Culture is incredibly strong. It often peremptorily defines our values and worldview, thereby dictating the characteristics of our wants and needs. For instance, children need to be educated. What that education looks like is often defined by culture: is it learning how to give the right answer to a test? Is it getting into the best Ivy League by ensuring they track for it starting at birth? Is it nurturing social actors and critical thinkers, harnessing and developing their innate talents to be of service to others and make their contribution to the common well-being? The people we hang out with, work with, worship with, live with all impact this world view, culture, habits and behaviors.
Just because it’s “culture” does not mean that it’s good. So what do we use as a yard stick? Many of us use the moral teachings of our faith communities and these can certainly help. But for simplicity sake, the question I like to ask is: Is this __ [cultural quality, activity, etc.] uplifting for the human condition? What benefit does it provide for the community? For the individual? If it’s not clear, ask if the benefit significantly outweighs the sacrifices or the harms? For example, many of my friends use Facebook. For years, I too used it. And then I noticed that I wasn’t really getting much of value out of it. The newsfeed was a never-ending, addictive, depressive, time-wasting, distracting presence in my life. Whatever good I got out of it (superficial updates by people I hadn’t communicated with in person in years) frankly did not provide enough benefit to me to really warrant keeping Facebook in my life. I did not find it uplifting to my human condition. It provided marginal benefit to me as a communication tool and certainly wasn’t any better for my needs than text messaging. So I cut ties and did a full deletion of my account. Once in a while I see someone doing a live-stream event on Facebook and I think it might be nice to watch, but I’m ok with missing out. And this is because I read my reality, determined what was valuable in my life, and then took the steps to align my daily life with those values. This means that when it comes to culture, you need to also read the reality of what it’s providing for you and your loved ones, determine if it is truly in line with the values you find uplifting to your condition and that of the world around you, and then to take action to either step away from or stop engaging with that cultural element, or to embrace, support, and help share that cultural power.
Once we’ve decided where we stand in relation to the cultural element or dynamic, it is important to not attempt to fight or to force. This goes for how we respond personally, as it applies for ourselves, and how we relate to others. Actively fighting something is exhausting and distracting. You have finite amounts of time, energy, and money. Work and dedicate your resources (especially your mental bandwidth) toward achieving what you do want, rather than trying to tear down systems that are inherently rotten anyway. By the same token, when you have something that you’re striving to share and achieve, you can’t force it upon anyone else. Just as you came to it, and committed to it, willingly, so to does your family member and friend. You present it as a gift, offer to walk with them. But give them the honor and dignity to make the decision for themselves. If they don’t want to join you, then you might be spending less time with them. You work with the willing, and over time, they may appreciate the value of what you’re doing and join later on. To each, their own inclinations, and timeline.
One of the most significant cultural practices that I think is worth exploring briefly is sharing. Depending on where, and with whom, you grew up, sharing would take on any variety of forms. For some, sharing is infrequent, but in larger amounts when it takes place. My grandmother lent me and my wife a sum to use as the down payment on our home. We made some payments back to her, but eventually the majority was forgiven. Whether it happens during a person’s life or when they pass, this is referred to as the intergenerational transfer of wealth. Taken to an extreme, it can lead to the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few. In other families or among friends or other people within one’s known community network, more frequent sharing in smaller amounts takes place. This sharing can either be for emergencies (borrowing money to pay rent following loss of income), or for proactive savings, such as savings circles, where a group of committed individuals pool their money and in turn, receive from the collected pot. Again, if taken to an extreme, sharing can lead to a downward spiral for the community as less and less wealth is available for all to pay for basic needs. (If I help you pay rent next week, then the following week I may not have enough for my electric bill.) But if the sharing takes place in moderation, whereby one finds ways to both cover their own needs and be generous, using strategies for carrying out mutual aid in a spirit of cooperation, then the community can begin to spiral up toward prosperity.
It is in the realm of culture where our sense of collective responsibility toward the welfare of the whole may find its fullest expression. However, determining the boundaries of that moderation, covering one’s basic needs, and ensuring that wealth for collective benefit supports its intended outcome, requires again, a careful reading of reality, guiding principles rooted in justice and fairness, and strong individual character expressions of trustworthiness, generosity, truthfulness, and dedicated commitment.
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