Our behavioral patterns, belief systems, principles, and ways of living are the derivatives of our culture. Why is culture important? Read this OpinionFront article to find the answer.
“Culture is the sum of all the forms of art, of love, and of thought, which, in the course of centuries, have enabled man to be less enslaved.” ~ Andre Malraux
Culture is the invisible bond which ties people together. It refers to the pattern of human activity. The art, literature, language, and religion of a community represent its culture. Our cultural values and beliefs manifest themselves through our lifestyle. Our moral values represent our culture. The importance of culture lies in its close association with the ways of thinking and living. Differences in cultures have led to a diversity in the people from different parts of the world.
Culture is related to the development of our attitude. Our cultural values influence how we approach living. According to the behaviorist definition of culture, it is the ultimate system of social control where people monitor their own standards and behavior. Our cultural values serve as the founding principles of our life. They shape our thinking, behavior, and personality.
Culture Affects Perception
How we perceive things is largely affected by our judgment skills, preconceived notions, attitude, and emotions. These factors are closely linked with our culture. In perceiving something as good or bad, our biases play a role and so does our way of thinking. In judging something as easy or difficult, our attitude and our motivation levels play a key role. Our culture determines the structure of our thinking, which influences our perceptions.
People who belong to cultures that promote individualism tend to look at only the main aspects of a situation, while those of a culture that promotes collectivism tend to consider even the minor details. American culture which is predominantly individualistic, promotes giving freedom of choice to children since a young age. The Japanese culture which promotes collectivism, rather encourages the parents/elders to make choices for their children. This is an example of how parenting is perceived in contrasting ways due to the differences in culture. Similarly, people of Eastern cultures perceive success as being a collective effort, while those of the American culture perceive it as the fruit of individual effort.
Our culture forms the framework for our thoughts and behavior. The ideas ingrained in our minds by our culture influence the way we perceive people and situations. For example, women from male-dominated societies perceive men to be superior. Women from cultures which dictate that their clothing should cover the entire body and even their faces, may think of a skirt or a low-cut dress, as provocative.
Research has shown that our culture does play a role in the way our brain processes information and reacts to stimuli. That’s one reason why culture is so important.
Culture Influences Behavior
Culture affects perception, and perceptions drive behavior. Thus, the culture we belong to, has a direct impact on our behavior. Moreover, our environment, which has cultural influences, shapes our behavior. In a society where boys are discouraged from crying, men think of it as an odd gesture. If the values of a certain culture do not teach men to respect women, it will naturally reflect in their behavior. Behavioral and communication etiquette are a part of our culture. What our culture teaches us affects the way we interact socially. People from some cultures are found to be more open in communicating even with strangers or new acquaintances, while those from conservative cultures may not be so open. The difference between ideologies their cultures have, are thus evident in their social behavior.
Our culture defines our standards of personal space. The term proxemics, coined by Edward T. Hall, is defined as the interrelated observations and theories of man’s use of space as a specialized elaboration of culture. The distance we maintain during communication is largely impacted by the culture we belong to. Our gestures, overall body language, and the degree of physical contact made during communication is affected by our cultural norms.
Our faith and morals which are a part of our culture, affect how we behave. Our morals influence our feelings such as shame and pride, and our faith defines what we perceive as right or wrong, thus affecting our behavior. You still ask why culture is important? See how it defines our personalities.
Culture Shapes Personalities
Group culture determines the behavioral norms for a group. To be accepted as a part of the group, we tend to follow what the group decides for us. Influenced by the norms or rules laid out by our culture, we act in accordance with them. Our culture defines people’s expectations from us. In the attempt to fulfill them, we shape our behavior and personality to suit our culture. Our religion, traditions, customs, all a part of our culture, play a major role in shaping our personalities. The way we perceive a situation and react to it, depends largely on what we have learned from the environment and the way we have been brought up. These factors are closely linked to our cultural values. Though our nature and education also play a part in developing our personalities, the culture we belong to has a dominant role to play. People born and brought up in the same culture are often found to share certain personality traits.
Our culture shapes our value and belief systems, which influence our personalities. In a culture where children are taught to be independent early in life (American, for example), they grow up to be individualistic. In a culture where boys and girls are not treated as equal, children may become aggressive and look at the opposite gender as their enemy, or those treated as inferior may grow up to be submissive. People from cultures that take a more holistic approach (Eastern cultures), are seen to be more capable of understanding other points of view. People from cultures that promote individualism (Western cultures) are found to be less capable of understanding someone else’s perspective.
Besides this, the art, folklore, traditions, language, among other components of culture that we are exposed to, define our personalities. We acquire beliefs and knowledge of the world from the people around us. It’s the social group we live in, that influences our choices in life. Thus, the cultural environment that we are surrounded by, shapes our personalities.
Other Effects of Culture
Certain beliefs about health and medical care are a part of all cultures. Depending on these beliefs given by their culture, people may or may not be open to therapies. People from cultures that believe physical and mental ailments to be scientific phenomena are open to discussing the symptoms and getting the right treatment. Those from cultures that believe ailments as being a curse of God, may not accept medical treatment very readily. The social acceptance to mental diseases or personality disorders is also influenced by culture. Cultural differences affect our attitude towards illness and medical care. People from certain social groups prefer an authoritarian relation with medical professionals, while others prefer a friendly relation, which allows for better communication. Due to the differing beliefs about disease and treatment, medical practices vary across cultures. In assessing a patient’s individual care needs, medical professionals need to know his cultural beliefs. Also, a patient’s cultural background influences factors like the kind of family support he will get, the health decisions he will take, and the way he will cope with his illness. This is how culture affects health care.
How does culture affect business? During business communication with people from a different culture, their beliefs and manners have to be taken into account. Language barriers need to be overcome. Cultural differences impact the success or failure of business negotiations. The differences in the sensitivity to time, way of communication, decision-making, risk-taking, and thinking of the parties involved, need to be considered. In orienting a business for a certain target group, companies need to study the cultural values of that group. Their tastes and preferences are influenced by their culture. The advertising strategies employed for an American audience will not work for Asians. Hence businesses need to consider cultural differences right from product design to marketing.
Realizing Cultural Differences
In not just health and business, but almost every facet of life, it’s important to recognize the differences in culture. Due to migration of people across countries, what we have today is a multicultural society. People who live around us, those we socialize with, and the ones we work with, come from different parts of the world and have different cultures. Their ways of thinking and living, and their values and beliefs are different from ours. The knowledge of our own and other cultures helps us accept these differences. The study of cultures broadens our view towards cultural diversity. We learn to appreciate other cultures and not disrespect them.
Our culture gives us an identity, and helps build our character. The cultural values shared across our community or social group, give us a sense of belonging towards society. Our culture unites us and gives us a sense of security. The language we speak, the art, literature, and the heritage we are proud of, our food, our festivals, and our customs and traditions together form our culture. They become a part of our daily living and influence us in many ways. The importance of culture cannot be stressed enough, as it is something that lies within us, around us, and is an integral part of our being. It defines the way we treat others and ourselves.