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What My Culture Means to Me

Reviewed Feb 12, 2013


Your culture gives you:

  • strength
  • connection to others
  • guidelines to live by

Cultures are groups of people plus all the wisdom, opinions or traditions they share. We’re all part of many different cultures, whether we’re born into them or find ourselves in them later in life.

People who are part of the same culture can share the same: 

  • age or generation
  • religion or set of beliefs
  • ethnic heritage
  • region
  • school
  • workplace
  • group of friends or families
  • hobbies or interests

All of these groups have their own ways of going about life. We pick up on their cues, often without thinking. Every time we make a choice, a culture is right there, offering an opinion. It tells us what to wear, how to act, what to believe, and where we fit into society. As we grow older, we find some cultures help us make good choices, but others don’t. We learn how to take cultural signals and make choices that work for us.

Common threads

If you wonder how you get to be part of a culture, look at your own life. Whatever your age, you are part of many.        

1. We all have traditions. Your family has its own way of living from day-to-day and year-to-year, and you’ve learned it over your lifetime. Over time, we take in parts of ethnic, racial, language or religious cultures. Some of us call ourselves African American, Mexican American or Chinese American. Or we might be a blend of many different heritages. Whatever our culture, we know a lot about it, without anyone teaching it to us.    

2. Spiritual groups have a lot of influence on our lives. If you go to church or have a spiritual life, you know people who can help you set your goals and decide what really matters in life. Maybe you celebrate holidays with people in that culture to help express your beliefs.

3. If you want to know what culture you are in, look at how you spend your time. Maybe you’ve never traveled to other countries, but the music you listen to binds you to other fans, some very far away. So do the movies you like, the TV programs you watch, the books you read and the clothes you wear. Are you crazy about horses, baseball or computers? Whatever your passion, it connects you to people near and far, who love the same thing.

In all these ways, we see ourselves in groups that explain what we do, where we live or what we believe. When we know what we have in common with others, we learn more about who we are and where we’re going. Our culture also helps us learn how to get to where we want to go.  

How cultures make us feel

1. Important
Every culture has famous people. When you’re part of the same group, you get to share their glory. Think of how proud you are when your favorite team wins a big game!

2. Connected to others
Cultures remind us that we’re not alone. We’re Americans, or Californians or Yankee fans, and we’re surrounded by others like us.  

3. Part of something bigger than ourselves
Cultures give us heroes to look up to and stories to inspire us.

4. Strong
We can look to our culture for strength and guidance, and follow the paths others have taken.

5. Special
When we’re proud of our culture, we’re proud of ourselves. 

When we look at the cultures we’re part of, we learn a lot about our own strengths and weaknesses. When we look at other cultures, we learn things that help us see the people who are part of those groups. 

Each and every one of us is a mosaic of bits and pieces taken from many different cultures. And, every tie we have to other people helps us set our values and find meaning in life.

By Paula Hartman Cohen
Source: Scott Haltzman, MD, psychiatrist, author and medical director of NRI Community Services, Woonsocket, R.I.; Loretta Kearsley, RN, BA, MEd, psychiatric nurse, Charlemont, Mass.
Reviewed by Ron Morton, Director of Recovery and Resiliency, ValueOptions Inc.

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