Friday, May 30, 2014

Guest post: The Habels of Adelaide - Social Chameleons

My brother Chad has agreed to do a guest post for me here, which is cool. I don't know about the photo of me with a mullet, though. But seriously, Chad, thanks for digging that one out - nobody believes me when I tell them I had a mullet (and liked it) even before they were called mullets!

When I meet people from overseas (particularly the US) they are often surprised at the lack of mobility Australians experience. In the US it is extremely rare for someone to grow up, study, and then work in the same city: it is a rite of passage, almost expected, for people to move across the country several times for study, work, and family. However, it’s also possible to move a long way and still stay in the same physical space.

The Habels of Adelaide, back in the day (circa 1988)

The danger of immobility is being locked into one social group and not broadening one’s horizons with the challenge of meeting new people in new contexts. This is the classic ‘stuck in the village’ syndrome of the pre-industrial era, which people escaped by moving to big cities for work. Many people will know that the three of us (Cullen, Kirrily, and Chad) grew up in the northern suburbs of Adelaide and despite plenty of travel all over the world continue to work and raise families in this City of Churches. It’s a pretty great place to live.

The three of us these days, absurdly backlit

However we are lucky that our strong upbringing and the support for us to follow our dreams has given us the interpersonal skills to mix it with almost anyone from any background. Linguistically this is known as code-switching: the ability to take on the spoken habits of people from other backgrounds. When Jamie Lannister is caught on the road by enemy soldiers, he speaks like a commoner to disguise his upbringing; when Trainspotting’s Sickboy finds himself in court, he speaks ‘up’ to appear more respectable. His friend, Spud, is not so adaptable, and ends up in prison.

It seems that we three Habels (well, two plus a Burton) are uniquely placed in a moment of social transformation, able to adapt to various social settings with confidence and grace: not only to fit in but put others at ease in our presence. This has helped us all in our academic and business pursuits, but only really came home to me the other day when I was flipping between working with tradies and meeting with high-end solicitors in the same day, for my new venture (which has just launched an Indiegogo campaign). This can be a double-edged sword – belonging is elusive – but it does have its benefits.

There are those from both sides of the tracks who aren’t so lucky.

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