of awareness is the contrast and tension about being only one person and actively contributing to the life of a group; of animating and being animated by the group.


Second teaching: tin or shoal?

Erich Neumann (1954, p.421-2) makes a clear distinction between group associations and mass associations where group is a living, creative “shoal” and mass is a meaningless collection of individuals. A shoal of sardines is animated by a meaningful instinct. A tin of sardines in contrast, is perhaps a good example of mass, of a situation which is fixed, constrained and somehow dead. People working at “hot desks” within large organisations – who may not know the people who sit next to them and may not have met the people they work with – may feel that they are more a mass than a group, like a tin of sardines. The potentially exhilarating and even ecstatic feeling of being in a shoal, of animating and being animated is absent.

As human being, we are designed to seek and create meaning. So when meaning is not naturally found through belonging to a group, we aim to create it ourselves. People may for example look for meaning through achieving some kind of outstanding performance. Noticeably, they look for meaning for themselves, which may be different from the meaning and purpose of their organisation. As long as I worked within organisations, I often found myself launching new projects, suggesting new strategies. This was exhilarating and of course pleasing to my ego, but it also created some tension or competition with colleagues. I often felt that I was not in a shoal, but on the edge of a shoal, somehow aiming to stir it in one direction or another. Other people may give up on the idea of creating meaning for themselves through their profession: they only experience ‘mass associations’ with colleagues, so they look for meaning elsewhere, outside of work.

The second teaching of the sardines is that the only way to find meaning is to experience it with others, as a group. We may have personal successes that give us some satisfaction, but not in a sustainable way. Meaning gained through personal successes requires that we keep on being successful and that we keep on achieving bigger things. This puts us under an enormous amount of pressure. This may be possible for a while, but eventually it become unsustainable, because we all age, we all go through difficult times and we all eventually die. The meaning gained through the shoal is the only sustainable one, because it goes on even when we are unwell, even after we die.


The third teaching: humility

What I particularly love about the sardine is that it is a small fish (in a big pond) and that it is one of many. The sardines exist as individual fish but they are defined by their shoals. Nowadays, we spend a lot of energy defining ourselves. This was bad enough when we had to re-write our CV once in a while, but now we constantly upload our profiles, status, pictures and updates on social media. Could we try to look at ourselves as if we were a shoal?

A Jungian colleague once told me how she felt the first time she attended a Jungian conference. She thought that she had over the years developed her own unique style but when she looked at other participants, she was shocked to notice that people didn’t only think like her, they looked like her! How unique are we really? Even people who seem to distinguish themselves, are distinguished for a short period of time: after a few years, many people don’t even remember the name of their former prime ministers or the name of some celebrity who seemed significant at the time.

What our ego experiences as significant is often barely relevant in the long-run. What matter are the movements we support, the ideas we develop (they are never completely ours), the children and family spirit we nurture. The third teaching of the sardines is a lesson of humility and an invitation to put less energy in trying to be unique and more in being “a part of”. Groups, families, communities are living, human shoals that survive the passing of time; and they are what civilisation is built upon.


Fourth teaching: individuation

Carl Jung developed the concept of individuation which can shed some light on the relationship between the individual and the group. Jung was aware that individuation could potentially be misunderstood as a form of individualism, so he clarified:

“As the individual is not just a single, separate being, but by his very existence presupposes a collective relationship, it follows that the process of individuation must lead to more intense and broader collective relationships and not to isolation.” (Collected Works Vol. 6, para.758)


Individuation is not only the process of getting in touch with our true self – the Self, it is a process of finding our place in the world, in other words, a process of joining a shoal. And the process of individuation doesn’t stop when we join a shoal, it only starts a new phase. As a member of a group, we continuously re-negotiate our relationship with the group as a whole and with individual group members. We are sometimes more active, sometime less active, sometimes visible, sometimes invisible: sardines don’t have a fixed place in a shoal.

The fourth teaching of the sardines is that our relationship to a group needs to move and change constantly for it to sustain the life of the group. This echoes Jung’s idea that individuation is neither an adaptation to nor a complete rejection of collective norms (Collected Works Vol. 6, para.758): sometimes we are at the core of a shoal, precisely following its movement; sometimes, we are at the edge of it, creating the possibility of a new direction.


Fifth teaching: culture as shoal

The fifth and at this point the last, teaching of the sardines is the mystery of what makes a shoal a shoal. When we look at a shoal, we can’t help being amazed and enchanted by its movement. This looks magical, but the magic is more in the instinct than in the movement itself: the movement of the shoal is the tangible, visible expression of a sophisticated instinct. What holds a shoal together is invisible; what makes group association different from mass association may also be invisible. An eclectic group of friends may look like they are not connected and don’t have anything in common, but they may share an interest or a history that binds them together in a meaningful way.

The invisible nature of what actually holds a group together reminds me of the invisible nature of ‘culture’. I like to think of culture as a “living myth”, shaped by thoughts, feelings, images and memories that give structure and meaning to our experience. One can see some tangible expressions of this living myth (the movement of the shoal), but the myth itself is invisible; it cannot be fully, meaningfully written down. It continuously evolves. The people who animate it, and are animated by it, change all the time too.

The fifth teaching of the sardines is an invitation to look for the mystery that binds us together in a human shoal – groups, culture, communities. The bond that we experience with other people and with our physical and cultural environments is not visible in an obvious way; and what we see doesn’t necessarily reflect the depth and complexity of this bond. The best and perhaps the only way to appreciate cultural experiences is to be somehow caught in them, to swim with them.



Clarification and conclusion

Before I conclude, I ought to clarify what I am not saying: I am not saying that any group is good. As a matter of fact, the most meaningful thing that one ever does may be to leave a group. And I am not suggesting that it is easy to distinguish between group and mass associations. We may for a long time belong to an organisation thinking that it is a group and only later realise that it is not.

Some of us may at times feel cut off from the creative flow of life. We may doubt that there is a living shoal out there for us. We may feel that there are irreconcilable differences between our personal and the collective values. Still, we are always part of the shoal called “humanity” and “Planet Earth”. This is the overall shoal, the Tao, the flow of the universe that we cannot not participate in.

The sardines have reminded me of how we crave to animate and to be animated by groups; they reminded me that meaningful relationships are essential to our individuation process. But what I most appreciate learning from the humble sardines is how the Tao can be approached as a sensory experience, in our daily contacts with groups and in our cultural experiences. The sardines make these concepts more accessible; they give an image that focuses the mind and helps us look more deeply into the mystery. For that and for the sheer joy of swimming around with them, I am very grateful.



Jung C. G. The Collected Works, Vol. 6

Neumann, E. (1954) The origins and history of consciousness, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press


By Cecile Buckenmeyer, Mar 16 2017 10:14AM

Culture is […] not about groups of people – the Japanese, the Americans, the whites, the Latinos; thus it is not the groups themselves that should be studied. (Handbook of Cultural Psychology, 2007)


When discussing cross-cultural issues or diversity, the temptation is to see people as homogeneously belonging to groups: “Japanese people”, “dyslexic people”, “people from ethnic minorities”. This simplistic approach is not supported by the latest thinking in cultural psychology, but it is commonly used in HR, training, policy making and in the media. It is also used by some of my Jungian colleagues who speak of “cultural complexes based on repetitive, historical group experiences” (Singer, 2004, p.22).

It is indeed very tempting to identify people with the groups they belong to. It makes our life easier to think, “Mr. Watanabe is Japanese, so I can approach him the way I approach other Japanese people”. Identifying people with groups – stereotyping – can also be used as an excuse or a power play: “He is Japanese, he won’t understand”.


Seeing people as members of well-defined groups helps us deal with the complexity of culture and cross-cultural relations. It is indeed demanding to think, “I have absolutely no idea what it will be like to meet this person”, every time we meet someone new; and so we unconsciously use our past experience as reference. As we identify people with groups, we try to establish something familiar in unfamiliar situations.


At this point, one ought to ask: do we also define ourselves according to the cultural groups we belong to? For example, does Mr. Watanabe, as a Japanese person, think of himself “I am Japanese” or “I am from Takamatsu, on the island of Shikoku”? It personally took me more than 10 years living away from France to start having an understanding of how French I was. Even now, other people may think, “she is French”, but I don’t define myself in this way. I have a sense of how my experience in France has shaped my identity, but that doesn’t mean that I feel I belong to the group of “French people”. In my experience in working with people from many countries, people don’t particularly define themselves based on their nationality or ethnic background. When asked, they may say, “I am French” or “I am Asian”, but subjectively, this is not what gives them a sense of their identity.


As I refer to cultural identity, it will be useful to go back to the psychological definition of identity. The psychologist Erik Erikson writes that our sense of identity is “experienced preconsciously as a sense of psychosocial well-being” and that it is “constantly lost and regained” (Erikson, 1994, p. 128). According to Erikson, our sense of identity constantly evolves as the people and the environment around us change. Group belonging, especially to groups as wide as “French people” or “black people” can therefore not give us an adequate, healthily fluid sense of identity. It is both too vague and too restrictive to reflect the subtlety of who we are and how we relate to our environment.


I can’t help noticing that group belonging is often used when dealing with political and social issues, sometimes for good reasons. Barack Obama, born to a white mother and a black father, says that he identifies with both sides of his family. When campaigning against racism and discrimination, he may purposefully identify with “black people”, but at other times, he doesn’t. Like him, when we temporarily and only partially identify with one group or another, our sense of identity is lost and regained and our unique sense of identity is formed. The danger lies in identifying too much and too exclusively with one particular group, leaving no space for self-reflection and developing our own sense of identity. This may have been appropriate in isolated, traditional communities, but in a multi-cultural environment, this leads to one-sidedness and potentially extremism.


Culture is not about belonging to groups, it is about being transformed by various people, places and shared experience. My French identity is not formed based on belonging to the group of “French people”; it is formed in the constantly evolving, emotionally-charged relationship that I have with France, the French people I know, and the many experiences and memories that I have of France. In Jungian terms, there may be a complex that structures and gives a particular feeling tone to my relationship with France, but this complex is not, as suggested by Singer, based on “group experiences”; it is based on a very wide range of experiences directly and indirectly linked with a place called France.


We may at times identify ourselves and other people with groups; but what matters is the constantly evolving relationship that we have with people around us, with places where we live and with our wider environment. When we approach culture as if it was about groups of people, we don’t only make a gross simplification – we entirely miss the point, because culture can only be found in the richness of emotions, experiences and memories which, stored in the depths of Psyche, form our personal story.



Erikson E. (1994) Identity and the Life Cycle. W. W. Norton & Company

Kitayama S. & Cohen D. (eds) (2007) Handbook of Cultural Psychology, New York: Guilford Press

Singer, T. and S. L. Kimbles (eds) (2004) The Cultural Complex – Contemporary Jungian Perspectives on Psyche and Society. London: Routledge



By Cecile Buckenmeyer, Nov 1 2016 10:58AM


The interview


On a September morning, in suburban Manchester, I meet Yoko and her two-year old son. We sit in a conservatory furnished with plain, Ikea-style table and chairs; I accept her offer of a glass of water. I came to interview Yoko about her experience of moving to the UK. She arrived four months ago. “My husband was sent to the UK for two or three years”, she says. When I ask her what helps her cope with this transition, she explains that food is very important for her and that, as long as the food is OK, she feels that she can live here: “If I can eat, I feel OK”.


A month later, at our second interview, we discuss what helps Yoko feel comfortable in the UK. She replies that she switches the Japanese TV on in the morning and listens to the news: “I don’t fall behind; I keep up with the Japanese news.” She also uses Facebook, which gives her a sense that she is in touch with friends. She does these things mindlessly, knowing that “they don’t serve any purpose for her life in the UK”.


When, two months later, I go for a third and last interview, Yoko is more confident speaking English and asking questions. She has been able to have short conversations with her daughter’s teacher. As we say goodbye, Yoko tells me that she has appreciated my visits: “I don’t have contact with people from outside the house. So, one week is long. I find myself waiting for Saturday when I can be with my children and husband. It was good to have a bit of change in my daily life. ”



Gaman vs resilience


Yoko’s story reflects interviews that I conducted with six Japanese women who recently moved to the UK ; it describes the experience of many spouses of Japanese expatriates. I was amazed by the level of gaman that these women show. Gaman is a typically Japanese attitude which combines patience, endurance, tolerance and self-denial. When a child feels cold waiting at a bus stop, his mother might say “gaman shinasai” - be patient, the bus will soon arrive. Equally, when a young employee is doing well but is not rewarded or promoted, their boss might say “gaman shinasai” - be patient, you will get a promotion in a few years time. When a Japanese trainee comes back to exactly the same domestic job after one year in Europe, they may also be told “gaman shinasai” - you had a nice time abroad, what are you complaining about?


Yoko is not told “gaman shinasai” by anyone. Her husband is very supportive and would listen to any concern she has, but like many people in Japan, “gaman shinasai” has become part of her personality. She has a strong capacity to be patient – to wait until the next Saturday or until she goes back to Japan. She is able to convince herself that as long as her very basic needs are fulfilled – as long as she can eat – she feels OK.


Expatriates and their families need to be tolerant when in a foreign country. Often, they just need to “get on with it” (another good translation for gaman): an expat in Japan needs to swallow the odd sea slugs; a Japanese expat in Europe needs to bear the occasional sight of people blowing their nose in handkerchiefs… They need to have reasonable expectations – there are always difficult moments and disappointments.


But it can be counter-productive to have too much gaman, especially if it stops people wanting to improve their situation. In addition to the stoical tolerance of gaman, expatriates need (and can never have too much) personal resilience. I define resilience as ‘what you still have when you feel that you have lost everything’. It is made of self-esteem, self-confidence and a capacity for self-care and self-development (Al Siebert, The Resiliency Advantage). Whilst people with gaman readily sacrifice today for the sake of (a hopefully better) tomorrow, resilient people are able to make today as tolerable and as enjoyable as possible, despite difficult circumstances.


Gaman helps people survive, which is sometimes all they can do: eat, drink, find shelter. But too much gaman can mean, like for Yoko, locking oneself away from “people from outside the house”, holding on to old habits that “don’t serve any purpose” and living a shallow, unfulfilling life. Developing resilience involves recognising a broader range of needs and recognising one’s own skills, strengths and many other resources that can help people make the transition from gaman to enjoyment.



インタビュー


9月のある午前中、マンチェスター郊外にあるヨウコさんのお宅を訪ねました。ヨウコさんは、2歳の息子さんと一緒に私を出迎えてくれた後、イケア風のシンプルな家具が置かれたサンルームに私を通してくれ、お水を出してくれました。ヨウコさんを訪ねた理由は、駐在員の妻としてイギリスに来た経験について話を聞きたかったからです。渡英は4カ月前。イギリス赴任は「2、3年の予定」と言われて来たそうです。この環境の変化にどう対処しているかを聞いたところ、一番重要なのは食べ物で、食べ物さえ何とかなれば生活していける気がするとのことでした。「食べられれば大丈夫です」とヨウコさんは言いました。


それから1カ月後、2度目のインタビューで、イギリス生活を過ごしやすくするうえで何が役に立っているかを聞いたところ、朝、日本のテレビを入れてニュースを聞くのだと話してくれました。「遅れないように日本のニュースを聞いています」。フェイスブックも、友達との距離感を感じないようにする効果があるとのことでした。でも、単に気を紛らわせるためにしているのであって、「私のイギリス生活にとって何の意味もないことは分かっているんですけど」と話してくれました。


2カ月後に3度目のインタビューに行くと、英語で話すことや質問することに対し、以前よりも少し自信ができた様子でした。娘さんの先生と短い会話ができるようになったというのです。そして、別れ際に、私の訪問に感謝している旨を伝えてくれました。「家の外の人と話すことはないんです。なので1週間が長くて。土曜日が来るのを待っている感じなんです。土曜日になれば子供や夫が家にいますから。そんな毎日の生活に少し変化ができて良かったです」。



我慢とレジリエンス


この「ヨウコさん」とは、イギリスに比較的最近引っ越してきた日本人女性6人にインタビューして聞いた話を私が総合して作り上げた典型的な人物像です。つまり、多くの駐在員の妻の体験談を物語っています。この女性たちの我慢のレベルに、私は驚かされました。「我慢」は典型的な日本の態度であり、忍耐と辛抱と寛容、それに自己否定が一緒になったものということができます。バス停でバスを待っている時に子供が寒いと言えば、お母さんは「我慢しなさい」と言うかもしれません。もう少し待てばバスが来るからと。同様に、若手社員が良い成績を上げているのに昇給や昇進がない場合に、上司は「我慢しなさい」と言うかもしれません。あと数年すれば昇進するからと。また、研修生という身分でヨーロッパに駐在した日本人社員が、日本に戻って以前とまったく同じ仕事に戻ったならば、やはり「我慢しなさい」と言われるかもしれません。海外で楽しい時間を過ごしてきたんだから、何の文句があるのかと。


ヨウコさんは、誰かに「我慢しなさい」と言われているわけではありません。旦那さんはとてもやさしく、ヨウコさんの悩みにも耳を傾けてくれます。でも、日本人の典型に漏れず、「我慢する」が性格の一部になっているのです。ヨウコさんの辛抱強さは感心に値します。次の土曜日まで待てば、日本に帰るまで待てばいいことなのだから。そして、ごく基本的なニーズさえ満たされていればいいのだと、自分に言い聞かせているのです。それが、「食べられれば大丈夫」なのでした。


駐在員とその家族は、外国にいる間、寛容を余儀なくされます。多くの場合、単に「慣れるしかない」のです(これもまた「我慢」の別の言い方です)。日本にいる外国人の駐在員は、気持ち悪いナマコのようなものを飲み込まなければなりません。ヨーロッパにいる日本人の駐在員は、ハンカチで鼻をかむ人の光景に耐えなければなりません。そこで、穏当なレベルの期待を持っている必要があります。耐え難い瞬間やガッカリすることは必ずあるからです。


でも、あまりにも我慢をしすぎるのは、建設的ではありません。特に、状況を改善したいと思わなくなってしまう場合に、それが当てはまります。我慢というストイックな寛容に加えて、駐在員には、しなやかな強さが必要です(これはいくらあっても「過剰」ということはありません)。英語で言うとレジリエンス。私はこれを、「何もかも失ったと思える時に、まだ自分に残されているもの」と定義しています。この折れない強さを形成するのは、自尊心と自信、それに自分をいたわる包容力と自己開発の能力です(Al Siebert著『The Resiliency Advantage』より引用)。我慢のできる人は、明日のために(願わくばより良い明日のために)今日を犠牲にすることができます。一方、しなやかな強さのある人は、難しい状況にありながらも今日をできるだけ楽しみ、それほど悪くない一日にする力を持っています。


我慢は、生き抜くうえで役立ちます。食べる、飲む、寝る場所を確保する――。実際、それが精一杯という状況はあるものです。でも、あまりにも我慢をしすぎると、例えばヨウコさんの場合は、「家の外の人」から自分を切り離して閉じ込めてしまい、「何の意味もない」昔の習慣にしがみつき、深みのない満たされない生活を送ってしまうことを意味しかねません。しなやかな強さを付けるには、もっと幅広いニーズがあることを認め、自分のスキルや強さを認識して、「我慢」を「楽しみ」に変えるのを助けてくれる他の様々なリソースがあることを知らなければなりません。



By Cecile Buckenmeyer, Jun 8 2016 11:47AM

After 20 years as a cross-cultural advisor, I still wondered what ‘culture’ meant. A well accepted definition is “a pattern of thinking, feeling and potential acting” (Hofstede, 2005, p. 2), but this didn’t mean much to me personally; it didn’t describe my subjective and psychological experience of culture. In 2013, I decided to write my Diploma thesis using my personal and professional experiences on the subject of culture. I interviewed six Japanese women who had moved to the UK in the last year about their experience of cultural adaptation. This process entirely changed my perspective on culture, but also on the meaning of home. In this article, I will briefly introduce some of my findings.


The Japanese women I interviewed did not relate to the idea of a “Japanese culture.” Rather, they recalled specific experiences that were emotionally charged and created a meaningful bond between them and Japan – or more precisely, between them and the particular place in Japan where they came from. These experiences included “a pattern of thinking, feeling and potential acting” (e.g. “in Japan, it’s the Japanese way. Without talking, we know what others are thinking”), but also many sensual experiences: the “smell of burning grass,” the “colour of the sky,” the “taste of home food,” etc. I started to think that subjectively culture was a range of experiences that occur in a particular place.


I then reflected on my own relationship to places and culture: as a French national who has lived five years in Japan and the last sixteen years in the UK, what actually makes me feel connected with these cultures? When I am in France, I appreciate drinking a typically English cup of tea; it allows me to maintain a sense of connection with the English culture that I now (at least partly) identify with. When I am in the UK at Christmas, I like to make the typically Alsatian biscuits that my mother used to make. It isn’t typically French, but it is how my family used to celebrate Christmas. In both cases, I re-create experiences associated with particular places, which give continuity to my sense of identity. Through these cultural elements, I assert that wherever I am, I am the same person.


One tends to think that culture is about tangible elements such as tea and biscuits, as well as a group’s accompanying values, norms, rituals, but psychologically, it is perhaps more about places and the continuity in one’s relationship with places. My hypothesis is that culture is a range of experiences that symbolise our relationship with particular places: the typically English cup of tea and the Alsatian biscuits are symbols of my relationship with places in England and France that are meaningful to me. They help me create continuity and maintain a sense of identity. I am aware that this definition emphasises “place,” but I feel that it is necessary in order to compensate a prevalent perception in our modern world that culture exists regardless of place. Some expatriates and migrants can for example delude themselves that wherever they relocate, their culture comes with them; but often their children find it difficult to form a cultural identity. As we become increasingly mobile, I think we need to recognise that culture is rooted in places and that relocating inevitably changes our cultural identity.


Japan taught me a lot about place – about focusing on “this place” and “this moment.” There is for example an expression in the Zen tradition which literary means “one time, one meeting (一期一会).” It emphasises the unique quality of each place and each moment. Shinto shrines also encourage a focus on place; they invite visitors to become aware of Kami (神unknown, hidden spirit-souls) that dwell in particular places of interest.


Kami are both many (“8 millions”) and one; they are both individual entities and parts of a whole. They dwell in the sacred areas around shrines, in objects of worship, but also in trees, stones, mountains, rivers, and occasionally people. Some shrines are dedicated to popular Kami, such as Inari, the Kami of fertility, rice, agriculture and industry; but in each shrine, people worship a particular form of this Kami, which can only be encountered in one particular place. One could say that they don’t worship “Inari”, but “this Inari.” The presence and the benevolence of Kami should not be taken for granted: it is by walking through a large wooden torii gate at the entrance of a Shinto shrine, by climbing steps, by walking through the forest, by being open to the beauty and energy of the place that surrounds the shrine and having a “reverential attitude with a feeling of awe” (Yamakage, 2006, p.75) that one may experience the presence of Kami.


When we pay our respect to “this Kami”, we engage with the spirit of the place and form a bond with it. We form an internal representation of the place and, as with transitional objects, something of our psyche is experienced in the place itself. This process involves a reduction in psychic resistance and a lowering of consciousness. It can happen willingly, but it is often triggered by illness, accidents or synchronistic events. Jung in Africa was for example never as close to the spirit of Africa, as when he suffered from a form of dengue and dreamed that a black man was making his hair “kinky” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, 1995, p.302). The thought of “going black” frightened him, and he was determined to return to Europe; but during his illness – when his psychic resistance was weakened – he experienced the beginning of a participation mystique with Africa which could have started the process of making it his home.


As we have a “reverential attitude with a feeling of awe” towards place, we willingly reduce our psychic resistance and encounter its spirit. We may become infected by collective, unconscious elements – we may “go black” and our hair may become “kinky” – but this is necessary to make a home: a place becomes a home when we allow ourselves to be transformed by its spirit.


When I first visited Shinto shrines in my early twenties, I had an inflated idea of being a citizen of the world; writing my thesis helped me realise that home can only be in one place at a time. As I continue to drink English tea in France and eat Alsatian biscuits in England – my psyche looks for ways of creating continuity, but I have become more aware of the potency of the place where I happen to be. I know that I need to greet the local gods and to ask myself: do I have enough of a “reverential attitude with a feeling of awe”?


Hofstede, G. (2005). Cultures and Organisations: Software of the Mind. 2nd Edition, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY

Jung, C.G., Jaffé A. (ed), (1995). Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Fontana Press, London

Yamakage M. (2006). The Essence of Shinto, Kodansha International, Tokyo, Japan


Fushimi Inari Shrine near Kyoto
Fushimi Inari Shrine near Kyoto

By Cecile Buckenmeyer, Nov 5 2015 09:45AM

The history of the Koh-i-Noor can help us reflect on what happens when we move to another culture. The Koh-i-Noor invites us to think about “what is seen?”, “what is not seen?”, “what is kept?” and “what is lost?”.


Following the conquest of Punjab by the British Forces in 1849, Queen Victoria was given a large diamond by Duleep Singh, the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire. The diamond, called the Koh-i-Noor (“the Mountain of Light”), was once known as the largest diamond in the world. The Queen received it as a gift, but it was also a spoil of war. The following year, the diamond was exhibited at the Crystal Palace in London to a huge crowd, but it didn’t “satisfy”. The Times reported:


For some hours yesterday there were never less than a couple of hundred persons waiting their turn of admission, and yet, after all, the diamond does not satisfy. Either from the imperfect cutting or the difficulty of placing the lights advantageously, or the immovability of the stone itself, which should be made to revolve on its axis, few catch any of the brilliant rays it reflects when viewed at a particular angle.


The diamond was the valued possession of Rajas and Sultans over of period of at least 600 years (5000 years according to the tradition), but it “didn’t satisfy” the British crowd. Under Prince Albert’s supervision, it was decided that the diamond should be polished. During 38 days, using a steam powered mill, the diamond was cut from 186 1/16 carats (37.21 g) to its current 105.602 carats (21.61 g) to increase its brilliance. At the end of the process, Prince Albert was said to be still dissatisfied with the results. The diamond was mounted on a brooch worn by Queen Victoria and it was later set in a crown worn by Queen Alexandra and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.


The Koh-i-Noor, in its new, polished form, has only been worn by women, following the Hindi tradition according to which


He who owns this diamond will own the world, but will also know all its misfortunes. Only God, or a woman, can wear it with impunity.


Not surprisingly, this forced gift, which went through rejection and an unacceptable level of “polishing”, still tears India and the UK apart. As recently as February 2013, it made the headlines as the British government ruled out handing it back to India.



What is seen and not seen

The diamond didn’t “satisfy”; its beauty was not seen by the British crowd or Prince Albert. The people visiting Crystal Palace didn’t have any personal associations with the Raja and Sultan of India. They were probably unaware of the diamond’s history, and even if they were, this history was not subjectively meaningful to them. They saw the diamond as an unpolished rock whilst for India, and especially within the Sikh community, it had a very wide range of meanings.

When moving to a new cultural place, we often don’t immediately see its beauty, but equally, people may not see ours. We have to go through a process of “polishing”, to attune ourselves to each other. To truly see the beauty of the people, places, situations that don’t belong to our Umwelt, our Umwelt needs to expand.


What is lost

42% of the Koh-i-Noor’s weight was lost in the process of so-called polishing. This transformation rendered the Koh-i-Noor very precious to the British people, but it has not given them an opportunity to expand their world view. They only saw its beauty when it was cut according to their tradition. I think that moving to a new cultural place and adapting to it, can also be the cause of a great loss. The cost of “making oneself seen by the other” can be high.

To take a very simple example, learning foreign languages is one of the many ways to be “polished”, to make oneself seen and acceptable. It generally allows the expansion of Umwelt through the understanding of new concepts, typical of a particular place, but this skill has a cost: we may be comfortable speaking several languages, but we will probably never be as comfortable speaking our native language as we used to be. Over the years, our native language becomes only one of the languages that we can speak fluently.

There are many other ways through which we adapt to a new cultural place, but it seems that something always gets lost. At times, the new place and its people force their “polishing” onto us, at other times, a survival instinct seems to lead us to “polish” ourselves. The question is: can we still be ourselves once we have been “polished”?


What is kept?

The only element of continuity in the history of the Koh-i-Noor is its “curse” against men who would want to wear it. The “curse”, something of the essence of this diamond, has been seen and respected by both nations. Despite all the polishing and changes in external appearances, this aspect of the Koh-i-Noor is kept – it is preserved, over time and across cultures.


Koh-i-Noor before 1852
Koh-i-Noor before 1852
Koh-i-Noor after 1852
Koh-i-Noor after 1852
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