The importance of culture does far deeper than its historical significance. While history is an invaluable resource in learning from our mistakes and applying hindsight to the present, the 21st century is going to be a new, incredible chapter in the book of culture. Top universities have students matriculating from over a hundred countries and America is more of a melting pot now than ever before.
That’s why this post is primarily concerned with the importance of culture in the world we live in: how we encounter it, how we can benefit from it and why we should fight to preserve it. For another modern perspective on culture, explore the complexities of globalization and how it shapes our cultures with this great course on the geography of globalization.
The Future: Fast Approaching
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, over 42% of the American population will be minorities by the year 2050. By 2100, that number is expected to grow to 60% (at which point they will form a majority). Recent events in the media include the imminent ousting of NBA team owner Donald Sterling for making racist comments and the random farmer and sadly old-fashioned racist, Cliven Bundy. For a variety of reasons – immaturity, greed, upbringing, etc. – racism still lives so strongly in some people that you wonder what it will take to abolish its existence forever. Well, a majority population of minorities is a step in the right direction, but we need to encourage the appreciation and understanding of cultural importance before that day comes.
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A Taste Of Empathy
You don’t have to be from an exotic or far-way locale to have a sense of culture. There is quite a bit of cultural diversity within America itself, from Georgia to New York, from Virginia to New Mexico, from Eastern Montana to Southern California. Wherever you come from, you inherit social values, customs, beliefs and even religions that makeup your personal identity. Sure, you might not be a Maasai from Tanzania, but wherever you come from you feel a sense of culture. Anyone who grew up in a small town knows what it’s like when a big development threatens to destroy your sense of home. Everyone in the world has their own sense of culture, and once we realize this we can begin to empathize with others and appreciate everyone’s right to their upbringing.
Strength In Numbers
Let’s look at some of the benefits of culture in terms of larger populations; that is, beyond the individual.
- Larger Concepts
Some of the greatest things about culture are the larger concepts it gives us. For example, culture is largely responsible for our belief in the importance of family. Family goes back a long, long time, but even today family is protected by the law, it is currently used as a key point in political platforms and anyone who has been blessed with a good family knows its value, even though, of course, not everyone can hope to be so lucky.
Culture also helps develop a sense of national or, on a smaller scale, group pride. It turns individuals into a collective that can accomplish feats of world importance when it functions as one unit. Coordination and widespread peace would not be possible without culture. If you want to learn more about cultural issues in the United States, take a look at this diversity training class and gain new insights into Affirmative Action.
- Quality Of Life
There is no higher quality of life than one that exists in a great, healthy culture. A foundation of beliefs, interests and support form the foundation for advances in education, medicine, science, technology, etc. The modern culture is not easy to define because it is comprised of things that have never before existed, but that is no reason to say that they are not cultural or an integral part of our culture.
- All The Ideas In The World
The 21st century is going to be the century of cultural diversity and integration. With the invention of the internet and other essential travel and communication technology in the 20th century, and with globalization occurring at an exponential rate, all of the ideas and beliefs of the world are going to be able to be shared, both through technology but, more importantly, in person. The amalgamation of these beliefs and ideas will help bring a truly rounded and balanced understanding of culture and how the human race has adapted its lifestyles to every part of the world. This will naturally result in understanding and appreciation, but I don’t think anyone is so naive to think it will happen without growing pains.
Culture And Education
One of the biggest challenges we face is culture and education. There can be drastic discrepancies at public schools, with intelligent and wealthy white children in the same classroom as underprivileged ESL students (and vise versa). Education is one of our greatest opportunities to instill cultural acceptance and diversity in children from a young age. The world views of a child who has been exposed to multicultural and multiethnic environments will be light-years (literally) more mature than a child who does not have this privilege.
Attracting a large population of minority students is a step in the right direction, but it isn’t enough. In fact, just throwing different cultures together can be dangerous. Efforts need to be made to help integrate students, to help them appreciate each other, to be respectful, to try to learn, etc. If not, cultures will naturally congregate within themselves (one of culture’s advantages backfiring) and the classroom will more or less turn into a United Nations experiment.
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In education and elsewhere, diversity needs to be addressed head-on. We do not want to hide the tragic, terrible histories that have resulted from hatred between cultures. These are the things we need to teach. These are the consequences people need to realize will come to fruition if we do not embrace what is great and beautiful about culture and instead only focus on differences and self-preservation. Nazi Germany and the Vietnam War are two modern and reality-shaking examples of what happens when cultures collide with violence. If you’re struggling with new ideas about culture yourself, give yourself a new perspective with this top-rated course on recipes for fresh thinking and opening your mind.
While certain cultural issues are inevitable in young people, a policy of zero-tolerance truly needs to be implemented everywhere. Discrimination belongs in the stone age and disrespect should not be tolerated to any degree. It’s important in group situations to get beliefs out into the open, to share perspectives and to implement some “legislation.” Students should be allowed to institute their own rules and guidelines for respecting each other. This will give them a stronger sense of what is right and what needs to be done to protect culture later in life.
The Unseen Culture
Much of what I have discussed involves culture you can see: someone’s ethnicity, the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the religions they practice, etc. But a growing field in anthropological study is linguistics. This might sound a little strange, but of the 6,500 languages that currently exist in the world (we have already lost about 4,000), more than half are expected to go extinct in the next hundred years.
Languages can tell us a lot about a culture. Each language has words and sounds that are specific to its culture. Languages are the mediums through which beliefs and values are communicated. When languages die, so does a large part of a long history of that culture. Languages – the proverbs, the words, the sounds – contain a wealth of knowledge and an accumulation, in some cases, of thousands of years of experience. A multilingual culture is a great thing and a reason to fight to preserve language.
Indulging In Culture
Is there not something to be said for an interesting world to live in? One of the wonderful aspects of globalization is you do not have to travel to the other side of the world to interact with foreign cultures. Classrooms, boardrooms, buses, restaurants and virtually every other public place imaginable are filled with different culture. Learning about how people live, the geography they come from, the foods they eat and the things they hold dear is not just interesting; from the perspective of protecting the most unique and advanced life form yet discovered, culture is the most important thing in our universe.
The important thing is to not keep moving forward. Protecting culture and instilling cultural acceptance is going to take a global effort. Start making a world of difference with this fantastic course on the theory, research and practice of exploring intercultural communication.