"A cultural perspective on action and choice" by Charlotte Murray (Guest)

Action is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as: “the fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim”. This means you actually have to be doing something. In doing something this means in some way that you have made a choice to do it. Whether it’s a conscious or unconscious choice, whether it’s under your own or someone else’s directive, action means there was a choice made. By being courageous and taking accountability for the choice you make, the resulting actions are more likely to be in line with your own intended outcome than one that may be dictated or expected by society or cultural norms.

Choice is another big word, as is action or culture. Choice arises out of many different triggers, be it pro-active, forced, passive, socially, environmentally or financially required, for health reasons, ambitions, I could go on. 

So how does choice or action get influenced by culture? We’ve been discussing Culture from different aspects in our recent blogs, and it’s a topic that is never-ending. I believe Culture influences choice and therefore action in a big way. In some cultures the social norm or expectation is to marry within your own religion, or society might put expectations on whether or not you get a university degree, or to follow a certain career path. I can imagine there may even be socially or culturally influenced opinions about skydiving or playing drums. These types of social and cultural aspects also influence choice and therefore action. Do you keep to the social or cultural or company expectations? Do you rebel against it? Either way it’s a choice and the action will follow.

This of course all assumes that you have a choice, or that you believe you have a choice. Having a choice means being able to choose from more than one direction or thing. I often hear the phrase ‘I didn’t have a choice’. Is that really true? What internal (mind, psychological state, memories) or external factors (social, cultural, business, personal, financial) might be influencing this position? What might it take to transition the person without choices to a person with choices?  Under what circumstances? I’m naturally a positive person, so I believe there is always a choice. That being said, sometimes it takes some self-awareness, strength and a healthy dose of non-judgmental curiosity, to make that mental transition.

Another phrase I hear often is ‘that’s how I’ve always done it’. How does this relate to choice or action and culture? Doing what you’ve always done means you are choosing to pursue the same direction or action as you’ve always taken. So this is a choice and an action (and most likely a result) based on that choice. This type of choice, doing what you’ve always done, can be simply a path of least resistance  or it could be culturally or socially directed. Whatever the reason , what is important is to understand is that doing what’s always been done will result in the same outcome.  This reminds me of a quote from Albert Einstein: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. But what if we want a different outcome?

If we want a different outcome, then we need to choose a different action. Meaning that most likely we can’t choose the path of least resistance (or what we’ve always done before), because the likelihood is too high that the outcome will be the same as before. So, wanting a different outcome must somehow require different input. This implies that somewhere along the way, a choice has been made to do something differently. This could be doing something you have never done before, rebelling against a social or cultural tradition or expectation, or following your dream instead of a prescribed career path. Choosing and then doing something different from what you’ve done before increases the chances that the different action will lead to a different result. Maybe even a result that is closer to your personal intended outcome...