Society & Lifestyle
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Culture and Change
|by Naira Yaqoob|
Culture is the most vital component of a society and a civilization. I believe that diversity of cultures is a fundamental fact and there is a need to preserve our cultures. This does not mean blind and unquestionable preservation but rather preserving the right values and customs of a culture.
Recent times have witnessed the renewal of a debate that has long involved thinkers and sociologists: What is the significance of basic ties, cultural roots, and emotional bonds to people of the same culture? Is culture a boon or a burden to humans? During the past few decades there has been an upsurge of interest in nations all over the world in problems relating to the preservation and development of cultures and values of societies and nations. This essentially requires a sincere understanding of what culture really connotes and what are its implications and roles.
The 19th Century anthropologist, Edward Taylor defines culture as 'that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, laws, custom, and many other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.'
The Dutch researcher, Hofstede defined culture as 'the collective programming of the mind, which distinguishes group or category of people from another.'
Cultural values may be defined as 'the symbolic relationships which hold together a given society or particular members, perpetuate the wealth of its social and spiritual heritage, provide a sense of wholeness of life and furnish the criteria of the meaning of individual life'.
Thus, it can be gathered that culture represents the acquired knowledge and social behaviour involving shared values, beliefs, and morals. It is manifested in the attitudes and approaches of people. Every society has an ideal culture and a real one. Cultures can be differentiated on the basis such as how people see themselves, people's relationship to their world or environment, how people view time and space dimension. It is composed of various components such as language, dress code, norms, laws, and values. Culture is understood and passed on by the means of communication through languages. Dress codes are a form of cultural representation. Values are the ideas people consider important. Norms are the rules people are expected to follow. They may be rooted deep into our history or maybe less essential to the continued existence of the society. Laws reflect a society's traditional values or regulations of conduct in order to maintain the social order.
The significance of a culture can be grasped from the lesser known fact of the Second World War wherein Hitler's order to destroy Paris was disobeyed by the German Commander because his conscience did not allow him to destroy what represented a symbol of European culture. It can be deduced that a strong culture came in the way of mass destruction of a city.
Culture develops man's interiority and freedom, enabling people to fight against many odds and communicate with others. A strong cultural base leads to creativity, inventions, and discoveries. It is believed that there is a strong link between creativity and culture. Creative people carry with them various expressions and visions that are generated consciously or subconsciously through the reservoir of culture. Creative ideas arise out of the depth of mind, as it is the mind and not the intellect that directs our actions. This mind is shaped through a long cultural process. When a society is ignorant of its past, the folk-literature of that nation can be suitably regarded as the source of its history. This belief regards folk-literature as the cultural heritage, which preserves the politico-socio-economic and linguistic patterns of a nation. This renders the Kashmiri language among the richest ones in the world! The Kashmiri marriage songs called 'vanvun' is a manifestation of rich poetic heritage of Kashmir. Historians ought not to underestimate their significance and role in our society. These songs and rhymes as well as our traditional dress and food 'wazwan' are reminiscent of a rich cultural past and aesthetics. It is unfortunate that each passing generation is loosening its ties with this heritage and tradition.
Various disturbing issues have evolved in the contemporary societies at a global level. The deterioration of values, ethics, and morals is a global trend and not a specific one. Sickening of a society is the indication of sickening of the minds of its people or vice versa. This further indicates that something is wrong or lacking in our cultural foundations. Somehow, a complex has been created in the eastern people about their culture, traditions, ideology, and lifestyle. This makes them lack self-confidence and feel inferior. With this complex they are in no position to defend their values and beliefs.
Westernization (as understood by the common man) has brought diverse problems for our society as a whole, especially to its cultural aspect. People are mistaking modernization for Westernization! It seems ridiculous that people should think that emulating other cultures and lifestyles can enhance their status or uplift their society. People are trying to adopt alien or foreign culture, thus generating an impression of weak roots and tradition. This will uproot us, kill us, intoxicate our lives, and destroy our society!
This cultural diffusion is spreading due to modern technology as it has shrunk the globe and led to easy adoption of elements of one culture by another. Over the last century, the major influence has been Western cultural penetration of most parts of the globe. The developing nations believe that they are facing a serious threat of cultural invasion through the advent of globalization. Global companies usher in their own culture and lifestyle, which is simply grabbed by the youth without much thought. This can adversely affect them, especially when they have a strong tendency to acquire bad or destructive habits and values.
Cultural interaction is fine but not at the cost of cultural degradation. Nationalists fear that this will erode their cultural impressions and foundations. This may adversely affect the morale and dignity of the people. To quote Nyerere (1973):
In many new cultures that are emerging, faith in God is weakening and the religious beliefs are losing their importance. Morals and ethics are fast vanishing. The sacred institution of marriage has weakened and holds no meaning for the people. Psychological disorders among the children have increased due to the breakdown of the familial and relational ties. Social historians are discovering that the family, being a small unit of the society, has always reflected the values as well as the tensions of the larger society. Western nations today are deeply worried that it is raising a spoiled, indulgent generation. There have been many incidences of violence and killings by its younger generation. This social unrest may be due to various reasons such as excessive exposure to television and satellite channels, video games, broken homes, drug addiction, depression, and psychological disorders. It has been reported that Americans are less inclined towards marriage. In 1920, there was 1 divorce for every 7 marriages and in 1979, there was 1 divorce for every 2 marriages. This adverse trend can affect the physical and emotional health of all the people living in this much-coveted part of the globe!
UNESCO has conducted many studies on cultures and societal values and deduced that preservation of culture should be of prime concern. The overemphasis on the economic development of a nation at the cost of culture has given rise to a new approach that focuses on a developmental process that includes cultural and historical development as well. The essence of such a policy is to draw upon the collective experience of various social groups in a given community.
There are movements to mobilize the efforts in defence of the culture and natural heritage in order to safeguard them. Eastern women ought not to feel that their culture is inferior or outdated because it asks them to be modest in their conduct and appearance. Rather a modest dress code is most appropriate during the present times. More than ever, a woman needs to believe that in this technical and materialistic age, there is still something simple and fundamental left in the world'there is really nothing more noble and fundamental than a modest and chaste woman!
If people would view their culture without the distorting prism of the other cultures, this would give them the self-confidence, which they lack. Sprit of each culture far from diminishing ought to grow by interacting with other cultures, with faithfulness to itself, which is a precondition to the faithfulness to others. One needs to understand the differences between various cultures ' differences that do not signify the superiority of one over the other.
Exchanges between cultures must necessarily be established on solid foundations. Though the historic efforts to protect a culture from change or foreign influence has not succeeded for long, efforts have to continue to overcome the negative or harmful influences. Cultural change is inevitable but the direction and speed can vary. We need to distinguish between social change, cultural change, and progress. Social changes reflect changes in the social structure and relationships. Cultural changes are more sensitive like changes in language, values, morals, norms, etc. Progress, on the other hand, means a change in the desirable direction. Any change depicts a move from the tradition to modernity but this modernity can be beneficial if it springs from the native culture and not from imported or imposed values. Social or cultural change has to be in progressive terms. This has given rise to the concept of endogenous development, that is, development corresponding to its own cultural values.
As Ayn Rand writes in her novel, The Fountainhead, that a man's character is the product of his premises. Ideas determine social trends and therefore, the right ideas, the right philosophy should be advocated. Education can play a part here as it can be a repository of cultural heritage. It should be rooted in local realities and reflect national cultures and civilizations. A large-scale social transformation is needed, primarily through modern education, political and social consciousness, economic reforms, and social upliftment. Conventional ways and norms can be replaced if they are undesirable. What is to be understood is that conventions and modern thinking can co-exist.
Modernization can be welcomed if it involves widening our outlook, developing a positive mentality and nurturing great thoughts. There is a need to understand the strength and importance of traditions, cultures, and civilization. Modernization is to be welcomed and ushered into our society but the old values and morals are not to be uprooted. Otherwise, it will kill the very sprit of our culture. To quote Mahatma Gandhi:
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