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What Is Your Culture?


We all are in a CULTure – Including you.

Whether it’s a Cargo Cult in Papua New Guinea, where people create bamboo replicas of airplanes to bring prosperity, or Westerners who give themselves hemorrhoids by sitting atop great white porcelain thrones to poop because they believe it to be “the right way.” (Luckily, the squatty potty was invented to teach Westerners how to poop naturally , like much of  the world.)


Does a fish ever see or feel or contemplate the water in which they swim?

Photograph Photo by Matt Alaniz on via Unsplash

The Short Version
  • Everything has a culture with a set of rules, written or unwritten, for acceptable behaviors and practices.

  • Cultures evolved to suit their environments. Different cultures have different rules and behaviors because they evolved in different environments.

  • Recognizing and understanding our own cultures, as well as others, can help us navigate through them more successfully.

Does A Fish Know It Is Wet?

Just like fish live in water, humans live in cultures. You are like a fish, swimming around without much notice at all of what you’re swimming in. In our case, culture is the water we swim in.  Culture drives what we eat, the way we dress, and even the way we think. Regardless of where humans or fish or any other animal lives, they adapt to their environment. Culture is how humans adapt. There are a variety of water environments for fish, and a variety of cultures for humans, but like fish we often don’t notice what’s around us unless we’re taken out of our surroundings and put into new ones.

Hunter-gatherers in the Amazon walk around nearly naked. Inuit tribes are covered head to toe in animal skins. Americans wear jeans and t-shirts.  Culture, including something as simple clothing, has evolved to suit the environment for each of these different communities. What works for one often doesn’t work for another. If an Amazonian dressed like an Inuit, they’d overheat and die. If an Inuit dressed like an Amazonian, they’d freeze to death. If an American walked around naked, they’d get thrown in jail. We all adhere to cultural norms like these, be it eating eggs and bacon for breakfast instead of tree nuts and crickets, or when and where flip-flops are acceptable footwear.  In fact, clothing, as simple as it sounds, is so powerful we use it to identify our cultures.  Think of the hipster, the goth, the prep.  Each of these groups have a distinctive cultural clothing.  We also have a term for when someone tries to apply this but isn’t genuine.  We call them a poser.  This is a person with the clothes but not the culture.


Different cultures have different rules, written and unwritten. But culture isn’t just about your nationality (more on that later). Culture is everywhere.   Consider a baseball player and a lawyer. It would be ridiculous for someone to show up in court, spit on the floor, or even wear a hat indoors. It would be just as ridiculous for the starting pitcher for the Yankees to take the mound in a three-piece suit and wingtips.


Starting Pitcher for the Yankees?

Photograph  via DODLive

Culture Is Life & Death

Throughout our lives, we belong to many cultures, some intersecting and some opposing. The short and tragic life of Robert Peace is one such example. Robert grew up in an honor culture, internalized the norms and standards of that culture, and then entered the dignity culture of Yale University. J.D. Vance had a similar experience. The only difference is that Vance is white and Robert Peace was black.


It’s very easy to identify some of our cultures and other times we are like fish who don’t know they’re wet. Likewise, it is often easier to identify other cultures and make the classic mistake of thinking our culture is more refined, advanced, or moral.  But is it really?  How can you really understand both your own and others’ cultures? 


Mixed Mental Arts has cataloged some of the various cultures that exist like Honor and Dignity (link to Honor vs. Dignity article) to develop a  broad sense of what they are and where they come from.  Even without knowing the proper names for each, the behaviors these cultures encourage and how they affect people within each group can be observed.


Succeeding in different cultures can be difficult. J.D. Vance needed help navigating the foreign environment and culture he found at Yale in order to survive his journey. Robert Peace died in his.

You Are A Culture. Many Cultures Are You

Your church, your place of work, your school, and even your family all have their own distinct culture.  How do the people act in each place? If you moved them into a different environment would they fit in or would they have to change their behaviors? Are there places you feel uncomfortable going because you don’t fit in? Do you change the way you speak because you’re talking to a certain person?

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Starting Pitcher for the Yankees?

Photograph  via DODLive

Remember, one culture isn’t better than another. Our Inuit friend from Canada would be just as helpless in the jungle as our Amazonian friend would be on Baffin Island without cultural adaptations. Luckily, there are people in both environments to teach the local culture to newcomers.


In the 21st century, people can easily move between the Amazon and the Arctic in less than a day. We all must be prepared to update our cultural software as we journey through the global environment in which we live. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.


The first step is to know that culture matters.

What is your Culture?
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