Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Tiger\’s Rebirth

By Thomas Kochman - 04.05.2010

One characteristic of U.S. culture that seems to distinguish U.S. culture, as any Law and Order TV episode can attest, is when crimes and misdemeanors are committed, how quickly and easily we lose sight of the victim, devoting almost all of our attention to understanding what’s going on with the perpetrator instead.

That seems to fascinate us as a culture not only because that’s the story that the media trades on –in this sense, feeding upon what’s already out there— but also because it resonates with our attitudes towards punishment and redemption, in the latter case, our belief in the capacity of people to rise from the ashes—Phoenix like—and renew themselves – putting their past behind them socially as well as spiritually.

The situation with Tiger Woods is a case in point. In today\’s interview Woods continued to express contrition about his infidelity, about straying from the principles he said his parents raised him by. “I lied to a lot of people, I deceived a lot of people,” he said. “I rationalized. I kept a lot of people in the dark. I even lied to myself.” At the same time, \”He was stunned by the positive reaction he got on the course as he practiced at Augusta. \’The encouragement I got, it blew me away.\’\”

Other class-based and communal societies,especially those that are honor and shame based and where the reputation of the family is of primary importance, do not take individual social or personal transgressions that lightly.

I remember reading a brief autobiographical account in the \”Lives\” section in the Sunday NY Times magazine by someone named Galvan, whose family, 500 years earlier, were the universally scorned official tax collectors in Ireland.

When he went to a pub in Ireland recently he was treated with great hospitality –until he mentioned his name.

I don’t know which is better: more accountability or less. People who don\’t forget or forgive, or those that can\’t remember and are quick and ready to make amends.

Whatever the case, it is important to recognize where different cultures and societies stand on this issue.

In societies where individuals cannot forget, the past continues to live in the present. And the only way for individuals and their families to escape the effects of the past is to start over elsewhere.

The best place to do that, of course, is in the U.S. where, owing to individual freedom and self-determination, people can invent and re-invent themselves, not only once, but over and again.

On the other hand, freeing ourselves from the past too often leaves us disconnected from it, resulting not only in loss of knowledge but a failure to take responsibility for things that happened under someone else\’s watch. What does it mean to say that, because something happened in the past, it must be over and done with, especially when the impact of what happened then is still being felt now?

So what\’s your take on what the right approach is?

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