What Is 'Culture' and How Do We Measure It?

Dan McKinley

Head of Innovation

February 3, 2021

Culture is the very framework of society. We all have bodies that are heavily influenced by genetics, but we forget how much we are influenced by the environment. Culture is a living conduit the blends the power of our physical atmosphere, societal heritage, and programmed belief structures 

Asking someone to observe their own culture is like asking a fish to observe water. Only when the fish is out of water does it notice that it even existed 

Culture is the very framework of society. Geert Hofstede, the famed Dutch anthropologist, called culture the software of the mind. We all have bodies that are heavily influenced by genetics ,but we forget how much we are influenced by the environment. Culture is a living conduit the blends the power of our physical atmosphere, societal heritage, and programmed belief structures 

We get the English word for culture from the Latin cultura. It’s implied meaning was to tend or to cultivate. It’s the power of man over his environment. Or is it? Mother Earth and her climates, natural resources, and ecology often determine what is possible. Either way it’s easy to harken back to the Garden of Eden with ideas of cultivating fruits and other plants. Early religions were heavily tied to agriculture and the Romans must have understood this. Our word for religion is based on the Latin word for binding or enjoining, something an agriculturist would see an obvious connection in. Ancient cults were often obsessed with agriculture. It’s no surprise that the word cult is in the word culture. Cults are definitely predicated on the power of our environment, society, and programmed belief structures. Food, language, religion, politics, and all aspects of lifestyle merge into culture. 

What is Culture?

Culture is a core component of your personality. It is literally the heart of your personality. What matters to you? What do you truly value? What makes you you in society?

But what exactly is culture? What is at the root of this all encompassing life force that connects people? What is being cultivated? What is this cult?

It all boils down to community

For a community to survive there must be a culture and for a culture to survive there must be a community. Shared beliefs. That’s at the heart of the entirety of it all. What do you believe that is shared with others? What are your worldviews that determine how you think, act, and behave in public? That will tell you exactly what your culture is. Culture is a community of shared beliefs. 

Culture tells us what foods are delicious. Culture tells us what kind of behavior is morally unacceptable. Culture tells us what kind of emotions we should feel during certain situations. Culture tells us the meaning behind certain sounds, sights, and touches. Culture is both a sensory and psychological experience. And even though culture is a shared phenomena, culture is unique to you because you experience life through the lens of an individual. 

Culture is a core component of your personality. It is literally the heart of your personality. What matters to you? What do you truly value? What makes you you in society? Your environment nurtured you. Your background is a fundamental part of who you will always be. What you love is central to your individual persona. The person who can’t see the culture of someone is like the fish who ignores the brilliant glowing water of the ocean reef. 

Culture is simultaneously an individual and collective experience. Individuals have cultures that are influenced by their environments but societies have cultures that are influenced by their individuals. With a world as diverse as ever we can have multiple cultures in one setting. Gone are the days where everyone shares the same beliefs, values, or world views. Multiple cultures exist in every place imaginable. 

But what about homogenous societies? What about in a place like Japan that is almost entirely Japanese. The majority will be similar in many ways, but even in Japan there will be certain individuals who might stand out. If you’re an American you might have a personal culture similar to that of someone in Italy, Scotland, or even the Philippines. And this isn’t just due to immigration. Every now and then someone stands out. Actually, in a world that’s increasingly accepting our personal authenticity, quite a few people are standing out. That means that every person has a general culture type that is most similar to them. 


Culture Type

Now it is more important than ever to understand culture. It impacts economics, politics, and popular trends, and all aspects of society.

What’s a culture type. If someone were to ask you what was your grandma’s culture like how would you respond? You’d probably have an easy time if someone asked about her personality but would be thrown off guard if asked about her culture. A culture type is an archetype of someone’s culture. It explains certain belief systems, values, communication styles, behavioral patterns, and other traits that change across different societies. Individuals, regions, religions, political groups, companies, language groups, ethnicities, tribes, and countries can all have culture types. For individuals it’s the closest match to an archetype but for groups it’s the average culture of their members. Culture types allow people to quickly understand how a group or society operates.

You no longer have to be told “oh he acts so Mexican”. Now we have an ability to quickly explain behaviors and patterns that exist across a wide variety of peoples. For a long time people have been familiar with personality types, now we can have simple heuristics that can explain culture as well. 

Now it is more important than ever to understand culture. It impacts economics, politics, and popular trends, and all aspects of society. So many issues, problems, and major disputes happen because we fail to understand culture. Understanding culture allows us to reconcile our differences amicably. We often vilify our enemies as immoral monsters. We often see the other side as being stupid, ugly, and clueless.

What would happen if we truly valued and understood our differences as a form of diversity, not as an obstacle to be overcome? Throughout history we have justified culture differences to annihilate people. Has their ever been a genocide of extroverts or perfectionists? Have we ever but people with unattached earlobes on a no-fly list? To truly overcome our prejudices, accept real diversity, and to unify humanity we need to understand culture. 


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