culture

3 Blind Spots of American Culture

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For people who have lived abroad, returning home can be shockingly difficult. Around 70% of people returning to their home culture will experience Reverse Culture Shock in some form or fashion.[1] Reverse Culture Shock can be defined as:

The emotional and psychological distress suffered by some people when they return home after time overseas. This can result in unexpected difficulty in readjusting to the culture and values of the home country, now that the previously familiar has become unfamiliar.[2]

I spent a year abroad in Hungary. After returning to my home culture, I realized my perspective on life had changed. I was different, my family was different and my friends were different. When I began adjusting back to life in America, I noticed three blind spots about American culture.

Whether you have lived abroad or have never stepped foot on a plane, these blind spots affect our lives and as we bring them to light a new perspective can be born within us. Here are three blind spots we experience in American culture:

Productivity and busyness offer a fading light that keep us distracted from the darkness of our own hearts.

1. Individualism.

We’re all sinful people living in a fallen world. One of the results of the fall is what Martin Luther called Incurvitas in se, or an innate condition in which all humanity is curved inward on oneself. Our natural tendency is to be concerned with the unholy trinity of me, myself and I. As if this weren’t damaging enough, in America, the reigning philosophy of our day is: You do you, I’ll do me. In work, play and leisure we try to stand apart and above all others. We’re told only “I can define myself” and that our uniqueness and individuality are what make us valuable.

Yet the more our culture pursues individuality, the more confused our culture becomes about identity. Social media has only added fuel to the fire. Over 69% of Americans daily use social media.[3] Though such outlets can be utilized for good, all too often we abuse them for selfish gain. For Christians, the error of individualism could very well be defined as the filling of oneself with oneself. When considering how to deal with individualism, we must remember the example of Christ who though he was in the form of God did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8 ESV).

2. Taking things for granted.

As Americans, we are blessed to live in a free country with a wide array of choices in almost every aspect of life. We have our pick of restaurants, education, medical help and the list goes on. Because of living in such an affluent country, we have become accustomed to chasing after the idea of “something’s better and I must have it.” Little by little we purchase and consume more items than we need. In 2007 alone, 50% of storage renters were storing items that couldn’t fit in their homes, homes of which were almost doubled the size of homes 50 years prior.[4] Over the years the number of storage renters has only grown. Americans love to shop and store up the latest trends and fads. Consumerism in effect has consumed us.

Little by little, we begin to take for granted the options available to us and do not even realize that while we are sipping on our choice of a $5 latte or buying our 5th dress of the month, someone in Venezuela is unable to find medical necessities in their local pharmacy.  Though we are blessed with the ability to take care of ourselves and indulge in our wants, let us not forget the widow and the orphan.

3. Productivity at the expense of rest.

Americans are obsessed with productivity. One article states that over 200 million vacation days go unused by Americans per year.[5] We constantly feel the need to be creating something, emailing someone, improving ourselves, finishing a project and the to-do list goes on and on. Our self-worth has become intrinsically connected to our level of productivity. People in American society are deemed valuable, worthy or important based solely on what they have to offer. If one has nothing to offer, then is she or he even worth our time?

A deeper spiritual reality is going on here: We want to ignore the fact we cannot save ourselves and we have limits. Productivity and busyness offer a fading light that keep us distracted from the darkness of our own hearts. Perhaps there’s a reason the most “productive” cities in America also have the highest rates of suicide attempts among high school students who feel as though they cannot measure up.[6]In the midst of the demand for more productivity in American culture we must remember the words of Jesus, “Come to me all who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

Take time to savor the moment and rest.

Solutions to the Blind Spots

So what should we do with these blind spots? How then should we live? First, we can go deep with those in our community. Get involved; seek the well being of the group and the success of others. From the example of Jesus, we can empty ourselves and love others. How can you serve your neighbor today? Recently, I’ve relearned that exiting out of social media, putting the phone down and reaching out in person to a friend can really go a long way. We can slowly begin to retrain ourselves to communicate better with others and in the long run seek unity within our church, our friendships and our families.

Secondly, we can go with generosity and thankful hearts. As believers we can use this amazing opportunity we have in America to be generous to those around us. The nations are coming to us nowadays which leads to a unique opportunity to care for those in need. James 1:27 says,

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit the orphans and the widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Let us be generous in our communities rather than keeping to ourselves. Who can you invite over for supper? With spring here in our midst, it is a perfect time to do some Spring-cleaning. What can you take out of the closet and donate? What room can you begin de-cluttering today? What are you taking for granted today, that you can be grateful for instead?

Finally, go slow. Take time to savor the moment and rest. Put the phone down, take a deep breath, survey your surroundings and just be with the people around you.


[1] https://iss.ku.edu/reverse-culture-shock-1

[2] https://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/reverse-culture-shock.asp

[3] https://www.adweek.com/digital/pew-research-center-fact-tank-january-2017/

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/magazine/06self-storage-t.html?em&_r=0

[5] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/30/unused-vacation-costs-workers-66-billion-in-lost-benefits.html

[6] “The Secularity of Busyness.” Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It, by David Zahl, Fortress Press, 2019, p. 9.

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Samantha Couick

Samantha Couick is from Wake Forest, NC and is a student in the College at Southeastern working to complete her degree in Global Studies. At Southeastern, she met her husband and they have now been happily married for over a year and a half. Samantha spent time living abroad as an English teacher, is the founder of Globally Noted and serves at Warren Plains Baptist Church alongside her husband, Brad.

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