by Marsha Rakestraw

The other day my husband and I were discussing our frustration with the human race.

Nearly everywhere we looked (online and around our community), we saw cruelty, destruction, oppression, and casual indifference.

While our initial reactions were full of anger, despair, and frustration, we realized that it’s asking a lot of people to make more just, compassionate choices when they are asleep — steeped in what I call the fog of culture.

Often, whether the issue is political, personal, or global, we don’t even realize we’re asleep. We’ve been lulled into citizen somnolence.

We get so many messages when we’re growing up about how to be and dress and live and what to value, and we’re not taught to question any of it or to consider that there are other – and often better – ways of living.

Why do women wear high heels? It’s part of our culture.

Why do men wear ties? Why do we think it’s normal to sit in traffic for long periods of time?

Why do we think the way to peace is through violence? Why do we look to stuff to make us happy? Why do we love some animals and eat or wear or experiment on others?

Why are women sexualized to such a degree? Why do we put each other into categories and hate or love (or ignore) based on those artificial boundaries we’ve created?

We’re immersed as children in all these beliefs and messages and paradigms that most of us don’t consciously make a decision about — it’s what we’re raised to believe is “natural” and “normal.”

It’s not until we’ve awakened from this fog of what we’ve been taught is normal and natural that we can begin to ask questions and look for more meaningful and humane ways of living.

I am a poster child for the reality of the fog of culture.

I grew up in a small town in the Midwest, where I was taught to obey, not to think or to question; and I certainly wasn’t encouraged to pay attention to the impact of my choices.

I grew up inculcated in a paradigm that condoned racism, that promoted the exploitation of animals and the earth, that sought happiness through materialism, and that nurtured a religious view that was quite narrow in many instances.

It wasn’t until I went to a large college and became exposed to different ways of thinking and living that I began to realize that I could make different choices for myself — that I actually had any power over my own life.

It has taken years of cultivating my awareness to brush away the fog of culture, so that I can continue to see more clearly and make choices that are aligned with my deepest values.

And there are many areas in which I’m still “asleep.” Awakening further from the fog is a lifelong journey.

We can help create a humane world by using the principles of humane education to awaken ourselves (and help awaken others) from the fog of culture that permeates our lives, and by striving to make all our choices be conscious ones that reflect our hope for a compassionate, just, sustainable world.