Culture and How It Affects Our Morality

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The following response is a contribution from a student at Youth Initiative High School in Viroqua, Wisconsin.

Culture has always existed among human communities, and has evolved simultaneously as human civilization has developed. Culture has engulfed various sides of the life within communities influencing food preparation techniques, but also forms of entertainment that keep communities together like music, dancing, or other rituals. It has defined, and still does, most of our daily habits and behaviors, but also the way we perceive the world and the standards upon which we build up own opinion and judgement. Culture is the identity and motherboard of human communities. But how exactly does it influence and direct our morality?

In order to understand how it can influence our mindsets and lifestyles, we have to start out by giving a definition to what the word “culture” actually means. To break it down, culture is a set of shared values that a certain group of people holds. Those values significantly affect how you think and act, to be more specific, the set of criteria followed by individuals in order to make a judgement. Cultural meanings define some behaviors as normal and right but also others as strange or wrong. At the end of the day, that does not mean that two members from the same cultural backgrounds are going to respond in exactly identical ways. Nonetheless, generalizations are valid in this context since they provide key behaviors that you will most likely face.    

Every culture has rules, beliefs, and values that most individuals take for granted and sometimes do not even realize. This is due to the fact that these cultural informations were imprinted at a very young age and are usually stored in our subconscious making it very complicated and difficult to manage or modify. This often comes out in our usual way of acting and thinking, even though it can vary greatly between individuals. It is simply our identity, it is the rule that governs the peoples of different parts of the world and that not even governments can change. In some countries, culture can literally be compared to a constitution with rights, laws, and punishment that is built up by the community itself.

We end up understanding that the notion of what is wrong and what is right can be totally different between a culture and another, but usually the morality of a community is dictated by the religion that is the authentic source of all the rules and principles upon which culture stands. The fear from the ultimate great power usually referred to as “god” has always been a fundamental part of human civilization. That was the way these rules were going to be respected and followed, sometimes even unconsciously, fearing the ultimate punishment mostly referred to as “Hell,” in contrast to the rewards you get for doing good and what is perceived to be right to eventually get into “Heaven.” That is mainly how religion, considered an essential part of culture, divides us but also governs us in our daily lives, defining even our most insignificant behaviors, conclusively diminishing the chances for a neutral judgment, but mostly a predicted judgment based on specific standards and a whole complex mentality.  
Other than through religion, culture can also affect our education. To make it simple I will break it down to two separate types of cultures. The first one would be the collectivist culture and the second one would be the individualist one and notice how each one is different from the other one and how when interacting with each other great communication failures could happen. Within a collectivist community, students work with peers and get assistance whenever they need it; on the other side this would be seen as cheating or a result of a lack of competence.

From my own personal experience, transitioning from a French educational system to the American school has been full of changes in so many ways that it ended up being even overwhelming sometimes, especially as a junior in high school. Back in the French school, my writing skills were usually distinguished by the teachers. However, entering the American school my writing started being criticized for being implicit and not clear for the reader, getting mostly Cs and Ds in my first papers. That was depressing. Until I finally made the decision of completely putting my knowledge of writing rules and basis aside and starting completely over. It was indeed a little bit hard since I had to increase my grades especially in a critical phase of high school. Eventually, I ended up noticing that the issue all along the way was not grammar or punctuation, but was actually the whole perspective from which Americans perceived a paper, learning that the whole point of it was to make clear, straightforward statements and ideas that would be simple for the reader to understand. It was a whole cultural aspect that made my writing distinguished and valued in the French system and rather vague in the eyes of an American reader. It is in fact only when I understood that then I became able to reach the American reader and fix a whole miscommunication issue.

But since this paper is especially dedicated to culture, I am choosing to share with you my way of writing implicit ideas mostly by making sense in between the lines rather than just making it explicit. That is because it has always reminded me of life, and how life never gives us simple answers in black and white, but makes it so much more complicated than that. It gives us a lot of gray.

My notion of what is right and wrong has totally evolved and changed. I understand now that it is more than just linguistic difference, but a whole mindset. My standards of judging people now totally depend on where they come from and their cultural background. It is a window to openness, understanding, and communicating with the world. That does not mean in any way that either one of us is wrong or right, but basically seen from different perspectives. And that has mostly been the debate of our modern world, which is to accept and admit each other’s differences and being able to coexist.

To conclude, I would say that the secret of the governance of the people of the world is to be able to change or implement a global culture that would imply all the positive characteristics that could make our world utopian. However, we all have known and learned that the idea of a perfect world would always be impossible to bring into reality. Thus, the only thing that we could do would be to work through it and make less distance in between and that would already be a great leap full of benefits for the world, but never reach flawlessness.

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