Library Research Notes #32
Before I get started this week I wanted to give shout-outs to a few of the people who helped me work out ideas this month. Conversations are a critical part of learning new things and without Amie, Kelly, and Kathy, I would still be sitting here typing from my old vantage point. Being a white, child-free, woman gives me a skewed perspective of the world and I thank them for helping me work out some of the kinks in my chain of thoughts.
Also, thank you to my Mom, Dad, and Chaz, who are (almost) always able to calm me down when I am riled up by (so many) things that are happening in the world and are willing to talk through solutions or, at the very least, clarify the conversation. And to you, my lovely reader, I have to extend a great deal of gratitude. Without you clicking on that link to read my writing twice a month I would have probably quit this project months ago. Just seeing that you open the email makes it all worth it.
Things I learned this week
Thôi nôi - the Vietnamese first birthday tradition that includes offerings, prayers, gifts, and a choosing ceremony where the 1-year-old is presented with 12 items to choose from, determining their future profession. Overall, the celebration is meant to celebrate the first year of life, good fortune, luck, and happiness for the child. As far as the choosing portion of the celebration is concerned, there is a similar tradition in Chinese culture, called Zhuazhou.
Unfortunately, there were very few details online about thôi nôi, but I did find this video that gives a bit more information about this important Vietnamese tradition.
While researching , I came across another Vietnamese tradition that resonated with me specifically because it deals with infant mortality and souls, and Italians are notoriously superstitious in this area as well. In fact, I would say that cultures all over the world have traditions that ward off ‘evil’ spirits from infants because of the high rates of mortality that have always been part of birthing babies.
In Vietnam, this tradition is called Ngày Đầy Tháng and it is celebrated at 1 month. During this celebration a babies name will be revealed and it is believed that since the soul is sealed and not as easily taken by the spirits, good things can now be uttered about the child. Prior to 1 month, saying things like “aw - they are so cute” would be believed to alert the spirits and put the child’s soul at risk.
Italians also believe that it is bad luck to celebrate a baby before or shortly after they are born. In fact, some Italians (like my paternal grandmother) believe that having a shower for the baby before birth will invoke the malocchio (evil eye) and cause issues with the pregnancy, birth, or general health and well being of the baby once born. Again, these traditions appear to harken back to a time in Italian history where infant mortality was quite high and superstitions sprang up around why babies were not surviving their first months or years.
I hope you learned something new today, because I certainly did. If you think you have a friend who would enjoy learning new things as well, please share…
And now on to the main topic…
Each person has identities that are a fixed part of who they are as a human. As people grow and change, our identities can shift. Some we keep while discarding others. There are, of course, identities that we cannot discard, such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, and age, but the majority of identities that we incorporate are fluid. And then there are group identities, one such being political affiliation. As I discussed in the previous post, political affiliation is a type of identity that indicates “sameness”. It allows one to feel an affinity with others who hold the same beliefs and share a worldview, which is the essence of a group identity.
The same can be said for other affiliations, such as religion, education, and profession, but for this post, I’m going to focus solely on political identity. I believe that this particular identity can turn harmful quickly, as witnessed by the upsurge in violent actions committed by members of the (former) Tea Party movement. Understanding the pull toward political group identity can give us clarity of the situation and possibly help us find ways to mitigate future harm. This, at least, is my hope.
But why do we need to see political affiliation as a group identity, rather than just an affiliation? Because in many cases, and this seems to be the case with the (former) Tea Party, members internalize the dynamics of the group they identify with and this internalization becomes so powerful that it can lead individual members to actions they would have never taken on their own. They move through the world not just as individual humans, but as members of a movement. They no longer see it as just a group but as an important part of their life. And this becomes dangerous because when political affiliation is personal it means that people in the movement will be willing to do many dangerous things in order to forward their worldview over all others.
At some point in your past, can you remember joining a group and then changing the way you behave based on the other members of that group? It may have been subtle, or you may not want to admit that this has ever happened, but most people have or will experience this phenomenon within their lifetime. Even those of us who feel like loners or vanguards can be sucked into the dynamics of a group and begin behaving differently than we would have imagined.
For some folks, joining a group is what gives them the ability to act differently. They look for a group that will allow them to become someone else and then they go for it. Again, this might be subconscious on the part of the participant, but it is still a dynamic that exists that allows us to give up our autonomy and become one with the collective.
In either case, whether one is conscious of the change or not, a change does occur each time we gather in groups as humans. There are a multitude of studies that show how people change their behavior to fit in with the status quo. But, if the group is detrimental to the well being of it’s members or of others in society, these types of group dynamics can be unhealthy. This is what has happened with the polarization of our politics in America. People who are members of the far right and far left (and these folks often meet on the far side of politics in general) have become so invigorated in recent years that it is becoming an issue.
Group identities that cause harm
One such group that we have discussed in previous issues is QAnon. I hate to bring them up too often, but I think they are a good test case for this type of political group identity that has become harmful. It is one thing to watch Fox News and agree with the pundits, but once you have gone down the rabbit hold of Q conspiracies, you are really in a place that is hard to come back from. The dynamics are so toxic, that it is almost impossible to get back to where you were before you committed to the group. Q followers will use multiple excuses for why the prophecies extolled by the ‘leader’ have not come to fruition. They follow blindly behind a person that they don’t even know and it has led them down a path of ruin.
As reported in Forbes last July, at the time, “37% of QAnon believers [would] reject the Covid-19 vaccine”. This, alone, was cause for alarm and I don’t have good stats but I can guess that a great deal of those that did not get vaccinated were also not masking since that was something that the government (which they do not trust) was asking of them, and most likely led to sickness and/or death from Covid-19. This is truly sad, preventable, and all about group identity. Believing in something so strongly led them to do harmful things to themselves and others all for the good of the group.
Conversion therapy advocates
In the Ryan Murphy/Netflix documentary, Pray Away, several of the former members of the Exodus International group discuss the ex-gay movement and the parts they each played in it. During their affiliation with the organization, they were identifying with other members in a way that made them do harm to people they claimed to love. They believed they were starting a movement to save gay people from harm, but they were continuing the rhetoric of the far right, Christian conservatives that have been pulling the strings all along. They believed in a shared identity of being an “ex-gay” and it pushed them to continue a cycle of abuse. By the time they had realized their error it was too late. The movement had taken on a life of its own and continues to this day in conservative churches and through young people still convinced that who they are, a part of their identity that is essential, is wrong.
From individual and group identities, we can see where the idea of an ideology springs forth. When you feel something so deeply that you identify with it and incorporate that identification into your being, you have cultivated an ideology. Ideologies are worldviews that we embrace in a way that moves us in specific directions in life. Sometimes these ideologies are positive and sometimes not, but they are hard to shake off. If you know someone that is heading down the path of an ideology that you think is harmful, letting them know that you are there for them is the best way to help. Unfortunately, information is not always the key to changing minds.
What? An information professional telling you that information isn’t always the solution? Well - yeah - sometimes people just have to learn on their own about different things and when something is as strong as individual or group identity, no amount of information can break the cycle. Knowledge might be power most of the time, but in this case, just being available to listen and not let them stray too far away is the only recourse. Still, having the information handy when they ask you for it isn’t a bad idea either!
As usually - if you made it this far you deserve some GOOD NEWS!
Brooklyn is awesome…
…and their library/librarians aren’t too bad either.
Playwright Neil Simon’s papers go to Library of Congress (abcnews.go.com)
Danville Public Library Welcomes HUMAN LIBRARY this Saturday (vermilioncountyfirst.com)