WHAT IS CULTURE?
As community builders, understanding culture is our business. No matter where you live, you are working with and establishing relationships with people--people who all have cultures.
What is culture? Here is one viewpoint.
"Culture" refers to a group or community which shares common experiences that shape the way its members understand the world. It includes groups that we are born into, such as race, national origin, gender, class, or religion. It can also include a group we join or become part of. For example, it is possible to acquire a new culture by moving to a new country or region, by a change in our economic status, or by becoming disabled. When we think of culture this broadly we realize we all belong to many cultures at once.
WHY IS CULTURE IMPORTANT?
Culture is a strong part of people's lives. It influences their views, their values, their humor, their hopes, their loyalties, and their worries and fears. So when you are working with people and building relationships with them, it helps to have some perspective and understanding of their cultures.
But as we explore culture, it's also important to remember how much we have in common. People see the world very differently, but they know what it is like to wake up in the morning and look forward to the adventures that of the day. We are all human beings. We all love deeply, want to learn, have hopes and dreams, and have experienced pain and fear.
At the same time, we can't pretend our cultures and differences don't matter. We can't gloss over differences and pretend they don't exist, wishing we could all be alike, and we can't pretend that discrimination doesn't exist.
Everyone is Welcome:
In order for people to commit to working on diversity, every person needs to feel that they will be included and important. Each person needs to feel welcomed in the effort to create a diverse community. And each person needs to know that their culture is important to others.
Relationships are powerful. Our one-to-one connections with each other are the foundation for change. And building relationships with people from different cultures, often many different cultures, is key in building diverse communities that are powerful enough to achieve significant goals.
Whether you want to make sure your children get a good education, bring quality health care into your communities, or promote economic development, there is a good chance you will need to work with people from several different racial, language, ethnic, or economic groups. And in order to work with people from different cultural groups effectively, you will need to build sturdy and caring relationships based on trust, understanding, and shared goals.
Why? Because trusting relationships are the glue that hold people together as they work on a common problem. As people work on challenging problems, they will have to hang in there together when things get hard. They will have to support each other to stay with an effort, even when it feels discouraging. People will have to resist the efforts of those who use divide-and-conquer techniques--pitting one cultural group against another.
Regardless of your racial, ethnic, religious, or socioeconomic group, you will probably need to establish relationships with people whose group you may know very little about.
Each one of us is like a hub of a wheel. Each one of us can build relationships and friendships around ourselves that provide us with the necessary strength to achieve community goals. If each person builds a network of diverse and strong relationships, we can come together and solve problems that we have in common.