Ignoring culture is why we have failed multiple times overseas
(Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan….).
Ignoring culture is why our race relations are poor,
the reason there is a class divide, and why we just cannot seem to get along.
Why we have lost our way and why we are disconnected from one another.
Culture provides a template for our lives and these templates are very different depending on where one’s ancestors are from; formed in different environments at different periods of history and with different goals.
We talk about culture a lot today, but often the lines are blurred and many times we fail to understand the depths of the concept. For many, culture is difficult to differentiate from one’s identity and we often conflate the two ideas.
Identity is a singular term made up of multiple layers that include a person’s nature, nurture, behavior, outlook, beliefs, values and motivations. Culture is the sharing and overlapping of multiple identities to provide a template of what is expected and accepted within a group.
Culture becomes an agreement; a creation of a “social contract” within which people create comfort zones. It is the foundation from which individual identity is created, regardless if the outcome is one of confirmation or deviation.
Culture is a layered concept consisting of two levels:
- Big C Culture – what a group creates (literature, music, art, clothing, food, celebrations) or the “what” of a culture
- Little c Culture – Why a group creates Big C culture. What they treasure, value and believe. How they feel, think or act in different situations.
When many cultures interact within the same environment we get “Intercultural Relations” and many times the initial meetings are not pretty. Intercultural relations cause friction, confusion and change: concepts many humans run from on a regular basis. We need assistance to bridge these divides because when multiple cultures interact we are dealing with different ways of thought; so deeply seeded within our minds that it is difficult to fully grasp unless face to face with the experience.
In our current day, we are growing quite familiar with the ability for people to see the same facts, ideas and/or concepts and come up with different outcomes and perspectives.
Often the differences arise from humans ability to turn off intuition and use our frontal cortex to put connections together. This power of ours allows for different ideas, concepts and viewpoints even when the information coming in is the same.
The more in common we have with each other, such as speaking the same language, can actually confuse the situation and can lead to a deeper level of frustration as we cannot understand why we cannot understand each other. This leads to a breakdown within the group and a separation within a community, or to put it plainly: our current environment.
It takes motivation, patience and consideration to “code-switch” enough in order to understand someone on the opposite end of the spectrum, and motivation, patience and consideration are in short order in today’s world. This is one of the reasons we have so much turmoil, frustration and pain in our society.
My partner and I experienced this throughout our decade-long courtship. We belong to an intercultural, inter-ethnic, interracial, and intersexual relationship, and that is only on the surface: I am an introvert, he is extroverted, I am sensitive, little bothers him, I like sweet he likes spicy… you get the picture. Today, I look at all of these differences with a lot of love because we have figured out the way to make all of this work. At its core, our relationship is based upon a love of anthropology, a desire to understand the human experience throughout history and at its depths, plus a huge dose of chemistry, respect and understanding…and, it doesn’t hurt that he is pretty hot.
Hot or not however, he is difficult to handle (as am I at times) and the amount of disagreements we have had over the years could fill Lake Superior. Thankfully, we were able to analyze these disagreements as we gained comfortability with each other (and because we matured!) and got to the point where we were able to easily compare, contrast and dissect all of these different attributes that made up both our identities and our cultures. This allowed us to fully live the experience of being with someone who thinks so differently and learn from it at the same time. We went to battle over everything: politics, religion, every aspect of American society, and even the importance of the yin skills like empathy and emotional intelligence (I won those battles at least, but it took a long time).
We discussed the merits and disadvantages of passive-aggressive or overt communication; how time, risk management, and expectations influenced us in our upbringing. We approached problems differently, and often disagreed on how to best use our strengths to build our life.
He looks at things from a stance of power, I work through problems from a more strategic position. He looks at the world as a place ripe for the taking, I strive to make the environment pleasant for all. Neither is better, but both are important and a blending of the two is powerful. We both started from our singular point of view, but learned the majesty in each other’s viewpoints and approaches.
This work allowed us to trust each other, and to fully combine to create our own unique culture. Very few barriers now exist, which makes us able to kid, be frank and even piss each other off because we are tied together by what we have created together. It belongs to both of us.
It is not only possible to understand other cultures and other ways of thought, it is possible to blend different cultures together into something new, to recreate a combined culture that can be balanced with aspects of all of our unique perspectives. This is what we must do together in our society in order to regain our footing.
We need to reconnect, relearn how to trust, and most importantly learn a bit of humility to allow us all to come together. With help we can dismantle our culture war and rebuild a shared culture that appreciates everyone and works for us all.
How do we do that? By first understanding ourselves. Make the ethereal concrete, define our culture, and fully understand why we are who we are. We really are at a point where we don’t have much choice or even much time left. Not doing this we will only continue to falter and fail. This is why the Essential Elements of life were created. To provide the explanations, information and tools to help Explorers find their way. The only way to the other side is through, and we can guide you in the right direction. We know it because we have lived it.
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