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Obvious

It was just one of those round-the-dinner-table conversations at first. We’d started by talking about Dr Ludwig Guttman, the originator of what is now the Paralympics, and how, when he’d first arrived at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, it was considered ‘obvious’ that nothing could be done for patients with spinal-cord injury other than wait for them to die. A very different picture now!

We moved on from there to other ‘obvious’ things, and how whole cultures can be organised around them. The obvious is part of the cultural air that we breathe: so obvious that we don’t notice it’s there.

For example, my mother talked about how, as a young girl, it was obvious that because she hadn’t brought an evening-dress with her to her relatives’ house, she couldn’t possibly eat at the dinner-table: a maid would bring her supper up to her room instead. It was obvious that you couldn’t eat at a restaurant without a dress-suit: that’s why the separate sub-culture of the ‘grill-room’ developed, for travelling professionals and the like – and, for my mother, a wonderful escape from the ubiquitous cultural rules of the time.

It was obvious that everyone should write only with their right hand – not easy for my mother, as a natural left-hander. It was obvious that the upper-class were your ‘betters’, to whom you would always give way; it was obvious that workers would be unable to do anything on their own, without a manager to tell them what to do. It was obvious, too, that no woman could ever be competent at medicine – a cultural assumption that made my mother’s professional life that much harder throughout her career as a family-doctor.

Geography can also play its part in the ‘obvious’ of a culture. It’s obvious that ‘clockwise’ goes the same way as the sun – except that it doesn’t in the southern hemisphere. It’s obvious that Christmas is a winter festival – which, again, it isn’t in the southern hemisphere. It’s obvious that all Muslims must fast from sunrise to sunset throughout Ramadan – which is problematic for those Muslims who live beyond the Arctic Circle, because there is no sunset there at that time of year.

And there’s the infamous black swan, of course. All swans are white – that’s obvious. So obvious, in fact, that in many cultures the swan is the obvious symbol of purity, the very essence of whiteness, and so on. Hence a bit disconcerting to discover, down in the southern hemisphere again, that the indigenous swans there are black…

It’s often a bit of a shock to discover that the ‘obvious’ isn’t – which means there’s usually also a story there, too. What are some of your own stories of this, in your family, your community, your business? Where was it that ‘the obvious’ ceased to be so obvious? When, and with whom? What happened? What were the triggers for that event? What lessons were learned from this?

Capture these stories in your Zahmoo story-bank – and use it to share again with others ‘the shock of the new’.

Image credit: Black Swan – Cygnus atratus – Svartsvanur — Whooper Swan – Cygnus cygnus – Álft by omarrun under a Creative Commons BY-2.0 licence.

August 31st, 2012 by Zahmoo
Filed in: For Business, For Community, For Family
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