In several social studies classes in high school and college, my teachers and professors would inevitably broach the topic of culture: what it means and what role it plays in shaping our individual actions and historical events.
The textbook definition of culture is generally unsatisfying. It incorporates elements like beliefs, behaviors, traditions, etc., but I haven’t found a single definition that truly captures what a culture is.
It’s more useful to talk about examples of culture. There is certainly an “American culture” that becomes apparent when you travel abroad. You can distinguish between East Coast and West Coast American culture if you spend some time on both sides of the country. Every company or organization has a culture. Think of what it would be like to work at a tech startup vs. a law firm.
While we don’t choose the culture we grow up in, most of us have a large number of options when it comes to joining cultural groups. You have a choice of where to work, where to live, who your friends are, what church to go to, and which intramural sports leagues you play in.
However, most of us don’t think of our choices in terms of choosing cultures. We think in terms of finding a dream job or dream place to live. We think about who would be the most fun to hang out with and which sports would fit our schedule.
But what if we did start factoring “culture” into our decision-making? What questions would we ask?
Here are a few that come to mind:
- What cultures or cultural groups do you belong to?
- What behaviors or attitudes have you adopted as a result of being a member of these cultural groups?
- Which of these behaviors or attitudes do you feel hold you back from leading a meaningful life? Which of these behaviors or attitudes do you find helpful?
I’ll be ruminating on these questions a bit more over the next few weeks.