We spent the last month in Mexico and one of the first things we noticed was random people came up to pinch our baby and pick him up out of the stroller. We were thinking, “Who are these people? Don’t they know how to ask permission?” Little did we know that the whole time we were there would be one big cuddle fest for Axel. Waitresses, baristas, and women of all sorts would come and squeeze his cheeks or his feet and take him to go show their friends.
Sometimes they would steal him when I wasn’t looking. This one time a barista even said “Hey! Look! My coworker is stealing your baby!” They weren’t really stealing Axel, it was just their habit to come look after the babies. A few guys did this too, not just women. The whole thing got me thinking about the cultural differences between Mexico and the US. One of the big ones being the US is an individualized culture and Mexico is community oriented.
We stayed in a legit Mexican barrio—complete with chickens and Mexican polka playing all night, packs of roving Chihuahuas, and a raging drug war. Our neighbor was missing two of fingers from a knife fight and had his mom and his girlfriend living with him in the little house that he built from palm fronds. Contrast this multi generational communal living with the separateness of the American suburb—make sure you put up a tall fence so you can’t see your neighbors.
How much of our need for self expression is from our culture of individuality? Even in my business, which is adventuring. How many great adventurers come from community-oriented cultures? None that I can think of. Our individualistic society does help drive startups success in America—we all believe we can create something from nothing and save the world and become a billionaire on the way.
I heard about this one island culture where if you get money, you have to give it to everyone in your family and your neighborhood. So they really are disincentivized from earning any extra money.
Here is another story I heard from a local about this family in Bali. This family made a ton of money, perhaps even millions USD, by selling off their ancestral rice farming land to a resort company. They were back to being dirt poor within a few years because they spent all the money on big religious ceremonies and celebrations for their family and neighbors.
Obviously there are benefits to both types of societal structures. In a community-minded culture, you don’t end up with the isolation and depression common in individualist societies. Did you know that the average man in the US has 350 Facebook friends but only 1.3 close male friends? That is a surprisingly small amount! That means some guys probably have none. Why? Do we have a crisis of intimacy among men? Certainly close male friendships are something you really have to work hard to maintain. Perhaps our individualistic culture prevents guys from getting real and being vulnerable enough establish deep friendships.
Since I’ve become a parent, I’m hardly spending any time with my friends any more. I’m so focused on my business and the baby that I hardly get out of the house. I could be out right now, but I’m writing this article! When I do go out for social time, I try to make it in a big group event like a group bike ride or Ultimate Frisbee game or networking event. When I do to the networking events, usually I’m speaking or leading a workshop, so people will come up and talk to me afterwards and be my friend.
Obviously there are seasons of life and sometimes you have to disappear for a while to get big things done and raise your kids. Your single friends without kids might think you are no fun. I don’t feel so bad because my single friends are all crotchety people who got old too soon and don’t like to have a good time anyway.
One thing I’m committed to is being emotionally intimate with my son and that means I need to learn how to share with him things that I am feeling strongly about—the bad and the good. This could be a problem because I don’t like to get uncomfortable and that’s probably exactly what it will take.
Spending time in Mexico made me realize, or remember, that American culture is not the only framework for an effective society. Before I had my son, I didn’t really help or notice other people’s kids, but now I find myself interacting with them all the time. This article has been brought to you by the Mexico Board of Tourism. Just kidding! But you should visit, there is never a dull moment.
Photo: Getty Images