It can be said that culture serves to define us, let us express ourselves, and help us interpret the meaning of others and the society we’re living within. Among other things, I’d imagine, but nonetheless those seem some of its main purposes and functions.
Like a code, a common language of accepted patterns of behaviour and thinking to help in making sense of life, finding our place, figuring out where we stand, what our options are, how to read the world, and ways things might play out. This idea, perhaps, of being actors, adopting parts, playing our cards right to get what we’re after. Be that company, power, acceptance, praise, or whatever else.
Through this lens, culture’s then that which gives us the terms for defining who we are, allowing us to express that self in recognised forms, and deciphering what we encounter. It’s this sense of meaning – the overlay society places on complex realities so we can interpret things in similar ways then play into that world of meaning with our own choices and behaviours (Notes One).
It seems a fascinating process: flowing fairly freely in a number of directions, a powerful reflexive ever-changing set of pictures, actions and reactions that play upon society itself and each of our lives. It must shape people, after all, to see how clearly or respectfully their lives are reflected there. What is it that’s being said? Where are we assigning value or refusing to acknowledge any?
In the past, such collective conversations were guided with quite a firm hand: interpretations, conclusions and labels clearly indicated and upheld by society’s various power-holders (Notes Two). Looking back, there were clear voices saying “this is the way to be” which people generally seemed to heed.
More recently, that tradition of authority has waned while the diversity of society has flourished. Perhaps “because” that authority has loosened we are now free to follow our own paths and express who we truly feel ourselves to be? Maybe people have always been multifaceted creatures, completely unique in their combination of experiences and traits, but we’d been forced into these strict simplifications.
It raises so many questions. Are we the way we are because we see it affirmed and accept it as a viable option? Or, regardless of options, do we simply need the freedom to express our true being? What is it we’re all part of here, and how well does it serve individuals or community? Does this meld well with everyday social realities? Is it potentially hindering more than it helps? (Notes Three)
Lately, it seems we’re, again, approaching life with these preconceived notions of what looks, wealth or demeanour “say” about people. Can culture encourage us toward anything other than superficial evaluations, given its symbolic nature? Can it push beneath that surface to awaken greater awareness of what’s there?
If we’re multifaceted, jewel-like, could culture become like that? What would it look like if culture embraced everyone with recognition, celebration and acceptance instead of all this?
Notes and References:
Note 1: Living your life through a song
Note 1: Reference points for how we’re living
Note 1: Absolute or relative value
Note 1: Culture as reflection
Note 2: What is acceptable?
Note 2: Ideas that tie things together
Note 2: Meaning in culture
Note 3: It resonates, but should it be amplified
Note 3: Does anything exist in isolation?
Note 3: Love of self