I just finished watching the Netflix series Fat, Salt, Acid, Heat with Berkeley based Samin Nosrat. In an article* in The Guardian, she credits her Iranian upbringing, particularly people pleasing - "...ta’arof, the Iranian etiquette that prizes hospitality over all else, no matter the cost, as a way of keeping face." - for success in cooking but also it's pitfalls. At 38, Nosrat says she is still trying to disentangle herself from the web of ta’arof. “The people-pleasing and performing is 100% ingrained in me, partly because I was a little brown girl growing up in a very white, homogeneous community in San Diego – where in second grade I was called a terrorist. [I thought] if I’m good, kind, welcoming, whatever enough, [they will] accept me.”
Being able to adapt and quickly assimilate can give you a learning edge at work, at school and in social situations. Many of us come from cultures that encourage this behavior as an indicator of respect and etiquette. Oftentimes, we instinctively do this for safety reasons-it can be dangerous to be yourself outside of your home; if you are an immigrant, child of immigrants, queer, black or brown skinned or visibly different this may sound familiar.
But these same skills that have helped you gain acceptance, safety and success can also hold you back when it over functions. In the process of pleasing and accommodating others, you may be forfeiting your right to be your true self or to accept your differences as already good enough from the start. Do you find yourself withholding your opinions? Maybe you find yourself saying, "I don't care." or "Whatever you want is fine." These can be indicators that it's time to find your sense of self again. You may have to remind yourself often that you are already good enough.
Living within our historic framework of hierarchy, colonialization and institutionalized marginalization contributes to this condition and I want to appreciate the extra effort required to be up for this task. While we can't escape the burden of systemic oppression, we can allow ourselves on an individual level to be free from self oppression. The more we cultivate individual permission to accept ourselves, the easier it becomes to navigate a healthier dialectic of being our true selves while also being our best selves in relation to others.