Before dating, I had no idea that I had a specific culture. I expected things that were normal to me to be normal for everyone around me as well. But, I’ve learnt very quickly that there are some very defined differences when it comes to “normality” in our lives.
The first thing to identify is what culture actually is. The scientific term for culture refers to the growth of bacteria. A bacteria culture grows when the environment is conducive for it to do so. In the same way, your personal culture is what has grown because of the environment you have allowed to affect you. In its simplest forms, your culture will be grown through what your soul responds to. We return to what we like. We do what pleases us. Our actions become culture when we repetitively reach for the things that have “positively” affected us. That is a passive way your culture has grown. But there are better ways to live.
Now bacteria is as good as it can be bad. It all depends on how it grows and what it is used for. In the same way, culture can be harmful or helpful to you – it depends on how you engage with it.
I have seen culture form more divides than anything else. Growing up, I had the privilege to travel extensively. At a very young age, I was made aware of the difference between people’s opinions and beliefs. Once you have lived in urban China for six months, everything that’s considered “normal” in South African suburbia is the exact opposite to your experiences. Once your eyes have been opened to the way of life for the Malagasy people, you cannot easily return to the day-to-day trivialities of Western culture. It has been so easy for me to see how culture has divided us as humanity.
When people are passive in building culture, they only do what they see. There is not much intention behind these peoples’ actions, it is just a default way of living that no one is questioning because “it’s always been this way” and “everyone does it”. Isn’t it funny how those two phrases are used by different generations on the spectrum of society? Personally I want to run a mile from that kind of living. If my life looks like a .2 upgrade of that of my parents, I know for a sure I’m missing out on making a difference in this world. Especially in Africa.
My girlfriend is Zambian. Her culture is very different to mine in many ways. But what is awesome for me is learning about it and seeing the value of the traditions her family uphold. If you are able to step back and look at culture from an outsider’s perspective, I believe you will find gold in the way different people live. Traditions that have remained intentional normal hold a whole lot of meaning and it is important to appreciate them for what they are. But just like I cannot randomly swap my culture for my girlfriends’, we cannot simply amalgamate different cultures without being intentional.
Africa has a very diverse range of people. The amount of cultures, ethnicities and shared history on this continent is staggering. This is where I believe the second way of growing culture could be so powerful. The fact is, if we stopped fixating on a specific way of life and allowed ourselves to experience how other people think and live, we would be able to move past our ‘normal’ and pioneer a better way of living. In the context of the ‘global village’ this generation is finding themselves in, we have more opportunity than ever to learn from other ways of life.
But it’s not just learning. It’s application. I want to challenge you to look at how you live. What you consider as “normal” is completely foreign to a considerable percentage of this world’s population. When you understand that “different” is not bad, and could hold the answer to a better future for us all, you can actually be effective across cultural lines. I’m asking our generation to think bigger and see better. To not only look at how something is different, but live with their hands open – willing to adjust the passively formed culture they find themselves in so that something new and vibrant can be formed.
Culture is only king if you allow it to be. You will miss out on a whole lot of friendships, futures, opportunities and adventures if you only stick to what you know. I believe Jesus is the most uniting factor when it comes culture and society in Africa. The church is growing and thriving in many different cultural settings. It is when the church is not limited by culture – but rather transcends it – that God’s intentional culture is revealed. God has a way of life that was custom-made for humanity. Culture is one of the most powerful aspects of your life. Click on the link below if you want to learn how to move past your passive ‘normal’ and actively build a future that is free and limitless!