Part 1: The Impact of Culture

The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes… ~Marcel Proust

Each of us has a worldview: A set of attitudes, values and beliefs that determine how we understand ourselves, and our relationship to other people and the world. Our sense of identity, who we mean when we say “I,” comes from the worldview we hold.

Despite its central role in determining who we think we are, we’d probably all have trouble describing our worldview. That’s because most of it is deeply buried, below our conscious awareness. Aspects of our worldview are “hard-wired” into our genes, but much of it is “soft-wired” by our culture and our individual experiences.

Because our worldview is so central to how we see and respond to the world, the first step in emerging the new worldview—in becoming wise—is making a commitment to become conscious of the worldview we already have. The following exercise can help you get in touch with the impact of your culture on your current worldview. You might consider doing this exercise with a small group.

Exercise: The Impact of Culture

Becoming conscious of our worldview is a lifetime workout. To begin the process, let’s first take a look at the larger culture that surrounds us. Draw a box, with a smaller, dotted-line box in the middle. Then, inside the smaller box, draw the figure of a head, as shown below.

Inside the outer box, list the dominant values that you see expressed in your culture as a whole. Include as part of your cultural picture any religious training you may have received, and, if appropriate, the influence of your ethnic community. Now, in the same box, ponder and write what you think are the beliefs that underlie these values. For example, if you wrote that money is a value, the underlying belief might be, “money is a measure of self worth.”

This is not an easy assignment, so take time to consider, reflect, and discuss with others. Can you see how these values and beliefs influence and perhaps even control certain aspects of your life? Consider meditating on this, and writing. Try to really get in touch with your enculturation. Then ask yourself if and how the values and beliefs you have adopted still serve you, and the rest of the global community.

As you go through this exercise, keep in mind that we are all enculturated. It happens automatically as part of the process of growing up. But now that we are adults, it is necessary to become aware of our enculturation, and to make a conscious decision to either keep, or to loosen, the power it has over us.

NOTE: Keep your drawing. You’ll need it again for Part 2: The Impact of Personal Experiences

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