Culture has many definitions. It is an English word that must be used in context. Especially as we create and pursue our purpose in life.
One context pertains to genealogical family characteristics:
The culture emanating from family history. Beliefs, interactions of family members, socio-economic levels, customs, techniques for overcoming hardships and meeting opportunity.
A second context is the larger social environment within which a family exists:
- neighborhoods, communities, states, nations
- war, peace, poverty, prosperity, disease
- compatibility, prejudice, race, religion
- rural, urban, suburban
- transportation and communication
- health care and nutrition
The third context involves time and place:
As time passes cultures become different. We travel and move to different places. Time and place change our perceptions of cultural influences, sometimes intentionally. Often unintentionally.
During the present time it feels as if everything is out of control. Families struggle with unfamiliar issues. The society around us is growing more confrontational and dysfunctional. Time has moved us into an era we do not recognize.
The place we once thought we knew is not the same. Our culture is shifting like wet sand on a beach. It is hard to keep our balance.
As a science teacher, my wife marveled at how living things on earth could adjust to changing circumstances. To survive. Even thrive.
By reinventing their cultures.
Adjustments in nature rarely occur in a single lifespan. While human beings are no exception, our more powerful brain can refashion responses.
Within a lifetime.
We learn. This learning awakens our perspective on what is happening, and how we must handle the situation. Nevertheless, we revise our behaviors within the confines of cultural norms deeply ingrained within us.
For example, I became enamored with the military because of its emphasis on discipline, order, and a thrilling esprit de corps purpose. My interest in serving the military did not emanate from a family history that glorified it.
But it was compatible with a family and social culture that revered self-discipline and a willingness to sacrifice for a worthwhile cause.
That attitude changed the longer I served in the army. The more I fully comprehended its primary reason for existence. Never disputing the need for a strong military in a dangerous world, I began to think of my service as that of a “citizen soldier.” To do what was expected as a patriotic American. To do it well.
But nothing more.
My culture created in me a need to serve. But how I served affected my ultimate purpose for living.
My wife was raised in a Texas family that revered southern traditions. Food, manners, dress, emphasis on family, church affiliation, Christian belief systems, manners. Many of which seemed like oddities to me, a man raised in Arizona when it still had an Old West feel about it.
In time I grew to appreciate most of the 1962 Texas culture. But not all of it. As a white boy growing up in a state with diverse and often intermixed cultures, I had little experience with segregation. And the army was totally desegregated.
At that time of my life, my attitude about segregation in Texas was not based on moral repugnance. It was mostly I don’t get it.
My wife shared my view. Her parents did not, except for one curious cultural oddity. They were almost obsessively dedicated and loyal to any black or Hispanic person who worked for them in the household or company. Or were hired to maintain their property.
I suppose it partially came down to whether minority persons knew and accepted their “place.”
With my wife it was more than that. In the church and community, she would often make friends with minority women. And occasionally the friendship was powerful. When one of those friends died, she insisted that we pay for a beautiful headstone.
My wife’s openness to people of color made a significant difference in her response to care as an Alzheimer’s patient.
Before the pandemic I visited my wife’s care facility every day. The bonus received from those visits was watching and listening to other patients and their families.
Patients and visitors respond to each other in interesting ways.
The wife of a male resident was once a prominent jurist. She read to him excerpts from the American Constitution and Declaration of Independence. I could see the vacant look in his eyes momentarily disappear as he listened to his wife recite words that obviously meant much to him. Those words became a cognitive stimulus that represented a culture both admired.
A female resident clearly wanted nothing to do with her husband when he visited. Their son told me the marriage had been dysfunctional, and the culture of animosity was deep-seated in her.
Many on the facility’s caregiving staff are people of color. Most residents cooperate with them, but the prejudices of a lifetime sometimes emerge through the fog of Alzheimer’s. Impatience. The expectation they must be waited on.
The opposite is true with my wife. She smiles and obviously loves and appreciates people taking care of her. Just as she and her parents did for those working for them. In that odd segregated culture. One that had a positive flip side — loving paternalism.
Intellectually, my wife understood the dangers of paternalism. She forced herself out of the culture of a superior person taking care of an inferior being.
Recently I mentioned the name “Laura” to my wife, and she smiled contentedly. Laura was a black woman who helped clean our house but was also a wonderful friend. She contracted terminal breast cancer, so my wife and I visited her in the hospital.
During our last visit she told my wife, “We’re like sisters with different mothers.”
Funny but true. They had created a new culture for themselves. More than equality. A kinship built on empathy and a deep emotional connection.
If only such a cultural bond would develop in all of us during this time of crisis. A culture of mutual understanding and love.
Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself.
©2020 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved