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Living the Life

Culture of One

Culture can be thought of as a set of behaviors or beliefs distinct to a group, and so trick or treating on All Hallows’ Eve, burning effigies for Guy Fawkes’ Day, Black Friday and/or Boxing Day shopping. Cuisine is definitely cultural as cooking styles and ingredient staples differ and religion or traditions have shaped celebrations and holidays all over the world. But where do these cultural behaviors come from? how do they get so ingrained that they become the expected and the normal?

Some cultural differences can be attributed to location and/or isolation. People living near the coasts are more likely to derive their livelihood from the sea and thus develop sea-themed cuisine and past times. And legends of “lost” tribes abound well into the 20th century. While not a tribe, there have been many World War II Japanese soldiers hold outs who refused to surrender. Theirs is a time capsule of cultural hubris — holding out became more than stubbornness or oddity, these men didn’t know how to live outside of the culture they knew. Many returning from the recent Iraqi war have the same problem.

With less exposure to other influences, those established or developed within a group are the norm — those living the life may not even realize the limits of their habits and viewpoints. At the other extreme are those who insulate themselves. Like the Japanese soldiers, they close their mind to the evidence and keep only to what they know. Everyone and everything change but cultural holdouts take pride in maintaining the customs they knew or grew up with.

Much of the conflict between generations of immigrant families can be traced to the keeping of the ways. Cultural habits may have had single origins but they evolve and change. A culture of one is possible but for those who are adamant about “how things are done” likely will be leading a life of one as well as a culture of one.


Tibetan Mandala sand art display in Union Square, New York -- traditions and cultural customs change and evolve as do people.


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