Culture: the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social groups
Personally, I define culture as core values, beliefs, traditions, and customs to create a worldview. When trying to understand what culture is, it’s important to learn the universals. This means that there are certain elements and factors in every culture that applies to all people, also known as the human condition.
There are 10 basic elements of every culture: geography, language, family, FCTS (food, clothing, transport, shelter), economics, education, politics, technology, VBR (values, beliefs, rituals), and cultural expression.
As mentioned, it’s important to learn and respect people of your own or different cultures. This requires an open mind and being able to listen to others. To be culturally aware, here are the best ways to develop a positive outlook:
- Self-Knowledge — It’s imperative to know who you are. Self-identity is at the root of cultural identity.
- Become more self-aware — Reflect on why you think the way you think, believe what you believe, and value what you value.
- Appreciate other viewpoints — Don’t always assume that someone is wrong just because you don’t agree, or that you’re right because you have strong feelings about a certain topic. Take the time to learn from others.
- Do NOT stereotype — Be cognizant of stereotyping. No one wants to be negatively stereotyped. A lot of times, opinions are not factual idealizations. Although it’s not easy, make an effort to listen to other ideas and perspectives without placing judgment on what we believe is good or bad, right and wrong.
- Trust the Process — During your journey of cultural learning, be patient with how you absorb information. Forgive yourself when you find yourself being biased or downright ignorant. Take it as an opportunity to learn, change, and grow!
Having lived in 23 countries for over seven years, I was able to get a better understanding of others through visiting various nations, observing different cultures, and the people I encountered. I cultivated an inner connection with others based on our shared humanity.
If you don’t have the means to travel, it’s still possible to open your mind to understanding others within your own country. By experiencing other cultures, reflecting on those experiences will help you acquire a deeper connection with others. It’s also important to reflect and challenge your assumptions and motives.
As Sri Sathya Sai Baba says, “life is the greatest teacher.”