Thursday, January 6, 2011

Culture Is Never Neutral

We all live multicultural lives. They may not be culturally diverse, including other races, religions and ways of life, still there are multiple cultures we all live in. There might be the work culture, the home culture, the family culture, the culture of your church, the American culture and on it goes. None of the cultures we exist in are neutral. Meaning all of these cultures have been formed in one way or another. Some cultures form more organically. Patterns develop and before long there is a sense of simply being. Once the culture comes into existence those who are a part of that culture work to preserve the culture, even if there is no knowledge of where it came from. Other cultures we exist in are intentionally created. The values and ways of functioning are chosen and not left to happenstance. Like the more organic culture, once the intentional culture is established effort is made to maintain that culture. No matter what, culture is developed, and there are always players looking to have the culture function in certain ways. This leaves us with a choice, we can simply react to the culture around us, or we can participate in shaping it.

Everyone can be intentional about the formation of the cultures in which they exist. There are cultures which are more challenging to shape, like the American culture. Still we have some level of control over the cultures we exist in. There is always the choice to simply let it happen around us, to take on the attitude of whatever will be, will be. The appeal to this kind of culture formation is often appealing as it requires very little from the participants of the culture. On the flip side there is a great challenge in this style of culture development. Culture in never neutral, there will be ab underlying mindset that will influence the culture. Overtime the culture developed my by extremely dysfunctional and trapped by the influential people who have much to gain from the culture as created.

Intentional culture runs the same risk as being held hostage, however when the formation of the culture is done intentionally good questions are asked and engaged. As the culture is formed questions come to the surface about the values and functions of the culture. There is then conversation about the shape of the culture. A simple example is looking at home life. Many people are frustrated with their home life. Often not termed as such but it is a culture problem. People are not unhappy with those in their home, they are unhappy with the culture of their home. Chances are the culture was allowed to develop organically. The good news is the culture can be changed. It will take hard work and dedication because culture is never neutral. Patterns of functioning will have to change and who holds authority, and how they hold it may have to change. The culture of a home can be intentionally set, and they worked to preserve. If there is not a willingness to be intentional about the culture being developed, we must simply figure out how to endure the culture which emerges.

So what am I really saying? Culture does not simply exist, or is not something which just is. Culture has emerged from a chosen passivity, or has been shaped intentionally. When a culture is first emerging it is easiest to be intentional. Once established, it is very difficult to change the culture because of the desire of stakeholders to remain stakeholders, or the desire of the passive to remain passive. You can engage a culture and be a shaper of the that culture. This is true whether it is your home, your work, church, country or any other culture. Just know there will be other people and situations working to influence the culture as well. Their work may be to preserve the culture already in place.

In the next entry I will explore the role and importance of leadership in culture setting.

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