"Culture" is an interesting critter. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word culture has six different definitions.
There is a scientific meaning, and an artistic/intellectual meaning, amongst others. There is also the meaning of which I want to talk about today: "the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group, and the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time."
I have experienced many different cultures in my lifetime. I grew up in ranch country, in Nebraska, basic training in Alabama, spent a few years in Delaware, Colorado, Alaska, and I've lived in Texas for 25+ years, and that's not counting my different duty assignments in many other states and Germany, and my visits to other countries while stationed in Germany. I have lived in or at least visited nearly every state in our country except Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Florida and the states, northeast of New York.
There are no two cultures alike. There are slow moving, quiet, easy going cultures, and busy, close, loud, noisy cultures. I've seen friendly neighborhoods, and some not so friendly; I’ve seen colorful and drab.
Cultures are affected by our environment, our upbringing, our religions, our friends and neighbors, economics, and a host of other factors. My perception of different cultures is different from others, of course. Our experiences, ages, families, etc. all affect our perceptions. For example, what I liked about one culture when I was younger, I might not like now.
This last Saturday I got another perspective on culture. I went to my scripture study group as usual. One of the older gentlemen had brought his two grandsons who were visiting from California. They sat quietly while we read and studied and discussed from scriptures in the Torah and the New Testament. Once or twice, the older boy even made a quiet comment. They sat there smiling and were very polite. At one point, one of the others from our group asked the boys how they liked their visit in Texas, and if they missed California? The oldest boy gave this kind of sigh with a little laugh at the same time.
Someone asked him what that was about. His reply? He shook his head and smiled, then said that it was so quiet and peaceful and mostly "slow." We all looked at him a little quizzically. He said, “It's a good thing, a very good thing.” Pretty astute for a 15-year-old boy.
I had forgotten there was such a cultural difference between Texas and California.
Honestly, I think we all forget that. We all get so settled in our own little worlds, we forget that our little corner of the world is not like the rest. We forget that people in other states and countries live different lifestyles.
I fuss sometimes because I have to drive 40 minutes to work. That's an hour and a half out of my day just to drive. But I drive on a safe, quiet little Texas highway, and I live in a tiny little one stoplight town, and even the town I drive to for work isn't all that large. It's pretty small by some standards— two hospitals, two high schools, and three super Wal-Marts, etc. The culture of my little world is pretty quiet compared to most.
So why am I talking about "culture?" Because we need to be aware that there are differences in the world. People live in different environments, have different backgrounds, histories, and expectations. How can we hope to make a difference in peoples’ lives if we don't understand how and why they are different. I'm not saying we have to agree with their lifestyles or background; we don't even have to like their choices. But we do need to be kind. We need to be willing to treat them as human beings.
If we are going to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain we need to start with ourselves and our own little corners of the world. We need to understand not everyone is like us. Not everyone lives in a little house on a quiet little street in a quiet little town. Some people live in high-rise apartments in a metropolis. Some live in the country in a farmhouse; some live on the street or wander from town to town. Some live in shelters or prisons. Some live in the middle of nowhere in a desert, or a jungle. We all live different lives in different parts of the world. But, we are all human beings. We all want to be seen and heard and loved. That's where we start. Recognize the differences, and be respectful and kind.
I understand there will be those who are still going to be hateful and those who will attempt to abuse your kindness. I'm not telling you to be a doormat. I stopped being a doormat sometime ago, but that doesn't mean I can't be kind. Once you identify those who are not receptive or respectful to your kindness, wish them well and move on. It's ok. You can't make people like you. You can't make people be kind. The only person you can control is you.
So, let's get started. I'm still a work in progress. I'm still working on being more patient and kind. But it's worth it to change our nation, one life, one mind, one heart at a time.