Tree bark showing orange, yellow and pink

Everything culture used to be

Thinking, broadly, of “culture”, what is it that it means within our lives? Between the moments of every day and the larger moments of our years, seasons or lifetimes, isn’t it generally weaving rhythms of meaning, purpose or intention into existence? Tending to pull our thoughts in certain directions, remind us what matters, refocus our priorities, and channel our activities down established paths or into new patterns.

As if each culture, place or family creates its own way – its own narratives, traditions, routines or practices that serve to carry forward a specific understanding of life and how to live it (Notes One). This framework that holds our relationships; structures our lives; guides our thinking; reinforces our values; lets us know where we stand. An overlay of organised, meaningful habits we build “life” around and relate ourselves to.

Whether on the personal level or reaching beyond that to family, community or nation, its events or ideas seem to filter through to define so many moments, conversations and thought processes. Almost this “way of thinking” that accompanies us through life, letting us know how to see things while grounding us in the familiarity of routine – helping us interpret reality and respond to it with our feet firmly in place (Notes Two).

Over time, that must build to quite a substantial sense of “meaning” as each person, each day, each year walks the same lines in thought and action, overlaying all that went before with this intentional repetition of fairly timeless practices. The inherited rhythms of culture having been picked up with new hands and carried on in new ways – subtle or dramatic shifts that, hopefully, still have a similar effect.

In a world of slowly-shifting habits, such a thing would presumably impart a reassuring sense of belonging: routines that carry us through our days with the gentle reminder of expectation being met. Seasons rolling round, specific events or culinary traditions passing by one after the other, the rhythms of life letting us know we stand as the latest in a long line of people living their lives in this familiar fashion.

Almost like tides of meaning that hold us in their thrall as the same stories, characters, meals, expressions or ceremony mark each day off in order as we arrange our lives in tune with the overall structure it offers. As we age, that familiarity perhaps helping tether people in the reassuring arms of “how things are” and “what we should do”.

By comparison, “modern” culture can seem divisive and unsettling; this ever-shifting landscape of trends that define and set us apart more than unite us in one, harmonious conversation about “life” (Notes Three). Perhaps the beautiful blending of previously disparate cultures into this new, individually-chosen culture of personal identity was always going to be less unifying? Each choosing their own way.

Doesn’t that choppy divisiveness create new challenges, though, for people still seeking the reassuring threads of a common meaning that’s somehow able to hold us all together throughout our lives?

Notes and References:

Note 1: The stories that we hear
Note 1: Culture as what we relate to
Note 1: Culture as information
Note 2: Visual language and spaces
Note 2: Learning from the past, looking to the future
Note 2: Culture as a conversation across time
Note 2: Navigation, steering & direction
Note 3: Making things up as we go along
Note 3: Definition, expression & interpretation
Note 3: Do we need meaning?

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