AM I INFLUENCING CULTURE, OR IS CULTURE INFLUENCING HOW I SHOULD BELONG? - Yvonne Thackray

Each man must look to himself to teach him the meaning of life. It is not something discovered; it is something moulded.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Being apart of something, is that as important or more important than having respect, or are we looking to both belong and be respected? Invisible forces exist in which we are unconsciousness bonded to the social contract we have with others, to whom we relate to or coexist with, and what we colloquially may call ‘culture’. Culture is one of those words that I believe will evolve because it embraces many broad concepts. I define culture here as “the ideas, customs, and social behavior of a particular people or society” Oxford dictionary.

The fascinating part of our daily life is we participate in many cultures, and we switch between them sometimes with ease and sometimes with difficulty depending on how we perceive we belong. From when we were conceived, we have been brought up and encultured by the values and norms taught to us by our family or influential figures in our lives as being vital to survive within the context of their culture. Outside of this space, we learn to socialize with others, as we are skills and languages to interact with other individuals of similar interests. This process of enculturation and socialization is a continuous process that helps us adapt to the different cultures we interact with on a daily basis. Taking a step back to see it from a big picture perspective: we grow up within our family learning what is normal (enculturation). We go to school and we are given the skills to survive in an economical way, whilst also learning by observation and participation what’s required to survive and potentially thrive socially. Afterwards, we may either go to work, or university then work – specializing in technical roles with our personality closely following. This personality, our identity, maybe the accumulation of all our experiences from enculturation and socialization, however, we know whether we belong socially as there are rules which we abide by according to the groups we belong to but personally the boundaries are not as clear particularly when it is not something we consciously choose to question.

As human beings, we are social creatures – the quantity and quality of the interactions will vary between individuals – and so, there is a natural and innate desire to ‘belong’ within a group. The question then becomes how much of ourselves do we disclose in order to belong, what part’s of our identity do we choose to hide because of the fear of discrimination by others.  A fear of discrimination can be translated as ‘losing respect’ in the eye of the other whose opinion you may or may not hold of value because you are now being treated unfairly.

 “Lack of respect, though less aggressive than an outright insult, can take an equally wounding form. No insult is  another person, but neither is recognition extended; he or she is not  – as a full human being whose presence matters.”

Richard Sennet

Hence, bringing the whole of yourself to work or other social situations can be perceived as a risk because you may not be accepted, and that is probably why people have many personas when they enter different contexts – to protect or to promote their best self under the situation. This may also be why we sometimes mix our personality with our role at work because the boundaries, rules and learning are clear to us.  And so, when we ask the question who am I? The answer may not be as straightforward as we first thought because we could be the sum of all the cultures we belong too either by choice or circumstances.

Being able to separate who you are from all the cultures you belong to, and then observe those groups you like belonging to because you are, as well as meeting other values valuable to you. How many do you belong too and can you articulate what it is?  And even if the balance between belonging and respect is not at the optimum, where do you stand within these cultures:

  • fully belonging and fully respected
  • fully belong and somewhat respected
  • fully respected and somewhat belong
  • do not belong and not respected

Perhaps being able to discover where you are most fulfilled and within which cultures, will help you to discover and deepen what’s valuable to you, whether it is as our right to be treated as an individual from birth or we become known as an individual after we die.  Culture can both shape and guide us and also be innate. How much do you think the cultures we interact with has helped us become the person we are today?

 

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