What is Culture?
Culture is often defined as a set of practices and activities to which a particular group of people assign some significance. This often relates to types of art, dance, music, and other performance rituals.
However, what people often misattribute to the term “culture” is a geographical or racial connotation. It is true that many of the cultures of the past place a great amount of significance on the region in which the culture was created or the ethnicity and religion of the creators; however, culture is not always exclusive in this way.
In modern times, especially in Western societies, culture often extends beyond the boundaries often assigned to it. And though people tend to believe the only existing cultures are those with a religious, regional, or ethnic link, this is not the case.
There are a number of false beliefs people have about culture. It is very important to understand what culture truly is because culture is an integral part of human happiness.
1. Culture is Determined by Race or Ethnicity
Truthfully, it is no longer possible to define race in terms of country of origin. Race refers exclusively to the color of one’s skin and the way one is perceived by others. Therefore, race has nothing to do with culture, since it has nothing to do with one’s personal background.
Ethnicity actually refers to one’s cultural background; however, the meaning of the term has shifted to refer more to one’s nationality. Like race, nationality has much less to do with culture as it had in previous centuries. Migration and globalization have made it possible for people to share their cultural practices across regional boundaries. This allows people to practice or convert to cultures outside of the country from which it originated.
Some cultures have no specific country of origin, which means there is no limit to where they can be practiced. For example, white-collar business people have a culture of their own, just as agricultural workers do. These cultures can be found all over the world.
2. Culture Equals Religion
Many Jewish traditions are considered both cultural and spiritual practices. Many other religions also have a cultural basis. However, a tradition like prayer/meditation is prevalent in many different religions as well as secular cultures. Then there are emergent traditions like the Goth subculture which have no link to religious practices. Religion can be a compliment to culture, but both can be independent of the other as well.
3. Your Culture is Defined at Birth
This goes back to the idea that culture is linked to nationality or religion. One’s heritage and background can shape, but do not determine one’s ultimate culture. Culture is very similar to religion in that it can be chosen as well as abandoned; though there are certain types which are more exclusive. Christianity is often passed down the generations, but a Christian, in most traditions, can convert to another religion if he or she chooses to. Conversely, certain sects of Hinduism, for example, are by definition attained by birth.
4. A Person Can Identify with Only One Culture
This is purely false. In fact, most people can identify with more than one culture. This is because each culture is usually associated primarily with a particular aspect of one’s life. This can refer to one’s religion, occupation, age, nationality, or any number of other aspects. For example, one can be a part of Catholic culture while also being a part of the American culture. Although, many people usually have one culture that they consider to be the most prominent in their lives.
5. Cultural Practices are Rigid and Unchanging
Each type of culture has different properties. Some are very strict and some are more open. The major religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) all have texts which outline the faith and the ideology of each. Many secular cultures, like that of a computer scientist or a Hollywood movie executive, do not have specific rules or expectations; however, practitioners of these cultures still share many of the same views and ideals.
Why Culture is Important
Culture is essential to living a full and happy life because it provides us with self-assurance. It allows us to meet others who share our basic values as well as demonstrate to ourselves that those beliefs are valid, since there are others who believe the same. Culture can also provide a sense of purpose or meaning in our lives.
Many people fear the term “culture” because it does tend to imply religion or spirituality. We fear joining a culture because it could threaten the religion (or lack thereof) we already hold. However, your religion does not have to be the most prominent culture in your life. One can determine his or her most prominent culture by considering the group of people to whom he or she is most dear. Think of the activities that you could never separate from your life. Think of the things that you live for, that you cherish the most. These could be your family, your religion, your hobbies, your job, etc. The aspects of your life which you find most beloved will more than likely help you discover what culture you are most connected to.