Don’t get the wrong impression: A candid convo for the culturally self-conscious

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about my seven-day stint wearing glasses and how I’m less self-conscious when people are out of focus. If I can’t see them, it’s like they aren’t there, and if they aren’t there, I can’t care what they may be thinking about me.

But there’s another kind of self-conscious that goes deeper and has more to do with how people see you in a cultural sense.

Example: I’d say I drive a nice car. If I go to the ritzy mall in town, I feel like I’m one of the regulars, but if I drive through a low-income neighborhood, I feel like I stick out. I imagine someone on the street thinking, “There goes a spoiled, rich white girl with daddy’s money.” Even though “white girl” is the only accurate bit.

As a Christian, I’m also aware of how people view my faith. If they see me wear a cross necklace, do they assume I need a crutch of faith to lean on? Does my general good mood give the illusion that Christians are always happy and carefree? Did that hypocritical statement falsely represent Who I follow?

Or what about the way people see me when I’m thumbing away on my iPhone? I could be typing out a grocery list, sending an encouraging text, responding to a work email or reading a daily devotion, but maybe all people see is another self-absorbed American with her face in her phone.

Where would your mind go in these situations?

For me, part of being self-conscious is wondering if people are jumping to conclusions about you. I doubt anyone likes that feeling, but it takes effort to afford others the same respect.

Just a couple weeks ago, as Pete and I walked the dogs, we saw three young guys walking down the street together. My first thought was that they were probably up to no good. They looked to be different races, so it wasn’t a race thing; it was more of a slow-paced walk, saggy pants, kept-looking-back thing.

But … maybe I’m wrong.

It was great weather, so maybe they were out for a stroll. Maybe they were chatting about something serious going on in their lives or waiting for a parent to pick them up. Maybe one of the guys was even self-conscious about what his neighbors were thinking. Who knows?

I do know that heightened self-awareness tends to happen around people who aren’t like you, which is a shame since that often keeps us from addressing snap judgments and insecurities between cultures. Perhaps if we had those conversations, we’d be less judgy and more at ease.

So how about you? What situations make you the most culturally self-conscious?


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