Culture 1 – It’s About Values [FP]

“I imagine hell like this: Italian punctuality, German humour and English wine.” ― Peter Ustinov

Actually, I thought it was English cooking, at least according to the old joke about the World’s Shortest Books where everybody gets skewered. But, it’ll do.

This is a riff on culture and cultural differences (more often than not deemed ‘stereotypes’ and which come out negative), and too often we react to and comment on culture without knowing exactly what we mean.

It’s like assuming someone knows and understands a particular word you use in a sentence in the exact way you are using it. Take the verb ‘move’ and look it up in the VisuwordsTM online graphical dictionary. There are over 25 different usages or meanings in English, and over half of these usages do not correspond to the same verb ‘move’ in most other languages. This is a linguistic example of a major difficulty, often avoided but always humorous, in learning to ‘adapt’ in another culture.

Then take the word ‘culture’ itself and see its multiple meanings and usages in Visuwords. These generally fall into a smaller number of meanings, having to do with 1) the arts, literature, manners, and scholarly pursuits; 2) a form or stage of civilization (a given time period, for example); 3) the ‘ways of living’ of a group transmitted from one generation to the next; 4) cultivating growth (land, organisms); and 5) development of the mind. Seems overly deep, unless one likes to read dictionaries for pleasure (for which I am sometimes guilty).

Given the number of complex approaches to or definitions of ‘culture’ applied to various groups, we need a more concise working definition that, one hopes, will be both simple and sufficient for what follows. Let me propose the following and call it Fundamental Principle 16:

Culture: How we think, express and propagate what we value.

Try that definition on for size and see if it adequately supports the usages above. I think a good argument can be made that it does, even for growing microorganisms. Now let’s see if it fits with people. Rather than starting at the smallest or largest group, let’s start in the middle again as it worked so well earlier with The Peter Principle.

Clans and Tribes

Clans are typically family units claiming descent from a common ancestor (real or mythological), and are the typical social units that make up a larger tribal organization. Historically, we can take as examples the clans of the Scottish highlands and the clans and tribes of people groups that migrated into Europe during the middle ages and into North and South America in prehistoric times.

In these two groups there are two important aspects:

-They are related genetically through their DNA (no choice here: they are in a passive Related Network); and

-They are related by common expression of what they value. These can be the expression of values, principles, and/or of tangible things, but they are expressed through and transmitted by acceptable behaviors. These behaviors are taught and reinforced, helping to express Professed Behaviors through Practiced Behaviors. This occurs through an active Relational Network.

If Practiced Behaviors do not conform to accepted behaviors, then some form of correction or enforcement occurs, and if that does not work then exclusion occurs via, for example, shunning or excommunication. A separation is deemed necessary in order to protect the integrity (‘wholeness’) and survival of the larger group and its values.

“We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society.” ― Alan Wilson Watts

Most often that ‘society’ is limited to the Dunbar Number, about 150 people closest to us relationally. One can consider it the ‘village’ in It Takes A Village. While that ‘village’ will have a significant impact on how we develop within the culture of our clan and tribe, it is the smaller family unit that directly forms us and instills the most in us.


Do families express and propagate what they value? Absolutely, and thus we come to accept the concept that a family has a ‘culture.’ In fact, it may be The Culture (‘ways of living’) with which each individual most closely identifies.

-Family members are genetically related by DNA, except in cases where a child is adopted; and

-Family members are relationally related by the specific training and teaching of values, principles, and behaviors of the family.

Do deviating behaviors occur? Hey, do trees have leaves or needles? Yes! However, in the family there is a tighter DNA bond and thus quite often a greater willingness to accept, ‘permit’ or work around behaviors beyond the tight boundaries that a clan or tribe might enforce. In this way, family instills on top of a child’s individual gifts, skills, and personality (DNA) those Practiced Behaviors so important to the culture. Occasionally, the family ‘culture’ and Practiced Behaviors may get rejected, but a mother’s child is always a mother’s child regardless.

Which brings us to what we can call the smallest cultural group:

The Individual

Here it’s much more about our individual DNA, which manifests itself as through our gifts, skills, interests, and specific personality characteristics (and successive posts). Do we like to be outside and get dirty? Or sit alone inside and read a book? Are we naturally confrontational or avoid confrontation?

There are a number of personality inventories that have been developed that can be used to help identify particular areas of personality strengths and types: Myers-Briggs, Taylor-Johnson, DISC. All of these can help identify the expressive part of our ‘individual culture,’ how we express what we value most: not only the ‘what’ of our particular gifts and skills, but ‘how’ our personality expresses them through our Practiced Behaviors.

Of course, these inventories have only been around for a few years and not generally available. For eons parents and families have gone about instilling their ‘culture’ in their offspring by the bootstraps, the way their parents did it (or didn’t do it), modified by a good dash of what the parents could add (or not add).

It’s wise to remember that we teach by how we behave, mostly. Occasionally we end up teaching others what not to do by the same technique.

We also teach by what we don’t do. And sometimes others are smart enough through their own DNA to recognize that maybe they should acquire the ability to do what they didn’t see modeled.

We determined earlier that Behavior has its Consequences [FP14f] and that there exists a Behavioral Continuity whereby individuals have a measurable impact on larger and larger groups through their behaviors. Since these behaviors are the main elements in culture [FP16, above], it follows that there must also be a Cultural Continuity flowing from individuals into the larger groups.

Next time: Up the Ladder


About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 05: People, 10: Integrity, 12: Character, 13: Values & Self, 14: Behavior, 16: Culture and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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