Culture is widely considered and accepted as the human expression of language, the arts and sciences, spirituality, and social interaction.
Since time and immemorial, philosophers and social anthropologists have deliberated how these aspects of human development define us.
I’m not one to challenge scholarship about humankind’s sociological comparatives. I’ll leave it to academia and history to debate.
My edification of culture is more introspective, rooted in personal experiences and narratives. I believe all facets of human nature begin with consciousness, identity, self-awareness and self-empowerment.
As to when, or if ever, intuitive individual distinctiveness happens; it varies between people and is unquestionably influenced by allegiances, peer pressure, and circumstances. But it stirs within us all, awaiting awakening, consideration and a rallying call.
Culture is not in our DNA; it’s not a birthright. Communal authority teaches our norms and customs. As children, we have little choice, but to absorb what is encouraged, promoted and expected. We’re innocents, compliant and susceptible to the edicts of our hosts.
Nevertheless, during our lifetime, we have the opportunity, if not an obligation to seek enlightenment outside the margins of prevailing social attitudes and convention. At what point then, do we become mindful and question our public and private norms and place in the world?
The truth is that, it’s different for all of us. Some of us choose at an early age; some of us evolve over time; some of us never do. It’s a choice. And that’s the point. We all possess the power at some time in our lives to view the world of our choosing.
Given this awareness, I chose to explore the world outside my own. Throughout my lifetime, I’ve crisscrossed America (virtually every state) and traveled to scores of countries around the world. I’ve come to the realization that cultural group dynamics is predisposed to cultivate fealty over personal self-worth and growth. I discovered – and it cannot be overstated – that societal pressure suppresses individuality.
However, the subjugation resulting from it can be mitigated through self-examination of thoughts, ideas & motives. Introspection and self-sufficiency are capable of liberating us from cultural bias, conformity, and captivity.
If we seek and are ever to find, relevance and our rightful place in the world, we must first free ourselves from indigenous identity. In so doing, we’re freed from group influence, definitions and expectations. We cannot appreciate complementary or divergent people or realize our full human potential unless and until we escape our culture.
I’m not suggesting abandoning legacy, be it race, ethnicity, religion, national or familial, but rather advocate breaking away from its overpowering authority and control. Liberation pardons us to explore and gain new perspectives, personage, and balance.
As an existentialist, I believe in personal choice regardless of traditions, ethnic rules or any laws. Moreover, I believe in the freedom to select a personal lifestyle and moral beliefs. I’m particularly receptive to explications offered from “street” philosophers, who provide poignant human context to the incongruities of societal groupthink.
As it happens, one of the most insightful and intuitive observations I’ve ever come across about social distinctiveness came from a most unexpected source. None other than the late George Carlin, the brilliant comedian, social critic, and contemporary truth seeker, when he offered this unique and underlying principle on individualism.
“People are wonderful. I love individuals. I hate groups of people. I hate groups of people with a ‘common purpose.’ Cause pretty soon they have little hats and armbands. And fight songs. And the list of people they’re going to visit at 3:00 a.m. So, I dislike and despise groups of people but I love individuals. Every person that you look at, you can see the universe in their eyes if you’re really looking, so cumulatively, you feel as if you’re in a family.”
Priceless. I wholeheartedly concur. We have a choice, individuality or groups; cultural chasms or self-awareness. Do we follow the herd or do we interact with others independently, openly and honestly?
So where does that leave those of us seeking impartiality if we’re powerless to affect a diversity of thought through traditional groups, socioeconomic and political channels? I contend that we have to come to terms with the futility and failings of a cultural groupthink and look inward for answers. We must look to ourselves for solutions.
Cultural self-awareness and self-sufficiency is a mindset, more powerful than any assemblage, faction or group. We have the power to mold our personalities and self-interests by how we choose to see ourselves in the world.
We have the power to escape the trappings of traditions and customs to become not “one or the other,” but whole.
As free-thinking individuals, we must unshackle ourselves from color and dissimilar racial and ethnic distinctions, from tribal and religious dogma, and if need be, from familial constraints and self-loathing. We must free ourselves from cultural artifice; from artificial tenets and definitions of work, play, politics, friendships, even adversarial relationships.
It’s on us. The world we live in is individually ours to change.
Frustrated in not finding a remotely honest depiction about my mixed-race and multicultural American experience, I decided to write a memoir of my own.
If for no other reason than to provide context and value to self-discovery and the social paradigms we share, but fail to recognize in ourselves and one another.
My intention is to affirm and provoke, to open your eyes to a world seen through an independent and different colored lens.
Consider our meeting a handshake between friends. Relax in a comfortable chair, have a glass of wine and peruse.
Don’t be shy. I won’t bite.
Well, maybe a little.