Deconstructing the values of culture
By Zeta Graham
What is culture? Is it still significant in a time when globalisation is bringing everything and everyone much closer together?
Culture is a shared set of ideas, customs, beliefs and social behaviour within a group of people. This unifying connection can help you relate and understand people to a greater extent. However different cultures shouldn’t exist in order to segregate people into groups, and this is why understanding of your own culture and interacting with others is really important, as it can help to avoid this.
Whether you value your culture or not, it will always be part of your identity. This provides you with a unique perspective on society which will influence the people around you. Because human beings are selfish creatures, we always tend to levitate towards what we are “used to” in order to make ourselves feel comfortable, rather than discover new ideas or experiences. Approaching differences in culture with this narrow-minded attitude is what causes friction between them, because people feel afraid of the ‘unknown’. Although this is possibly understandable, it is our responsibility to make sure we challenge ourselves to not shut out these alternative new ideas and beliefs.
Unfortunately, in Western society we are often given the impression that our culture and way of life is superior to others. This especially applies to America and Britain, who are guilty of over emphasising their supposed ‘greatness’; a rhetoric which can easily slip into meaning ‘we are greater than others’ rather than just ‘great’ in itself. Obviously we can still be proud of where we’ve come from, however perceiving ourselves as having a non-existent superiority contributes to the hate and fear of difference.
When we think about culture, it is crucial that we recognise the effect that Imperial rule has had upon other countries. Upon invading other countries, Imperialists either stole or destroyed the native people, their resources and their way of living. So when we learn about ‘other’ cultures, we need to approach them with a level of respect, rather than viewing them with disdain. We now live in a society where countries are more connected than ever through globalisation, but it is becoming obvious that certain consumers and cultures are prioritised. These prioritised cultures are starting to spread around the world, which could be a good thing, as lots of people are able to have similar access to elements of these cultures. However, it can be argued that they are becoming overwhelmingly dominant, meaning cultures that aren’t as amplified may be forgotten. It has become more and more convenient to follow the presiding culture and their language, as it provides a wider range of opportunities for people. Although it may sound okay for everyone to fall into one hybridised culture, it could ruin the beautiful uniqueness of a person. We all originate from different places and this in itself helps to shape who we are. Do we all really want to be the same? Isn’t that boring?
For me, it is clear that being the same as everyone is not a desired concept. For example, in places where one culture dominates, it becomes increasingly essential for smaller communities to connect with their cultural heritage. As someone who is of Indian heritage, it’s important that I am able to experience and engross myself within Indian culture. I can get away from the daily dose of ‘British’ culture, which at times forces me to look or act differently. Being able to connect with my Indian family and culture has helped shape my identity and passions. It provides a helpful lens in how I should see the world. Therefore the idea of this disintegrating into a ‘global’ culture, is not something I see as positive or helpful.
Although a completely homogenous group of people would drown out individuality, it doesn’t mean that different cultures shouldn’t influence each other. In Britain we can see this is already happening and I would argue ‘British culture’ is made up of a fusion of different cultures. For example, the royal family is of German descent and the national dish is now known to be curry. These things are held up as ‘British culture’, yet the true origins were actually from elsewhere. Elements of different cultures coming together could actually be a positive thing, as it leads to more awareness and respect for someone’s heritage. Whilst a hybridity of cultures can encourage an open-minded attitude towards differences, it is important to remember that each culture holds history and for some, this is one of oppression. When we venture into discovering other cultures, it’s important to respect and understand what the experiences have been for that group of people. If you become ignorant to what has happened in the past, it’s easy to start appropriating culture, rather than truly appreciating it.