How Culture Influences Character
Culture influences character development in many ways. Various values, norms, and traditions largely define a culture. And cultures invariably promote these things and their embrace by constituents. (Cultures also tend to punish failures to embrace these things!) Consequently, culture has a lot to do with the attitudes folks form and the ways they feel they can or should conduct themselves.
How Character Influences Culture
Naturally, it’s people who comprise cultures. And each inhabitant possesses a distinctive character. Character is the part of us that reflects our core beliefs, attitudes, and values. (It also reflects how we’re prone to act!) Our character largely defines the kind of person we are. And the kinds of folks who dominate a culture tend to have the most influence on what should be believed and the ways things should get done. And when enough folks believe and act in a certain way, the general cultural milieu changes accordingly. People’s character, therefore, has a lot to do with the cultural climate. However, as mentioned earlier, culture influences character, too. That’s because the norms, traditions, and values that permeate the environment a person grows up in has a lot to do with the character they develop.
Changing Norms, Traditions, and Values
With human beings, some things never change. But some things do change, and sometimes significantly so. For example, it was once common for a “gentleman” to tip his hat to a lady or to open a door for her. It was simply the custom. And that’s just what a norm is. Doing what’s “normal” does not necessarily mean doing what’s healthy or wise. Rather, it means what most people tend to do, based on cultural expectations. So, we can debate whether it’s particularly healthy or wise to engage in the aforementioned practice. It was, however, once the norm.
At one time, most folks considered certain words particularly vulgar or profane. And others might easily look down on you for using some of these words in front of children or in polite conversation. Once again, the norm on such matters has changed in recent years. So considerably, in fact, that a particular word, once used rarely and in restricted company, is now uttered quite liberally.
One can always expect norms, traditions, and values to change over time. Sometimes the changes are for the good, fostering more fairness and justice in a culture. But sometimes the changes are harmful, not only to the culture as a whole but also to the character the people within it. (See: pp. 162-173 In Sheep’s Clothing.)
A Culture of Entitlement
Attitudes of entitlement have pervaded modern culture for quite a while. And because culture influences character, such attitudes are how also held by many. But attitudes of entitlement obstruct sound character deveopment. (See: Chapter 2, Essentials for the Journey.) And that’s why I write so much and so often on this topic. The vicious cycle that’s spawned so much character disturbance simply has to be broken.
The Pathway to Change
Okay. So, culture influences character. And character helps shape the culture. And the entitlement rampant in both our culture and individual characters has been toxic. It follows, therefore, that this attitude must change. But how? We’ve tried mandating civil behavior. And we’ve tried punishing bad actors. We’re now trying to eliminate – or at least restrict – instruments of crime. Will it work? Probably not. Why? Because folks who lack compunction and feel entitled will find a way. There’s only one way things can really change. And that way involves a change of heart. I’ll be talking about that more in the coming weeks and also on Character Matters.