What is Cultural Awareness?

Meaning of Culture:

What comes to mind when the word ‘Culture’ is mentioned? There have been by different schools of thought over the years. However, it would be difficult to attempt to fully explain the concept of Culture or exhaust its entire meaning by a single definition.

Culture is defined as the way of life of a group of racial, religious and social people. It refers to the everyday features that characterize their existence. This would include social forms, beliefs, language, arts, philosophy, music, habits, cuisine, values, social practices, etc. Culture distinguishes a group of people. It is the factor that makes them unique among many races, tribes, groups, and societies.

It encompasses the behavioral traits, skills, traditions, practices, attitudes generally accepted by people without questions and often passed down from one generation to the next. Cultural elements are often learned and cultivated socially through experience and interaction with one’s immediate environment.

Importance of Culture:

The Culture of a group of people represents the core of their identity. It is like the lifeblood of society. Culture creates a medium to preserve people’s pride and heritage. It is the expression of the ideas they chose to believe. Culture is the cord that binds a group of people together and gives them a sense of unity even if separated by distance. Through the elements of culture, a people’s history can be traced back to its roots. Culture is a wheel that transfers creative and artistic skills through people over time.

Culture gives an individual a sense of belonging. Culture is a people’s present and the future they hope for. Moral values are also taught and imbibed through cultural practices. Culture also provides avenues of income for a nation. For instance, Tourism is a great way through which the economy of a people is improved. Culture is also a great opportunity for entertainment and leisure. It is also very beneficial in learning processes.

Culture also forms the lens by which we are viewed by others. It is what creates the perception and often determines the treatment we receive from them.

Cultural Diversity:

Cultural elements differ from one group to another. For instance, the way a Chinese man greets is different from the way an American greets. But this is not to say one is better than the other. There is no yardstick to measuring the superiority or inferiority of one culture over another. We cannot look down on the culture of another group, simply because we strongly believe in ours.

Cultural Ethnocentrism:

This is the belief that the culture of one’s group is superior or better quality than that of others. It’s the perception that the cultures of others are a lower version of ours. This can reflect in an individual’s interactions with others in different aspects of life; business, romance, politics, arts, etc. People with this mindset have the expectations that things should be done according to their cultural pattern, wherever they go because other cultures are lacking in some ways.

Cultural Awareness:

Cultural awareness is becoming conscious of our cultural values and practices and how it affects our interaction with people of different cultures. It is making efforts to understand the differences between values, beliefs, and practices of our culture and that of others.

Importance of Cultivating Cultural Awareness:

  • Cultivating cultural awareness is a necessary practice to develop and maintain healthy relationships with others. One of the easiest ways to create problems with an individual or a people is to undervalue their cultural beliefs and practices. This does not imply that we ignore or neglect our culture out of respect for that of others, but that we create adaptations to our mindsets and approaches to life to enable peaceful and productive coexistence.
  • Cultural awareness helps to eliminate misinterpretations of the actions of others. For instance, an expression of love in one culture may be offensive to a person from another culture. However, if we become more conscious of the beliefs and practices we have learned over time and why we do so, it gives us a better understanding of the reasons behind the actions of others.
  • Cultural Awareness also restrains us from creating relationships with others, simply because of similarities in our cultures. Certain cultures may have similar beliefs and practices as ours, it does not entirely mean that interactions with them are safe and without risks.
  • Cultural Awareness manages cultural diversity to the advantage of an organization or multicultural group. Cultural diversity can cause major rifts between people of different cultures coexisting within a space. However, Cultural awareness would enable the organization assimilate the positive aspects of the different groups towards achieving the common objective.
  • Cultural Awareness helps us appreciate, as well as create avenues for learning elements of other cultures such as languages, arts, music, traditions, greetings, etc.
  • Cultural Awareness on an individual basis helps facilitate unity on greater levels; such as tribal, racial and global levels.

Developing Cultural Awareness:

The following factors can aid in developing Cultural Awareness:

  • Appreciate Diversity:

The first step would be to appreciate cultural differences. Value and respect the cultural beliefs and practices of others, especially if they contribute positively to the general good of society.

  • Develop Empathy:

Empathy helps us place ourselves in the shoes of others. If we picture our actions if in the same position at the same time, we may learn to be more understanding.

  • Resist Judgement:

Avoid making assumptions on the motives or intentions behind a person’s actions. It is important to collect as much information as possible before coming to conclusions.

  • Be Observant:

When in an alien environment, be more observant of the prevalent cultural practices. This would aid you in understanding and adapting to their way of life.

  • Be Flexible:

Avoid being too rigid on issues of beliefs and practices when interacting with others from a different culture, especially in business relationships. Be more accommodating.

  • Ask When In Doubt:

Do not be afraid to humbly and politely ask questions on areas you are in doubt. Often, people are excited and pleased to talk about their culture. This way, you gain understanding and acceptance faster.

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