Friday, November 6, 2009

Cultural Identity

How much does a particular culture influence one's core identity? Certainly we all have a culture that we grew up in and identify with, the differences between global, regional or even neighborhood cultures varying widely, but do we even realize just how deeply our internal drives and characteristics are shaped by environmental stimuli, relational customs, language, and ritual? Consider the author Malcom Gladwell's thoughts, as expressed in his latest book, Outliers:

"Cultural legacies are powerful forces. They have deep roots and long lives. They persist, generation after generation, virtually intact, even as the economic and social and demographic conditions that spawned them have vanished, and they play such a role in directing attitudes and behavior that we cannot make sense of our world without them. How are attitudes passed down from generation to generation? Through social heritance. Think of the way accents persist over time....Whatever mechanism passes on speech patterns probably passes on behavioral and emotional patterns as well."

We like to think that we are each extraordinarily unique individuals, and we are, but some of what we might consider to be personal idiosyncrasies, beliefs or inclinations may very well be informed by our culture and all the subcultures we take part in. It is comforting to realize that our overlapping and shared experiences are grounds for identifying commonalities and relating to each other. And when we can't relate to someone very easily, I like that we can understand so much more about that someone if we put them in context.

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