Sunday, September 26, 2010

Who We Are--Thinking About Culture

What do you think about when you think about culture? Anything like the following definitions?

from the Oxford
English Dictionary
from the Cambridge American Dictionaryfrom Urban Dictionary, an online user created wiki
"Refinement of mind, taste, and manners; artistic and intellectual development. Hence: the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.""The way of life of a particular people, esp. as shown in their ordinary behavior and habits, their attitudes toward each other, and their moral and religious beliefs.""A term invoked by people who feel pride in accomplishments of others. A justification for all kinds of human rights violation. An outcome of evolutionary beneficial group thinking, and thus a racist generalisation. Also used in conjunction with 'history' for more pride and group thinking."

The first definition is most likely the most traditional view of culture and I hope the second is the way we are moving toward conceptualizing culture. The third is not what I expected to find there. is a wonderful site that allows users to submit their own definitions for words. Readers can then give definitions a thumbs up or down to rate each. This allows for humorous definitions and definitions of slang terms that haven't made it into more standard dictionaries. I had expected to find a definition similar to the Oxford definition here but was surprised to find the slightly defensive sounding definition above, which as of today has received 101 thumbs up and 60 thumbs down. While there are a total of 14 various definitions on the site, this one is at the top because of its review numbers.

There are many definitions and perspectives for viewing the word "culture." When approaching the topic of culture in my classroom, I encourage students to think about culture in broad terms but with an individual focus. When we talk about culture, it is important to start with ourselves. Who am I? Where do I come from? What do I believe? What groups do I claim membership to and how do those memberships influence me? It is essential to acknowledge and own our identities. Once we have at least the beginnings of an understand of who we are and where we come form, then we can begin to appreciate others and tackle the concept that while we should always celebrate our diversity, we have so much in common too. By learning about and exploring our similarities and differences, we can appreciate each other and move toward a more peaceful and cooperative world.

I challenge us all think about who we are today, not just who we think we are. Do we really believe what we think we do? Or have we simply not considered some of our base assumptions closely? Self-reflection will help us appreciate ourselves and others.

"We don't see things as they are, we see them are we are." ~Anais Nin

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