Let’s define our terms, shall we?
3a: an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another b: a community, nation, or broad grouping of people having common traditions, institutions, and collective activities and interests
4a: a part of a community that is a unit distinguishable by particular aims or standards of living or conduct : a social circle or a group of social circles having a clearly marked identity
5a: the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations
b: the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time
c: the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization
d: the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic
Society is our social group, our community, our world, our town, our peoples that we hang out with. It includes both those we understand, like, and affirm and those we don’t understand, don’t like, disagree with, etc. The society is the group of people.
Culture is what society produces.
Our culture is the soup we’re all swimming in.
Some of it’s tasty, some of it’s old and rotten, some of it’s not cooked through all the way yet. Our culture is the common set of feelings, attitudes, expectations, beliefs, systems, rules of etiquette, etc., which we use to relate to, understand, and/or reject the other people in our society.
Where the Culture Comes From
I drew you this handy pict-o-graph because sometimes that’s better, even though I stink at drawing/graphicking things (obviously). But here you go anyway.
Humanity Is Great, But Easily Deceived In a Crowd
Okay, so the phrase you want to notice here is the one under my representative CULTURE picture, there. This phrase: MOST COMMON.
Now, if you’re anything like me, what you most do NOT want to be is COMMON.
Or just like everybody else.
Or rider on multiple bandwagons.
You want to be unique. You ARE unique! Different! Individual! Kind of like everybody else! Yes!
And that’s the thing with culture, in general.
The problem is that it comes from a mass of individuals who are squished together, trying to survive and form some sort of cohesive whole, trying to create the community and then trying to survive the group dynamics created by the community, trying to be accepted, trying to understand each other, trying to be (just dying to be) cool.
There’s a lot of pressure, and the most individual among us cave to it, and that’s not always a bad thing.
Sometimes the group is AMAZING and does stuff like SET AMAZING FASHION TRENDS and COME UP WITH NEW MEANS OF COMMUNICATION and SOLVE WORLD PROBLEMS and stuff.
Sometimes the group is lame. SO, so, so, so very very lame.
At times entire cultures (or at least the majority of them) have condoned stuff like, ohIdon’tknow… slavery, genocide, racism, sexism. Foot binding?
What I’m saying is, culture is not always smart, nice, or good. Or progressive. Or even witty.
Changing the Culture
What changes the culture are the individuals who are willing to stand apart from it.
The individuals who are not going to condone by silence what their hearts say is wrong (or just plain stupid).
Culture-changers are the individuals who are willing to risk ridicule. Willing to be misunderstood. Willing to redefine what is acceptable, what is valuable, what is part of the culture.
You can only redefine a culture by separating yourself from it.
How to Separate Yourself
But you’re living in the culture. You can’t so much go underground, build a hut on a mountain, shut yourself in a bomb shelter.
Okay, maybe you can, but that’s still probably not the most effective want to change culture.
To separate yourself from your own culture, you must understand this simple truth:
You don’t derive your value or your values from the culture.
It works the other way around.
You bring your own values in. You are inherently valuable because you are a person, an individual, and when you add yourself to a culture, you add your own value.
And when you step back, you take your value with you.
Culture is a construct. Without the individual it falls apart.
It is changed by the individuals who approach it confidently, a little cynically, bringing their own distinct value and their own, personally held set of values to the culture.
The individuals who define culture are not the ones who feed off it, not the conformers, not the mumblers of group-speak, not the head-nodders, not the blank-stare, eyebrow-raise, I-have-a-degree-in-snark-but-don’t-understand-history nonentities who have lost their souls somewhere in the murky, gummy depths of the culture pool.
The individuals who define the culture are the ones who stand apart from it.
They may love it, but they don’t worship it. They’ll risk its censure to keep their own identity. And they’ll give far more to it, standing a few feet away, and make it far better by maintaining the individuality that creates a culture in the first place.