Cultural Awareness

Culture-what-is-it

Culture (/ˈkʌlər/) is, in the words of E.B. Tylor, “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”

Growing up I understood “to be cultured” as something that was mostly acquired by the wealthy and privileged, the intellectually astute or those of societal stature who are “in the loop”. These days I know that we are actually all a product of culture, or really many cultures, and it is nothing like the concept that I learned.

What are some of these cultures?

  • My work culture
  • My family of origin culture
  • My ethnic culture
  • The popular culture during my formative years
  • My religious culture
  • My economic culture

And we go on to create cultures, too, when we get married and have a family. But the resultant culture has been highly influenced by all the others that we were exposed to.

Why is this so important? The truth is that the person we form a relationship with will likely have a different mix than we do. And these differences can become the source of a lot of conflicts because they often represent some deeply held beliefs or values.

These beliefs determine how we educate children, how we discipline them and what position we give them in a family. They determine marriage roles, how we file our taxes, where we live and what we drive. Is it OK to buy retail or must we negotiate for a price every time? Can a man be a stay-at-home dad or is that shameful?

I have heard individuals declare “I could never marry a Democrat” or “I could never marry a Republican”. These can be intense differences.

Often we will come across a couple that come from completely separate moral codes. She has no problem with premarital sex, but he wouldn’t even consider it. Or he wants to move in together to have a “trial marriage”, but she feels it would bring shame on her family. These moral decisions come from our cultural beliefs, religious, ethnic or family, and they are not easily set aside.

When we have one of these cultural disputes in counseling we always try to point them in a new direction. We ask this question:

“Will you allow God’s culture to trump all of the other ones? Will you allow the Bible to be the arbiter of this dispute?”

These are sobering questions for a Christian. This is where the “rubber meets the road” and puts their faith to the test. It often will cause cognitive dissonance. Fortunately it can have a benefit, too, of helping move people towards clarity of values and embracing suffering for the right reasons. It’s no fun to delay or surrender gratification or wrestle with a potential shift in our thinking.

Going against one’s family of origin culture may feel like disloyalty, especially when it involves the family directly as in planning a wedding. Nan and I highly recommend that you deal with these differences prior to announcing your engagement. Some really ugly stuff can come up if the couple is not clear on what their boundaries with family are.

So what influences you the most? Really ask yourself this question before you move on.

Popular culture?

Liberal or conservative culture?

Family culture?

Or God’s culture?

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