A Discussion Series on Cultural Diversity: What is Culture?

What Does Culture Mean to you?
When thinking about culture, it’s important to think about your country and your identity synchronously. Are there particular values and beliefs which define who you are? Do you think you have certain morals or live within a community who all share the same ones as you? Maybe you secretly disagree with some of your community ideals but agree with another? Are there traditions that you love or hate? Is there food and music which you’re proud of because they’re from your country? Do you feel that you are represented within music and dance? Does eating your country’s food, understanding the people around you and following certain traditions give sense of belonging? Do you think you look at life differently than people from other countries? If yes, Why? These are a couple questions to get you started on thinking about what culture means to you and how you relate to your own culture.

Why is Culture Important?
The entire world is composed of different cultures, some similar and some vastly different. Some which you may find shocking, some beautiful, some you may not like at all. However, it’s important to note that our own culture in part defines how we see other cultures. There is a tendency to fall into the trap where we define other cultures as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depending on our own values and beliefs, however, cultures themselves are not intrinsically ‘good’ or ‘bad’, they are just different from what we are used to. Trying to understand how we relate to our cultures first and then to others is the first step in cross cultural understanding and collaboration.
Understanding culture is important because culture is intrinsic to who we are and how we perceive the world. In other words, culture helps us understand ourselves in order to understand others.
“People become aware of their culture when they stand at its boundaries: when they encounter other cultures, or when they become aware of other ways of doing things, or merely of contradictions to their own culture” – Anthony Cohen
Culture itself has certain characteristics which make it complex; it can be passed on through generations, it can be symbolic and it can also change over time. These characteristics inform our cultural perspectives in diametrically opposed ways: 1. Emic, being an insider in your own culture and 2. Etic, being an outsider observing other cultures. We can use this to understand how we look at religion, education, laws, beliefs and values in our own culture contexts as well as in others and how this in turn affects our behaviour and others. Only when we begin developing cultural self awareness will we be able to interpret and understand ourselves and someone else’s behaviour, thoughts, values, beliefs relative to their cultural context.

Part 2: Cross Cultural Understanding and Misunderstanding: Cultural Bias

Part 3: How to Promote Cross-Cultural Understanding and Collaboration: Strategies and Tools for Communication and Developing CQ (Cultural Intelligence)