Green Mountain College InterCultural Club

Understanding Cultural Diversity

Culture is an idea

Culture is more than clothes, it is more than food and more than a language. Those things all encompass tradition. While tradition is a derivative of culture, they are not the same thing.

Culture is considered to be one of the most difficult words to define in the english language. The definitions vary from discipline, ranging from anthropological to biological.

The definition of culture is:

“The behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a 

particular social, ethnic, or age group.”

There are many misconceptions of what culture is. When most average individuals think of culture, their mind immediately travels to a foreign land where people wear animal skins, live in huts and chant in exotic languages. People rarely think of the amount of culture which they interact with in a day to day life, right in their own hometown.

Perhaps the word is so complicated to define because it encompasses many things, most of them metaphysical. While there may be tangible elements to culture, those elements are not culture by themselves. Culture is rooted in ideas, and ideas, like culture vary tremendously between people.

For the Interculture Center in Green Mountain College, I, asked various members of the college community what they believed culture was.

Here is an example of a video taking the opinion of culture from people around the world:

This video, uploaded on youtube by ‘exchangesvideo’, is very similar to the one which I created in terms of the references to culture being embedded in ideas, rather than items. I believe it qualifies as evidence that my opinion of culture being more than a language or a kind of traditional dress.

When an individual puts on a dress, they may adopt the label of a certain culture, however that label can be inaccurate. You don’t have to be a samurai or a geisha to wear a kimono, however it is very difficult to live the life of a samurai without considering yourself to be a part of that culture. While clothes, food and language may demonstrate a link to a culture, they act as that and nothing more, links. Ideas, however, are the true bases of cultures.

An idea cannot be bought at a thrift store, or on eBay. It cannot be bleached in a laundromat or torn up by a family pet. This is why ideas are the true roots of cultures, and while objects may create a way to identify a member of a culture, they are not necessary. If you take a monks rosary, he is still a monk.

In closing, I would like to clarify that I have no problem with the traditions that come with a culture, just be aware that just because a person doesn’t wear exotic clothing doesn’t mean they aren’t from a unique culture.