When I’m speaking or conducting workshops about culture I usually ask, “What is your definition of culture?” Usually, there are many good answers that come forward like “things we learn from our parents,” “music,” “clothing,” and “language.”
A couple of definitions that have become popular these days are “software of the mind” (Hofstede) or “the right way of doing things” (unattributed). All of these point us in the right direction, but I think culture is much “deeper” than that.
As I am exposed to more and more cultures and think deeply about my own culture I’ve come to the conclusion that culture is much deeper than we often realize. One prominent culture scholar (Trompenaars) puts it this way, “Our own culture is like water to a fish. It sustains us. We live and breathe through it.”
My favorite definition of culture is: “The human-made part of the environment.” That idea includes everything that we do and think. A tree growing outside in your yard is not culture, God made it. But as soon as we trim the tree, use it as the support for a swing, or make something from the wood of the tree, culture is involved because your culture will decide what the swing, chair, or table will look like.
Everything you have done or will do today from the time you wake until you go to sleep is affected by your culture. But like a fish that doesn’t notice the water he is swimming, breathing, and moving in, you have probably given little, if any, thought as to how culture is influencing you today.
So as an experiment, for the rest of today give some conscious thought as to how culture has formed the way you are acting and thinking. And…post some of your thoughts.
Blogs are a fantastic way to share ideas with friends all over the world. This blog is dedicated to culture and the way it affects our lives, our business, and our leadership. I plan to post once or twice a week with what I hope are new and fresh ideas. So I do trust you will be coming back.
I remember in the early 90’s when our family first moved to China some American friends of ours had a baby. The husband was a university teacher and of course his students were very excited and interested in the new American child. A couple of questions that they had were, “Since the baby was born in China why isn’t she Chinese?” and “Since the baby was born in China, how will she learn English?”
Understanding what we do about genetics and early childhood learning, these questions seem like simplistic and childish. But the students were far from stupid–they were actually brilliant. Less than 1% of Chinese young people went to college in those days, so these students were absolutely the best and the brightest in the land.
But they were ignorant. They grew up in a place that was uni-cultural. They lived their whole lives meeting only people who were Chinese and spoke the Chinese language. Without multicultural experience, how could they be expected to know that just because a baby was born in China he or she wouldn’t be Chinese? How would they know that even if the baby was born in China he or she wouldn’t speak Chinese if the parents didn’t speak Chinese in the home.
We are all like these Chinese students in some ways. We all have cultural ignorances and cultural biases. But fortunately, we don’t have to stay that way. We can learn, we can grow, and we can develop our intercultural muscles.
I hope to do that in this blog. I hope you take the journey with me because it’s going to be a lot of fun!
Blessings to you!