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.
Culture or Identity?
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.
Layers of Culture
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. Perceived commonalities (such as sharing a language) often confuse us even more as we cannot understand why we cannot understand each other. We need assistance to bridge these divides and only by understanding what is really going on will we be able to fix our current situation. Intercultural Relations can help us find the answer.
What is happening?
When multiple cultures interact we are dealing with different ways of thought. Our brains are actually working differently, seeing different patterns and solutions to fix our shared problems. Coupled with the ability to turn off intuition, this power allows for different ideas, concepts and viewpoints even when the information coming in is the same.
Historically, when things were much more separated, this wasn’t as much of an issue. People could live their daily lives without having to constantly justify why they thought they way they did. However, today’s world is much smaller. In our ever diversifying environment, 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. This causes friction, and can grow to become dangerous. Confusion like this leads to breakdowns within groups. Misunderstanding causes separation within a community.
Motivation, patience and consideration are necessary to “code-switch” enough in order to understand someone on the opposite end of the spectrum. Unfortunately, motivation, patience and consideration are in short order in today’s world. A lack of these concepts contribute heavily to the overwhelming turmoil, frustration and pain in our society.
Building a Shared Culture
My partner and I experienced this throughout our decade-long courtship. Belonging to an intercultural, inter-ethnic, interracial, and intersexual relationship is difficult. Many who live these realities struggle to the point of exhaustion. These differences between us are only the start. I am an introvert, and he is extroverted. Little bothers him, but I am extremely sensitive. 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. We went to battle over everything: politics, religion, every aspect of American society. Even the importance of the yin skills like empathy and emotional intelligence were debated. (Thankfully, I won those battles, but it took a long time).
Sharing our Souls
How did we get past these differences? First, we needed to make the conscious decision that we were going to do this together. Second, we needed to gained comfortability with each other. Lastly, we needed to mature. Over time, and a lot of discussion, we were able to compare, contrast and dissect all of these different attributes that made up both our identities and our cultures.
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 of these ways are better. Both are important and blending the two ways of being is powerful. Starting from a singular point of view, and learning the majesty in each other’s viewpoints and approaches helped us gain an unmatched sense of control over life.
Hard work pays off
What was our prize for all of this hard work? Initially, a level of comfort. A place we could call our own. A gameboard where we could that played by our shared rules. Shortly thereafter, this comfort zone became a circle of trust. Trust allowed us to commit to each other. Finally, over time, we were able to create our own unique culture. Our home. These conversations allowed us to fully understand each other and our shared journey started to become fun. Experiencing someone who thinks so differently became our shared puzzle, one we could learn from and grow with. 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.
Finding Our Way
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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