“Well come home and break a few rules with me!”
Those were the words of comfort from one of my best friends when I was lamenting the rule-oriented and risk-adverse German culture.
The truth is that I have spent most of my life as a rule breaker and risk taker. A big part of my identity is based on taking risks, like moving to foreign countries.
But what happens if the risk we take put us face-to-face with the things with which we are most uncomfortable?
I struggle to find a balance between being myself, a risk-taking American, and fitting into this new society within which I have chosen to make my life. Despite being culturally aware, I feel uncomfortable losing myself in order to completely integrate into a new society.
The stereotype of Germany is a country of bureaucrats. I think that the reality is a lot more subtle than that. From what I have seen, Germany is a country that values the safety and security of its people. It is hard to argue that safety isn’t a good idea.
Safety is what allows me to walk home at night without fear; it is what allows me to have health care for an affordable price. Yet, it is this idea that security is paramount that creates a wall blocking innovation and new creative ways to do the same old thing.
Sometimes, a new idea comes crashing through the noise and maybe it’s a mistake but maybe it’s genius. I am the type of person who takes that new idea and runs with it. In fact, I have written much of myself in the mistakes I have made, and yet, I feel that if I want to fit in with German culture, I must risk less, break fewer rules and worse of all for this self-proclaimed rebel, conform.
Perhaps, none of us are meant to fit fully into any culture, even our own. Perhaps the very act of living a life is a small rebellion from which we create our own identity. Perhaps the lessons I should learn here in Germany are not about an all-consuming conformity, but about finding a balance between my own identity and the rules of the world.
In fact, maybe that’s what it is all about, finding balance in a world of extremes. As Elizabeth Gilbert wrote, “The madness of this planet is largely a result of the human being’s difficulty in coming to virtuous balance with himself.” In this mad world, maybe balance is the lesson we all need to learn.