The Pilgrimage: In the first of these series, we began with the invitation to begin a pilgrimage on power. Click on the live links below to access the previous articles.
We first addressed the power of identity and how it is fluid. We addressed how it relates to your social location. Although we come to the planet with a unique imprint, nature, or our core personality, we are shaped and influenced by nurture – they family we grew up in and our social location. For instance, an African American woman and her realities living here in the US are very different from those of an Aborigine woman from Australia, or a member of a European royal family, although there may be some overlap.
Then we addressed how our socialization addresses how we take in our social location. With our primary socialization of family, teachers and people we love and trust, we are informed on the expectations, norms, values, roles, and rules of society. These are based on core foundational attributes of “self-love, hope, self-esteem, balance, joy, support, security, spiritual base and authentic love of others” (Harro, 1982, The Cycle of Liberation). Our secondary socialization is reinforced by our institutions such as churches, schools, tv, the legal system, medicine, businesses.
Please grab a notebook, open a document on your computer and begin to take notes each time you read this weekly. Each week will build on the previous week and there will be exercises and resources you can use. This is a working series and if you put the work into it, you will come out of the other side of it with a profoundly different but wonderful sense of your personhood and your ability to effect change in your life and in the world.
The Power of Culture.
Culture has a mesmerizing effect on us. When we begin to move out past our family and close networks, we get on what I call a “cultural treadmill” and we stay on it until we become aware and come off of it and really live. This cultural treadmill influences us and unless there is a defining moment, we are hypnotized into a way of living that is numbing and automatic with little conscious thought. The cultural treadmill lives off our natural desire to conform, and, consciously and unconsciously influences and program us.
Often, many think America, a melting pot, does not have a distinct culture but it does. In trying to sanitize this country of its cultural heritage (because not all of it is good), Christianity has basically absorbed the face of culture and represents the cultural values of the country. Therefore, when people run for political office on a conservative platform, they are letting folks know that they are running on what is considered “good American values.” Usually, this means individuality, money, fiscal conservatism, pro-life and pro-gun.
Our culture shapes us and often, independent thinking, and action, is relegated to the outliers and the rebels. Too often “group-think” occurs within our culture. Although this leadership concept is often used to describe teams and smaller business groups, it applies to culture as well.
A Psychology Today article describes “groupthink” as: “Groupthink occurs when a group with a particular agenda makes irrational or problematic decisions because its members value harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. Individual members of the group are strongly discouraged from any disagreement with the consensus and set aside their own thoughts and feelings to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and other group members. In a groupthink situation, group members refrain from expressing doubts, judgments or disagreement with the consensus and ignore any ethical or moral consequences of any group decision that furthers their cause. [Normally,] Risk-taking is common, and the lack of creativity and independent thinking have negative personal and political implications for both group members and outsiders. Groupthink decisions rarely have successful outcomes.”
Basically, groupthink is making a decision because we are too lazy to think or buck the system. Earning approval is more important than actually taking a risk. Groupthink is what often happens in cultures that do not allow for dialogue and the open sharing of ideas.
Think of fashion. Right now, I love that flamboyant sleeves are stylish. I see them everywhere. No more boring sleeves this year! But next year, it will be something else. This translates into our behaviors and how we think. I never thought of liking poufy blouse sleeves but when I started seeing them all over the place and in magazines, I fell in love. I know people that are fashionistas that set cultural trends in fashion and they would rather die than not wear poufy sleeves when they are stylish. So much of their identity is based on how they are perceived when it comes to fashion. That is the power of fashion through the lens of culture.
Culture is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.” Culture is a powerful aspect of socialization and it drives how we behave. There is a psychological push towards conformity and uniformity.
Emotional Intelligence Aspect:
Self-perception is the first building block of Emotional intelligence and the key aspect of this building block that helps us deal with managing the collective culture in which we dwell is our self-actualization. This is the ability to realize your potential capacities. This component of emotional intelligence is manifested by becoming involved in pursuits that lead to a meaningful, rich and full life. These pursuits are unique and individual, and every single person finds a different expression of self-actualization. Self-actualization is important in terms of power because you must access your personal power to know what it is that you want, how the larger culture shapes and how you can make it happen.
The Effects of Culture:
Orientation – Your Original Design:
Your neck of the woods matters a lot. In Western civilization, we value the individual over the community. The American Declaration of Independence prioritized the freedoms and rights of individual people and says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” On the other hand, in China, that culture, through the writings of Confucius, honors traditions, social roles, duties and knowing one’s place in society. Each of the documents shape the larger cultures. In America, we promote an independent self-construal. The self is conceived of as an autonomous entity that is distinct and separate from others. For other cultures, it is an interdependent self-construal where the self is connected to other people. Gender is also another aspect that is construed by the culture. In spite of Western independent social concepts, the irony is that the culture enforces this on everyone. Therefore, we think we are independent thinkers, but our independent thinking is shaped by our interdependent permissions.
This country is based on the individual working hard and earning money. Capitalism has thrived as an economic system in this land of individual hard-working people. Culture is designed to create a large group of people to move to one collective goal. This has worked in the US as this is considered the peak of Western civilization by most standards. For instance, we value Forbes Magazine’s list of the 10 most wealthy people on the planet and we also value people like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame who did not finish college but is a kazillionaire and has made a life-changing social media platform. He did it through his hard work and ingenuity.
How do you define culture? What cultural aspects are important to you? How individualistic are you? How communal are you? What are some of the rituals in which you engage in to grind in your cultural experiences? Are you aware of what is cultural for you but not for others? How do you value capitalism
In the United States, guns are a big issue. Americans love their guns. The second amendment of the American constitution says, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This country clearly believes that guns are part of the fabric of this culture.
Personally, I hate guns. I absolutely hate guns. I firmly believe that there is only one purpose to a gun and that is to maim or kill. My big kitchen butcher knife can kill a person, but it also cuts vegetables and meats on a daily basis. It has multiple uses. But a gun does not. I grew up in a formerly colonized British colony, Nigeria. Our police force follows the patterns of the British police force. Most police officers in Nigeria did not have guns when I was growing up. I have no psychological attachment to guns. I think Americans are weird when they say they have “a right to bear arms.” Growing up with people who did not have running water, or a school to attend, or even clothes to wear sometimes, I feel that “rights” are basic things that keep us alive like water, clean air, an education and even electricity.
I give this example to show that this culture has a huge attachment to guns which is culturally informed. It is the norm for the US, but it is not the norm for other parts of the world. That is culture. The founding documents of the country cause this “right” to be deeply embedded. I am fine with how others in this country conceive of guns and the defense of the right to own guns is legal. Yet, I feel no compulsion towards it. The fact that our kids are being murdered in schools because even young brains, not knowing how to regulate their emotions, are going into their schools and killing their classmates.
This individual system of competition leads to the need to dominate and that feeds this idea that “If I do not like you, I can dominate you, obliterate you or kill you.” The rugged pursuit of individualism requires us to diminish the value of the life of others in order to dominate them. You have to believe that you are better than another person to dominate over them.
In a runner’s race, you have to be faster than everyone else to win but that speed in running does not make you a better human than others.
Disorientation is the illusion that we are not equal, so we do not need each other. This highly individualistic culture is based on a patriarchal model of leadership. The triangle of patriarchy only leaves room for one at the apex of the triangle. This creates unnecessary competition and does not create room for those that are considered “weak.” Because we are humans and band together anyway, we create strata of people. We classify people based on where they are in the triangle. The invisible social stratification that occurs as a result of this relentless pursuit for individualism creates false dichotomies such as the “haves” and the “have nots,” as well as the mythical “Joneses” next door. We find ourselves trying to keep up with invisible standards and we dehumanize others. In dehumanizing others, we create a cognitive dissonance so that our empathetic feelings do not get triggered. When we do not see others, and treat others, as human, we lose some of our own humanity.
For imagined self-preservation, culture silently asks us to dehumanize others. Those whom we dehumanize, we oppress.
Power In: Rests largely on the power to produce and exchange. Also known as economic power. This is the seat of your personal power.
Power shows up in culture in interesting ways. Power in means that you can use the valuable aspects of your culture to dig deep and find your natural power to be self-actualized.
What are some of your individual strengths that are socially acceptable? That are not socially acceptable? How tied in to social acceptability are you? How much do you nurture your individuality? Do you care what people say about you?
Power With: Based on such relationships as legitimacy, respect, affection, love, and community. This is how you share your “power in.” This form of power is integrative.
Sharing culture is a powerful thing. When you share the power of culture with others, you create a sense of belonging and you feel powerful in community. You feel you are representing the communal whole. It is a beautiful thing. However, there has to be space for your individuality to show up when you share power with. You have to be able to speak your mind.
With whom do you share the power of your culture? Who is missing? Who would you want there? How do you describe yourself culturally?
Power Over: Destructive in nature and applied, particularly to political life. This is threat power.
When something becomes culturally acceptable, we often use it as a gold standard and we stop questioning it. We then hold it over people’s heads. In recent news, we have #45 whose name shall not be mentioned, calling undocumented immigrants “animals.” We know that Hitler called the Jews “animals.” We know that in Rwanda the Hutus called the Tutsis “cockroaches” in a systematic radio campaign to stomp out the roaches and over a million Tutsi were killed. Each of these instances is designed to allow for cultural acceptance of dehumanization so that the culture could be preserved. We know that dehumanizing the “other” dehumanizes them and allows us to exert cultural power over them.
What ways do you observe the culture exercising “power over?” What ways have you contributed to “power over” dynamics culturally? Who does your culture prefer? Who has your culture permitted you to “like” and approve of? Who does your culture not “like” and does not approve of?
Reorienting the Power of Culture:
Culture must remain fluid and must always be inclusive. Culture cannot be these strict rules and regulations that people must blindly obey. There must be room for difference for each individual to feel a sense of belonging in the cultural bubble. The role of culture is to give a person a sense of belonging when he or she needs community. It is not to control the person and it is not to dominate others. Friendly competition is fine but when you start to believe you are the “best,” it creates a problem.
We must imagine the realities of those that we do not know, those that we fear and those whom we have demonized, dehumanized and made “less than.” They are our equal. They are part of us and they are just like us. We must guard against that thing in our shadow that likes to place us as superior over others. It does not serve us. We lose some of our own humanity when we dehumanize others.
Our cultural norms have relegated women to being second class citizens. Women still earn much less than men and women bear the greater burden of childcare and housework than men. Women are often not considered equal to men. When you study the history of women’s suffrage in this country, you find that women were considered property. It is not just that men thought women were not smart enough to vote or that voting should happen as a family unit, it was that women were considered non-human. They were gifts to be made to men to create kinship. There is a famous article by Levi-Strauss of Levi jeans frame where he, an industrialist, makes the argument that women are property to be gifted to other men so that men can become “kin.” The name of the article is “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the Political Economy of Sex” by Gayle Rubin. Check it out.
The cultural norms, with men at the top of the triangle of patriarchy determined, for hundreds of years, that women’s value laid in the bodies and their ability to produce children, so women were rendered non-human.
Of course, the Church did not help as Biblical scriptures were manipulated to support culture, not scripture shaping culture.
In what ways has culture shaped the gender aspect of your identity? What do you deeply believe about women? Men? Transgendered or gender fluid people? What do you believe the Bible says about gender?
Race and Culture:
White men are at the top of the patriarchy triangle. Followed by white women. People of color are on the lower rungs regardless of accomplishments and income levels. We continue to oppress people based on skin tone and how they look.
This country has the one drop rule: If you have one drop of negro in you, you are black. It was when I came to this country, I discovered I was black. When I say I am bi-racial, people are quick to tell me that I am black. I remember, at 16, when I was unceremoniously informed that I was black, wondering if I get to decide who I am or do others decide that for me?
At 16, I did not want to necessarily be black. I had watched “Roots.” They suffered. They were treated very badly. They were poor. They were dangerous. The media had filled my head with all sorts of misinformation. I remember distinctively feeling that for me to be black was for me to be absorbed into a portion of society where I will remain invisible for the rest of my life. For a clueless 16-year-old, this was scary. But I also knew quite clearly that I was not white and could not be white. I just wanted to stay a bi-racial Nigerian.
How do you profile others that do not look like you? What do you think of various groups of people: African Americans, Japanese Americans, Native Americans, Jews, Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Haitians? Even Nigerians? What do you think of people from other cultures? Which cultures are more “sophisticated” to you? Which cultures do you look up to? Which cultures do you look down on? Are people that do not look like you allowed into your culture?
The Poor Among Us:
We live in a capitalistic culture. Capitalism creates incredible wealth for a few, but it also creates poverty. Both communism and socialism theoretically promote equality and seek to eliminate social classes. Karl Marx said that socialism was the midpoint between capitalism and communism. Communism the working class owns everything, and everyone works towards the same communal goal. Socialism has the means of production controlled by the working class but with the state guiding the economy on the workers’ behalf.
Communism failed Russia as it resulted in low production, mass poverty and limited advancement. Poverty spread so widely in the Soviet Union in the 1980s that its citizens revolted.
Personally, I love living in a capitalistic society. However, to glorify capitalism, and not attempt to correct its shadow side is to continue to create poverty. Capitalism tends to create a sharp divide between the wealthiest citizens and the poorest with the wealthiest owning the majority of the nation’s resources and the poor owning little or nothing.
Are you a blind capitalist? Do you understand socialism and communism? Do you fear those concepts? Why? What does your culture say about the poor? What do you believe about the poor? What do you do to alleviate poverty? What aspects of capitalism do you think could be changed? Why? How?
Leadership is influenced by culture. There are 32 women as the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. There are 3 blacks as CEOs’ of Fortune 500 companies. As of today, there are no black women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. There are 11 Latinx Fortune 500 CEOs.
What this means that there is little to no diversity of thought in those boardrooms. As a leader, you have a primary obligation to make sure that you are being influeced by an inclusive group of people.
What do your formal and informal boardrooms look like? Do you actively seek out people of different opinions to feel out their ideas and thoughts? What are you doing to make sure that your individualism is consistent with your values in community?
To figure out how to interact with culture constructively, take this quiz by Gretchen Rubin. In her book, The Four Tendencies, Rubin tells us about:
- The Upholder who meets outer expectations as well as inner expectations.
- The Obliger who meets outer expectations and resists inner expectations.
- The Rebel who resists outer expectations as well as inner expectations.
- The Questioner who resists out expectations but meets inner expectations.
The quiz lets you determine how you relate to expectations. Culture helps create some of our inner expectations and most of our outer expectations. How you relate to these expectations will be most helpful to you. As you determine whom you allow to be in your boardroom, it would be wise to assess if the person is an upholder, obliger rebel or questioner and make sure you have different types. You also want to make sure that no one gets shut down and they willingly share their perspectives.
I read the book and realized that I am a questioner. Somedays, I feel like a rebel. But I realized that variety of people of different tendencies surround me and discovered I had a fair sampling of all four types. My friends that are the rebels are the most challenging for me but they think outside the box and that pushes me too.
Use The Four Tendencies to evaluate your closest personal and work relationships and determine if there is diversity in your orbit. What is the culture of your relationships and your work environment? Are you aware of it and do you dance with it or against it?
It is impossible to embrace multiple cultures in one community unless you recognize the humanity in all people. I intentionally live in Clarkston, Georgia, the most diverse one square mile in America. It hosts people from over 70 countries as refugees. It is a wonderful place to live and the people that move here are committed to community. I moved here because I wanted to live in an actual community and not just a conglomeration of houses.
What sort of culture do you actually hope for? What are the top three things you like about your culture? What do not like about it? Give yourself permission to be a cultural observer and find ways to engage with the larger culture around you as an anthropologist so that you are not sucked into embodying cultural beliefs that do not resonate with you.
I encourage you to pick up a book called Cultural Intelligence by David Livermore. Read it and get familiar with the four aspects of cultural intelligence. Then go to a culturally diverse part of your city and sit down and observe. Write down your questions. Take it in. In Atlanta, we have a huge Korean population. They have taken over one suburb. I have gone there for a meal. My assignment will be to go to a strip mall and meander around there and go into stores that I know nothing about. You do the same in your city. Find those that are different from you. Notice them. Humanize them in your heart.
As you journey on this pilgrimage, my hope, invitation, and desire for you, dear reader, is that you will become more present to the powerful guide that your culture has on influencing your socialization. There are a plethora of cultures out there for you to experience and enjoy as an equal partner with respect and in a way that expands you and grows you.
Embracing other cultures and expanding your own cultural intelligence by being aware of your culture will help you in achieving self-actualization. I hope this previous video I posted on that subject is helpful to you. Remember, ignorance of the cultural effect means you are probably oppressing others and you are not aware of it.
If this has been helpful to you, please share this and tell others about your pilgrimage. Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts.
More amazing hugs on the pilgrimage!