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What is culture?

That is the question most often asked.  I even asked it.  I wanted to know what culture was, how to teach culture and which models/tricks did I need to know before I fully understood what culture meant.  This, in my opinion, would be a difficult way to understand culture.

How many of you have heard of systems thinking?  This is what I see culture as.  Let me explain.  In systems thinking, one does not look at the parts of a system but rather focuses on the whole; one realizes that the parts make up the whole.  For example, a systems thinking approach to the Gulf oil spill would say that just because the oil is cleaned up from the surface, it does not mean that all is well.  What about the micro-organisms?  What about the fish who eat the micro-organisms?  What about us who eat the fish?  How is it all interconnected?

Now, back to culture.  Culture should be approached not with a “what” but with a “how”.  It is not that the “what” questions are wrong or bad in some way it is that they rob us from deep cultural exploration.  Culture is a part of life. It is a living organism, if you will.  Culture is how we do things and not necessarily what we do.  For example, we all sleep.  But how we sleep is in some cases culturally different.  Now, to take the “how” even deeper we follow it up with a “why”.  Why do some people sleep this way and others that way.  The why helps us dig deeper and helps us begin the understanding process.  To me, culture is interconnected with the environment, past generations, current generations, time, and a few others.  It requires a “how” and “why” instead of a “what” thinking process.

What do you think?  Is culture a “what” or a “how” question/thought process?  Is there a difference in how we understand culture when we use one word or the other?

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