The Roots of Culture (2022)

2.10 The Roots of Culture

Cultures show up in many forms and are expressed differently. Yet all forms and levels of cultures express and share three fundamental aspects: values, assumptions, and symbols.


You need to recognize that value systems are fundamental to understanding how culture expresses itself. ValuesPrinciples that guide individuals in their behaviors and actions. often serve as principles that guide people in their behaviors and actions. Our values, ideally, should match up with what we say we will do, and our values are most evident in symbolic forms. Consider, for example, a picture of the American flag. If you were an American, what words do the pictures evoke for you? Freedom, liberty, America, united, independence, democracy, or patriotism, perhaps?

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What if a Nazi symbol were painted on the American flag? How would that make you feel? Disgusted, sad, angry, revengeful? What would the desecration of the flag symbolize? Hatred, terrorism, nationalism? What about freedom of speech? Symbols like the American flag evoke strong emotions for people, and when the symbol is desecrated, it can feel like a personal attack on the person’s value system and their beliefs about the world. It feels out of alignment from what we believe to be true—what we see as our reality of the world. This is because our values and beliefs are rooted in stories we tell ourselves over and over again.

Joseph Campbell noted that stories and myths are our psychological maps of the world. We use them to guide our thinking and behaviors, and when we do not like a story or it does not align with stories we know, we discard them. We learn through culture to create a story about the story. Campbell said that when we can unravel our stories, we begin to see the meaning we have placed on them and the impact they have on our lives. The case study that follows illustrates this notion of values:

James works full-time managing a fast food restaurant chain. Working extra hours every week helps him bring home more income for his family of four. He will do whatever it takes to help take care of his family. Ana is also a manager in the same restaurant. She works her forty hours a week and then goes home to her family of three. She doesn’t want to work more hours because she wants to spend as much time with her family as possible.

How does James’s perspective of family differ from Ana’s? What assumptions does each have about the value of family? What might be the stories they are creating for themselves that shape their values of family? Both individuals have the same value of family, but their values are expressed differently through their behaviors. A value such as family can be expressed and thought of differently from one culture to the next or from one person to the next. James believes that working hard illustrates his value of family, while Ana believes that spending time with her family demonstrates her commitment to the value. These assumptions are not expressed verbally, and, in some cases, the assumptions can be unconscious. Notice how, in the following scenario, James’ assumptions are challenged:

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Both Ana and James receive a bonus for their work. James finds out that Ana has received the same percentage of bonus that he has. He’s quite upset because he knows that he works more than she does and sometimes covers her shifts when she has family emergencies or is late because of day care issues. He thinks to himself, “How could she get the same bonus as me? She doesn’t even work that hard and she comes in late to her shift using excuses that her day care didn’t show up again.”

In the case study, the assumptions that James has of Ana (Ana makes excuses; Ana comes in late; or Ana does not work hard) can become a problem and conflict between the two. His assumptions are based on his own definition of family, which could consist of any of the following: be responsible, show up on time, or working hard can bring in more money for the family. His assumptions are challenged when Ana receives the same bonus for a perceived different level of commitment.

As a leader, it is important to understand and identify to employees that most of us share the same values. It is our interpretation and expression of the values that creates the conflict. Many people justify bias and discrimination on the grounds of “values” without realizing that it is not the values themselves but the difference between our expression and interpretation and that of those we come into conflict with.


Our values are supported by our assumptionsBeliefs and ideas that individuals believe and hold to be true. of our world. They are beliefs or ideas that we believe and hold to be true. They come about through repetition. This repetition becomes a habit we form and leads to habitual patterns of thinking and doing. We do not realize our assumptions because they are ingrained in us at an unconscious level. We are aware of it when we encounter a value or belief that is different from ours, when it makes us feel that we need to stand up for, or validate, our beliefs.

In the iceberg analogy, assumptions are underneath the waterline. They define for us, and give life or meaning to, objects, people, places, and things in our lives. Our assumptions about our world determine how we react emotionally and what actions we need to take. The assumptions about our world views guide our behaviors and shape our attitudes. Consider, for example, the following case study:

Kong grows up in SE Asia and has seen only males in leadership roles. Once he moves to the U.S., he assumes males are the only authority figures. Meanwhile his daughters, Sheng and Lia, who have grown up in the U.S. and were raised with access to education and resources learn that they can be leaders. In their professional work they are seen by their peers as leaders.

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One day, at a celebration event that Sheng brings him to, Kong meets a White man who is her supervisor. He tells Kong, “Your daughter is a great leader. She’s really helped us through this transition.” He replies politely, “Thank you.” Later, Kong shares with his wife, Ka, the story. He says, “I don’t know why he thinks Sheng is a leader. Women are not leaders. Only men are leaders.”

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Anthropologist Clifford Geertz believed that culture was a system based on symbols. He said that people use symbols to define their world and express their emotions. As human beings, we all learn, both consciously and unconsciously, starting at a very young age. What we internalize comes through observation, experience, interaction, and what we are taught. We manipulate symbols to create meaning and stories that dictate our behaviors, to organize our lives, and to interact with others. The meanings we attach to symbols are arbitrary. Looking someone in the eye means that you are direct and respectful in some countries, yet, in other cultural systems, looking away is a sign of respect. The meanings we attach to symbols can create a cultural havoc when we meet someone who believes in a different meaning or interpretation; it can give us culture shockA state of distress or confusion experienced when an individual is unprepared for a cultural situation or environment.. This shock can be disorientating, confusing, or surprising. It can bring on anxiety or nervousness, and, for some, a sense of losing control.

While training senior managers in a leadership program, the issue of the organization’s dress code came up in our conversation about differences. All the managers were in agreement that there was a dress code problem. It seemed to the managers that a couple of the employees were not abiding by the dress code policy. At this mid-size organization, the dress code was business casual, but a couple of the employees (the younger ones to be exact) came into work wearing t-shirts or dresses with thin straps. The managers were all confused as to why the dress code was so hard to follow for these two employees. It was obvious to them that business casual meant looking professional and neat, wearing clothes that were pressed and crisp. No matter how many times the dress code was explained to the staff, these two employees never changed.

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In the training, we deconstructed the issue to understand what was really at play. The managers recognized that the dress code of “business casual” could mean several things if not explicitly stated in the policy. In fact, one manager said, “We keep saying that business casual is common sense, but our idea of common sense could be completely different from that employee’s version of common sense.” They also discovered that they did not want to be so explicit as to name every article of clothing that employees could and could not wear. They felt that being explicit would take away the feeling or the symbol that the office was a casual and relaxed environment; having policies that dictated everything that someone could or could not do would symbolize a different type of working environment.

As a result of this conversation, the managers recognized the tangible ways in which symbols are manifested in organizations. They became more mindful of the language and words used. They were more intentional about their behavior, now recognizing that each of their reactions or non-reactions is a symbol.


What is deeply rooted in culture? ›

Firmly embedded in thought, behaviour, or culture, and so having a persistent influence.

What is your understanding of culture? ›

Culture can be defined as all the ways of life including arts, beliefs and institutions of a population that are passed down from generation to generation. Culture has been called "the way of life for an entire society." As such, it includes codes of manners, dress, language, religion, rituals, art.

Why culture is important for an individual? ›

In addition to its intrinsic value, culture provides important social and economic benefits. With improved learning and health, increased tolerance, and opportunities to come together with others, culture enhances our quality of life and increases overall well-being for both individuals and communities.

Why are cultural roots important? ›

Everyone who shared their personal reflection finds the importance of celebrating and reminiscing one's cultural roots whenever possible, even if you're one who has already embraced new and progressive cultures, environments, mindset and values.

Why is it important to know the roots of every culture? ›

Understanding cultures will help us overcome and prevent racial and ethnic divisions. Racial and ethnic divisions result in misunderstandings, loss of opportunities, and sometimes violence.

What is culture in your own words essay? ›

Culture refers to human activity patterns and symbols that give an identity to a group of people in a particular society. Culture is manifested in language, religion, literature, art, customs, and clothing. Culture dictates how people live and shows their specific beliefs.

Why is culture important essay? ›

"Culture plays an essential role in the life of a person and society. It acts as a means of accumulation, storage, and transmission of human experience. It is the culture that shapes people into who they are as they gain knowledge, learn the language, symbols, values, norms, customs, and traditions.

What is culture in simple words? ›

Culture is a word for the 'way of life' of groups of people, meaning the way they do things. Different groups may have different cultures. A culture is passed on to the next generation by learning, whereas genetics are passed on by heredity.

How does your culture influence you? ›

Our culture shapes the way we work and play, and it makes a difference in how we view ourselves and others. It affects our values—what we consider right and wrong. This is how the society we live in influences our choices. But our choices can also influence others and ultimately help shape our society.

What can we learn from culture? ›

By learning and understanding different cultures, you understand why people do things the way they do. When you identify with other people, you sympathize with their situation. This facilitates understanding and prevents misunderstandings.

What is the most important part of culture? ›

Language is one of the most important parts of any culture. It is the way by which people communicate with one another, build relationships, and create a sense of community.

What is example of culture? ›

Customs, laws, dress, architectural style, social standards and traditions are all examples of cultural elements. Since 2010, Culture is considered the Fourth Pillar of Sustainable Development by UNESCO.

How do you connect with your roots? ›

Ideas For Connecting With Your Cultural Heritage
  1. Take A DNA Test. ...
  2. Interview A Family Member. ...
  3. Research, Research, Research. ...
  4. Cook A Traditional Meal. ...
  5. Binge Culture-Specific Media. ...
  6. Learn The Language Of Your Ancestors. ...
  7. Travel To The Homeland.
Nov 27, 2018

How do you embrace your own culture? ›

There are many routes you can use to discover your racial, ethnic, and cultural makeup, depending on how deep you'd like to go.
  1. Trace Your Family Journey. ...
  2. Research Your Family Tree. ...
  3. Explore Your Identities. ...
  4. Connect with Others On a Similar Path.

Why is culture important to me as a student? ›

Culture influences how we see the world, how we see the community that we live in, and how we communicate with each other. Being a part of a culture influences our learning, remembering, talking and behaving. Therefore culture determines to a great extent the learning and teaching styles also.

How do you start a culture essay? ›

This is the first paragraph in which you introduce the culture you are going to describe. Here, you are supposed to reveal how the culture is relevant to you without completely detaching yourself from it, as it may require you to portray who you really are as an individual.

What is the meaning of culture is everything? ›

Culture is everything made, learned, or shared by the members of a society, including values, beliefs, behaviors, and material objects. Culture is learned, and it varies tremendously from society to society.

What is culture conclusion? ›

Conclusion. Culture refers to the symbols, language, beliefs, values, and artifacts that are part of any society. Because culture influences people's beliefs and behaviors, culture is a key concept to the sociological perspective.

Does culture matter why? ›

Through our culture we develop a sense of belonging, personal and cognitive growth and the ability to empathize and relate to each other. Direct benefits of a strong and vibrant culture include health and wellness, self esteem, skills development, social capital and economic return.

What are cultural values? ›

Cultural Values are personal preferences that remain relatively stable over time. Understanding your own preferences and learning about the typical preferences of others can help you anticipate possible similarities and differences in ways people approach life and work.

What are types of culture? ›

The two basic types of culture are material culture, physical things produced by a society, and nonmaterial culture, intangible things produced by a society.

How do you explain culture to students? ›

The culture of a group of people is the traditions and beliefs that they practice in their daily lives. Religion is often an important part of culture, and culture also includes art forms, like literature and painting. Cultural festivities often involve music, dancing, and traditional dishes.

How do you learn the culture? ›

There are three basic ways in which culture is learned: observation, listening, asking questions. Observation is a very basic skill, but we are often lazy with what we observe, so we fail to notice important details. We need to actively observe what is going on around us.

What is the role culture? ›

Role culture is a culture where every employee is delegated roles and responsibilities according to his specialization, educational qualification and interest to extract the best out of him. In such a culture employees decide what best they can do and willingly accept the challenge.

How does culture share who we are? ›

Your cultural traditions can be shared through storytelling, music, song, dance, or art. You can also help bridge the gap by sharing aspects of your social influences. As you meet new people in the USand start to form connections and friendships, you may take part in their celebrations or significant life events.

How do you talk about your culture? ›

Here are a few helpful ways to introduce these topics:
  1. #1: In my culture/family/country, we……. ...
  2. #2: That's pretty different from what I'm used to. ...
  3. #3: It's very similar to that in my family/culture. ...
  4. #4: Using the phrases “It's common” or “people typically” to talk about habits.
Jul 17, 2018

What is every culture based on? ›

The major elements of culture are symbols, language, norms, values, and artifacts. Language makes effective social interaction possible and influences how people conceive of concepts and objects.

How many cultures are there? ›

Price's Atlas of Ethnographic Societies [11] records over 3814 distinct cultures having been described by anthropologists, certainly a major underestimate.

What is culture for kids? ›

A fun overview of the world cultures for kids - YouTube

What does deep culture mean? ›

Deep culture is a term defined as a system of values, beliefs, norms, and practices held in common by a group of people that serve to integrate them into a cohesive social entity. Systems of values are integral to the way people understand the world. They help people make sense of new information and respond to it.

What is an example of deep culture? ›

Examples of deep culture might include attitudes toward authority, concepts of marriage, family dynamic, or ideas about time and about personal space. We discover these through examining the beliefs and values; relationships and roles; and attitudes and norms of a culture.

Why is deep culture important? ›

Deep Culture

This is the most important form of culture because it has an intense emotional impact on trust. It controls how we learn information. This form of culture manipulates our everyday behaviors and helps us make sense of our world.

What is a deep culture microbiology? ›

Definition of deep culture

: a culture produced by a deep inoculation into a solid medium (as gelatin or agar) that is used especially for the growth of anaerobic bacteria.

What is shallow culture? ›

Shallow culture is made up of the unspoken rules around everyday social interactions and norms (courtesy, attitudes toward elders, nature or friendship, concepts of time, personal space, nonverbal communication, rules about eye contact or appropriate touching). Deep cultural values lie here and are put into action.

What are cultural norms? ›

Cultural norms are the standards we live by. They are the shared expectations and rules that guide behavior of people within social groups. Cultural norms are learned and reinforced from parents, friends, teachers and others while growing up in a society.

What is cultural iceberg? ›

In 1976, Hall developed the iceberg analogy of culture. If the culture of a society was the iceberg, Hall reasoned, than there are some aspects visible, above the water, but there is a larger portion hidden beneath the surface.


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