Friday, January 29, 2010

The Things We Know For Sure

The American Declaration of Independence refers to certain truths as ''self-evident,'' and with that statement endeavoured to indeed make them so. It is my personal theory, though, that humans are hard-wired to hold some things to be self-evident without even realizing it, which is why I love the term so much.

I'm embarrassed to say it's taken me far too long to get past my self-righteousness and stop judging the local ways of doing things -- or at least to realize that people are only doing what they truly, deeply believe to be correct. Since the instant I arrived in Turkey, for example, one sweltering August day three-and-a-half years ago, women have been telling me to wear some kind of undershirt or badi (body suit that snaps shut under the crotch, much like a baby's onesie) under my t-shirt, so that if I bend over and my bare lower back is exposed, I won't catch cold.

Likewise, I'd always noticed that Turkish children seem to be over-dressed, to the point that they must surely be sweating under all those layers. Now with a baby of my own, I have been criticized more times than I can count for under-dressing him and putting my son in danger of catching a cold. I've discussed this with Turkish friends and doctors, and they agree this belief is a problem -- over-heating is far more dangerous for a baby than being a little cold.

Yet no doctor can seem to convince these women otherwise; one doctor even told me that some mothers prevent him from undressing their babies for a proper physical examination, so afraid are they that the baby will freeze. And I must add here -- we are on the Mediterranean, where even in the depths of winter, it doesn't get below zero degrees Celsius!

The list goes on: my cleaning lady actually prefaced her erroneous advice by saying in a hushed tone that she knew the doctors would disagree, but I should ignore them and listen to her: giving my 3-day-old son sugar water would prevent jaundice. One woman told me onion produces breast milk, another bulgur. Another told me to bind my baby's legs tightly to ensure they'll turn out straight.

My response over the years to these Turkish people has ranged from snooty aren't-they-ignorant trash talking behind their backs, to exasperatedly trying to explain the error of their ways. Neither of which I'm proud of. I eventually got to the point where I am now, which is simply politely nodding. Most of the time.

But what I've only recently come to realize is that these people are simply passing on what they truly believe to be self-evident; they cannot fathom that their knowledge may be incorrect.

And to make matters worse, it's dawned on me that I too may be wrong about some things! I went into my delivery convinced I wanted an epidural. A few days later, though, I watched Ricki Lake's documentary The Business of Being Born, and realized that I'd based that decision on a one-sided presentation of how births should be done, namely the North American medical industry's point-of-view.

One's culture clearly has the ability to instill deep beliefs that one holds as self-evident and doesn't question. Which leads me to ask, what else may I be wrong about?

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