I. What Is Culture?
First, what is culture, anyway, and how do we humans
acquire our cultures? A good working definition is the following: Culture
is the learned
and shared knowledge that specific groups use to generate their
behavior and interpret their experience of the world. It comprises beliefs
about reality, how people should interact with each other, what
they “know” about
the world, and how they should respond to the social and material
environments in which they find themselves. It is reflected in
morals, customs, technologies, and survival strategies. It affects
how they work, parent, love, marry, and understand health, mental
health, wellness, illness, disability, and death.
Much of culture
resides only in people’s heads; thus, it is invisible
and sometimes hard to detect. One way to understand culture is to
think of it as the “software” of the mind. Essentially, individuals
are “programmed” by their cultural group to interpret
and evaluate behaviors, ideas, relationships, and other people in
ways that are unique to their group. Another excellent analogy for
understanding the cultural process is to see culture as the “lens” through
which people in a specific group view the world.
Notice that these
analogies imply that culture exercises a kind of invisible control
of a cultural group. Psychologists call this “internalizing” our
cultural norms and concepts. We all do this very naturally. However,
this process often has the effect of rendering our own culture invisible
to us, though we can readily identify cultures that differ from ours.
Despite the invisibility
of “software” or a “lens,” a
culture is clearly reflected outwardly in such things as how people behave,
what they eat, how they dress, the tools they use, and the values and
ideas they express. Nevertheless, it takes considerable introspection
and self-analysis for individuals to discover how deeply and strongly
their culture influences their own thoughts and behaviors.
reflective work is a crucial part of becoming culturally aware.