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Posts Tagged ‘style’

What Makes A Culture?

Can an individual have their own culture, or must the aspects be shared by a group?  How much can be absent or altered without losing (collective) culture or (personal) identity?

When I think of culture, one of the first things to come to mind is food.  When I get a chance to visit another country, I want to experience their food: the tang in the air, the flavors, the different ingredients.  I’m curious whether food is mostly served at home or at a restaurant?  If Asian markets are any hint, pre-packaged foods are popular in China.  But Asian cooking involves all sorts of raw ingredients I’ve never heard of here in the United States.  Here also we have one of our cultures that only eats either frozen foods or fast foods or snacks.  But aren’t there still places in the world where cooking from scratch is an art?  Some cultures encourage bonding over sharing food in various degrees from a family meal to a family-style where the food is served all in giant platters into which people dip their hands to hospitality.  On the other end of the spectrum is the more formal dining experience, at a restaurant, with plates individually prepared, courses served.  There are cultures more receptive to buffets (my grandparents from Kansas *loved* them), or short-order cooking.  There is something special that some cultures encourage about preparing food together.  Some places esteem cooks highly, while others relegate the cooking of food to the lowliest classes (or women or slaves).  In some cultures dessert is a special treat, for holidays maybe – while some have a dessert at least once a day!  Which cultures care about nutrition?  Which about presentation?  Which about exotic flavors and innovative dishes?  Which focus more on comfort food and cravings?  What are considered comfort foods in various cultures?

I’ve noticed that different cultures have different modes of posture.  Some use chairs, and some cushions.  Some have sofas, others benches.  There are places where squatting is more common than sitting “Indian-style”.  Related to this, I think, is hygiene: how often do the people bathe, and by what means?  What are their toilet facilities like – or do they use fields, dig holes?  How do the people view health, view disease?  How do they treat it?  Do they use prayers or rituals?  Exercises?  Medicines?  Drugs?  Herbal remedies and nutrition?  Oils?  Mineral baths?  Other practices like chiropractors would employ?  Do they gather the sick together in hospitals or tend them at home?  Are there doctors?  How much treatment is limited to professionals?  Do they believe in preemptive medical care like scans or vaccinations?  At what points do they choose not to treat a person any more?

How are drugs and alcohol viewed?  Sometimes there are whole cultures built around the common experience of these substances.

What do people wear in various cultures?  What are the conventions; that is, is it normal for anyone to wear pants?  Robes?  Hats?  Certain colors or fabrics?  What is the style?  How often do fashions change?  How are they changed?  Does appearance matter as a form of art or more a form of modesty?  Is clothing more about the aesthetic or the functional?  How is clothing used to demonstrate distinctions in gender, age, class, employment, marital status, etc.?  Do people alter their bodies for the sake of appearance: foot binding, neck stretching, piercings, tattoos?

It seems to me that different cultures hold different ideas about acceptable risks.  Is it acceptable to let a child play near a fire?  Jump off a log?  Play where he might encounter a snake?  Get into a fist-fight with another child?  This is not exclusive to children, though.  In some cultures taking risks is involved in a rite of passage.  Risks are joined in together, to form social bonds.  Other cultures are much more conservative and careful, I think.  What do people put on the other side of the scale when they’re weighing risks?  Are fun and excitement of any relevance to them?  Competition?  Appearance?  Or do they only consider practical things like preparing for invasions or hunting for food?

Art is such a huge sphere for culture that I don’t even know where to begin.  Cultures have their favorite mediums, subjects, colors, motives.  I can only suppose that certain fonts are the preferred writing of specific cultures, since the fonts on grocery stores appealing to diverse cultures are unique and identifiable even in the United States.  People groups have their own favorite sounds of music, their customary scales in which their music is played or sung.  Some have more instruments than others.  Dancing varies from culture to culture in complexity and energy and purpose.

There are other forms of entertainment that vary depending on the culture.  Even the predominance of entertainment can be a mark of a different culture.  Sports are observed as entertainment, or played for entertainment; in some cultures it seems to be one more than the other.  Some sports are preferred by certain cultures, probably by way of other aspects of their culture (energy, reserve, risk) and inheritance (what did their parents play or watch?).  The complexity of toys, items used for play and entertainment, is also different in foreign places.  Some toys focus more on athleticism, others on skill and focus, and others do most of the work for you, performing for your enjoyment.  Toys can be scientific or domestic – little representations of the working world.  On the other hand, they can be silly escapes from the real world.

Architecture is probably a form of art, too.  But I think it transcends art in that buildings often serve additional purposes.  So, is the architecture of a culture about efficiency? Beauty?  Community?  Symbolism?  Do they use materials found at hand, or manufactured, or transported to the building site?  How big are they – are they too big for one family to raise themselves?  Do people try to live in the same place their whole lives, or are they ambitious for bigger buildings?  Do they live in natural formations like caves?  Do they dig out holes in the ground?  Do they live in trees?  By rivers?  Do they dig wells or irrigation trenches?  Do they build dams?  And how much do all of these things influence other aspects of the culture, like family and friends and food and business?

An aspect of culture in my own country so glaring that I failed to recognize it at first is materialism.  How many things do people own?  Is it a status symbol to own more?  Is sharing encouraged?  Do people show love through gifts?  How do people feel about financial sacrifice?  Do they invest in material things or in businesses – or adventures?  Where do they keep their goods?  Are things owned by individuals or groups or everyone?  Is there a distinction between land as property and removable objects as property?

Cultures have their own stories.  “Own” is here used loosely, because I have found common threads of story in many different cultures.  There are fables about the origins of things, and love stories, and stories of wars and sacrifice.  Some stories even have comedies, the sense of humor varying from culture to culture (and individual to individual).  What is seen as a hero?  Is it the man who slays the most enemies?  The man who rules the most living men?  The man who sacrifices himself?  Different cultures have their different monsters.  They have their own dominant fears, just as they have different favorite virtues.

Values shape cultures.  It seems that in America the dominant culture values independence, and speaking our mind.  I’ve heard of cultures that value the good of the whole.  Some value honor, others hold preserving life as a higher value.  Some value youth, and others value the elders.

Religions are often associated with and intertwined in cultures.  Is there one sovereign God?  What is He/he like?  Are there many gods worshiped?  Are certain animals or plants revered?  How is worship carried out?  Through song?  Pilgrimage?  Sex?  Sacrifice?  Sacred words?  Eating?

Cultures have often established their own rituals to recognize significant events like birthdays, coming of age, marriage, and other accomplishments (like graduation).  They have special ways of holding funerals.  They bring their own unique takes on holidays.  What fun, to see images and artifacts from Christmases in other places or ages!

Language is one of my favorite aspects of culture.  Is it important to the culture?  Is it precise or more personal?  Is it written or mostly spoken?  Is it tonal?  How appropriate are metaphors, slang, and profanity?  What are the customary greetings?  Besides the words spoken, what other gestures are included?  What gestures are seen as essential to good manners, and which ones are abhorrent?  Which ones are just the convention?  One tribe I heard of rubs its nose while thinking, but it is more common for my culture to scratch our head or chin – or to frown.  Does the culture encourage more or less expression of one’s own thoughts – or feelings?  Which is predominant: thoughts or feelings?  Is expression mostly communicated by gesture, action, word, or art?  Accordingly, are the people of the culture more generally reserved – or exuberant?  Are they loud or quiet?  Does everyone speak at once?  Do they take turns at anything they do?

How intimate are their friendships?  How many friends does a person tend to have?  Do they share their friends with their whole family, or is it a private affair?  How do they play?  Is playing part of friendship?  How do they show honor?  How do they respond to dishonor?  Is dishonor a casual joke or a serious offense?  How are reconciliations brought about?

There is diversity in any culture, large or small.  How is that balanced?  Is it suppressed or embraced?  Is there competition more than cooperation?  Do they try to come to unity, or to sameness?  Are differences displayed?  Analyzed?  Intentionally created?  What things are used to emphasize (or manufacture) what they have in common?  I know in some places religion does this, in others wars bring people together against a common enemy, and in others it is the common experience of standardized schooling that prepares them to respond in similar ways to things.

I don’t know if there are cultures without classes, but given that in most there are, how are relationships between the classes?  Is there mutual respect?  Is there resentment?  Are people generally content with the life to which they were born?  Do they practice cruelty or charity towards the classes that are more needy?  Is this voluntary or institutionalized?

How big is one’s sphere in their culture?  Who does a culture encourage friendship with?  Who does it encourage responsibility towards?  What are members encouraged to aspire to?  How much is proximity a factor?  What kinds of transportation do people use (walking, driving, biking, boating, flying, carting, carrying)?  Do people travel for social reasons or economic ones?  Or are there environmental reasons to practice a sort of migratory lifestyle?

Here in the United States we have many cultures living side by side, some whose “boundaries” are only a block or two from a significantly different group.  And with technology the way it is today, we can converse with people far away, travel quickly to see them, view photos they took, and purchase art created in foreign cultures.  How aware are people of other cultures?  (How aware are they that theirs is distinct?)  Are they interested in them?  Do they want to integrate good things from other cultures into their own?  Do they integrate foreigners?  Is this by means of cooperation or an initiation and instruction?  Are they willing to adapt their own culture?  Do they resist change?  Do they try to replace every culture they meet?  Do they replace the cultures of peoples they come to dominate?  Do they have compassion for foreigners or other cultures?  Do they feel superior?  Do they covet what other cultures have or are?

To an extent, family structure is different in cultures.  How do husbands relate to their wives, and what is expected of each within the home?  How do people come to be married?  How many wives may a man have?  How do parents relate to their children?  Who else bears the burden of child-rearing (community, grandparents, school, nannies)?  What kinds of discipline are used?  Are children seen and not heard?  Are they seen as trophies or contributors?  How important is extended family?  Is family more important than friends?  Are there specific obligations towards family members?  How does a family unit relate to the rest of the world?  How much is the government involved?

Some people view laws and government as providing order and security, or as being the at-the-ready conflict resolvers, while others expect the government to oversee all of the individual’s (and group’s) needs.  Some expect the government to enforce justice, and others are content with a system built on bribes.  Do the people believe it is their place to submit, or to reform, or to revolt?  In some places, the government is not only expected to take care of needs, but to take on big societal problems, and solve them.  Governments tend to look out for their own interests, but whether the peoples are ok with that or not is not so universal.  Some governments take in a vast number of citizens, whereas there are some whose range is limited to the immediate family of a Bedouin tribe.

Is business conducted in a personal way?  Does a person go door to door offering their goods or services?  Is there a public common market or do consumers seek out goods and services at specific phone numbers, websites, or stores?  Is a transaction considered between equals, or are service providers a lower class?  Are the servants recognized as members of a household or anonymous functionaries?  Is there a mindset of professionalism?  Who desires the professionalism – professional or consumer or both or neither?  How influential are corporations – the idea that no one person is responsible for the good or service being sold?

There is such a variety of technology, and tools, that are used in different societies, and these can be both representative and influential.  What things are used for communication?  For building?  Transporting?  How much of life is taken up by work?

What is the general schedule?  What is the work week?  How many hours in a day are work?  Is work a means or an end?  Which hours are devoted to sleeping?  When and how do people wake?  When do they play?  When do they have social activities?  Do they work together or finish their work and then spend time together?  When do they eat and how often?

If a group’s language is forgotten, and they move from the land of their buildings and ditches; if they stop playing with their old toys, and their clothing no longer distinguishes them clearly from one class to another – but they carry on a secret family recipe from the old, old days when all those things had been in place, have they lost their culture?  Can they share their recipe, market their spices and vegetables to other people groups, and still have their culture?  When do we say a culture has become distinct?  When do we say it has merged with another?

Should we try to preserve cultures?  Or is a way of life gloriously defined by the personalities and abilities and histories of the people who make up the group?  Is there a difference between dissolving a culture and replacing it?  What harms does the structure of tradition found in a culture cause?  What benefits does it provide?

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Anne comforted herself sometimes by repeating that she was in the depths of despair, and her dreams were a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.  In such a way am I writing today, to comfort myself by making the insanity of my life sound poetic. 

 

First I must say that I am on the verge of insanity, but fear not – I have every intention of backing away from that brink.  All it will take is a box full of cookies, much time with friends, and all the extra hours of sleep I will not be getting in exchange for said time with friends. 

 

My office is much too busy, yet I am sitting, writing this at my office.  Just prior to this, between imagining these sentences and answering the phone, I was reading a book, another partial cause of my near insanity.  GK Chesterton has been writing to me of the ridiculous that makes life alive.  Funny thing, imagining life to be alive.  I think that is Christ.  He seems to be around every corner of this world, which is a very good reason for sanity. 

 

In fact I love patterns, even the poetic pattern of nuanced changes, the fact that my hair is brown and my corduroys are brown, I wear a brown necklace and in a startling change, a camel-colored bracelet.  As all this is highlighted with gold, I find the effect most wonderful.  It is a glittering accent to the pattern.  A woman came to my office earlier with turquoise and brown beads on her shirt, and similar embroidery on the camisole beneath the shrug.  Her purse I did not get a chance to study, but I have the distinct impression that it followed the theme in brown leather.  My all white office upholstered and carpeted has recently been significantly altered by the introduction of a black chair in the doctor’s half.  There is already a black chair in my half, but I sit in it, and thus have no comment on its effect on the décor as I have about this new one.  Suddenly I am noticing that my clock is black, my appointment book, the mousepad, and one of the phones.  All in all this does not have the art of consistency, but it does have the statement of contrast. 

 

My voice is occasionally interrupted, when I frequently answer the phone, by a cough.  It is insignificant enough to most commonly be silent and suppressed, but it has the annoying habit of altering my consonant pronunciation and taking away the warmth from my tone of voice.  As a result Adam came out A-ar, and minute sounded more like the kind of cookie I’m about to eat: mint.  This brings a vague recollection about consonant shift referred to but not explained (in the way of an insider that assumes you would know) in articles I have read about etymology and the devolution of language. 

 

This I’m doing here, it isn’t life.  It may be existence, this tedious survivatl – ok, so that was a typo, but it is so romantically Aztec that I’m leaving it as a tribute.  Anyway, existence is “I think therefore I am,” the soulless I am.  It’s ok when God says it, because He is Trinity, and I am is plural.  For a human I am is not enough.  I am satisfied only by saying we are.  In fact this day has so far been broken by two instances of we are: when two young friends came to visit me while their mother picked up glasses – one can have the sincerest conversations with children; and the other was when the very friend about whom I was writing in my other post, the one about literature, came by with her two little girls.  One is a genius who shared her flower by allowing me to smell it and by proclaiming it most accurately to be both pink and green; the other was asleep, but quite beautiful, just as was her mother, happily dressed in a maternity jumper with her hair all pulled up just like the joyful smile she is in my life.  How can hairstyles be smiles?  They just are. 

 

Mine, by the way, is the result of getting up late this morning and loosing the braid I remember deciding to put in my hair last night, though I am unaware whence I stole the minutes in which to plait it.  There is a large clip for emergencies fastened at present to my purse strap.  At the end of my day, if I am tired of brushing the strands aside, I fiercely affix the jaw that is remarkably able to contain the entire girth of my ponytail. 

 

Have you ever figured out under which circumstances you are supposed to use “that,” and which “which”?  Microsoft Word is always objecting, and I’ve learned that if I have a comma, which is acceptable, but I can’t fathom why that would be.  I do know that which is much more necessary when prepositions are used properly, and kept from ends of sentences. 

 

Existence is a victory; “I am” is worth saying.  Thinking is worth doing if the philosopher is correct in that it proves our am-ness.  There is no meaning, no life abundant, alone.  This is what I tell graduates as the primary lesson I wish people had told me before the first five years after high school.  Don’t abandon your friendships; they’re more important than grades, money, or degrees. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Why am I writing this series?  On Saturday I went to a jewelry party (like Pampered Chef, Tupperware, PartyLite candles, etc.)  There are rules for how to wear your jewelry!  People are afraid to try something new or not their typical style.  Layers are very “in” right now.  But you can go with a classic look that never goes out of fashion.  My friend who was hosting the party disagreed with some of the fundamentals of wardrobe, and the jewelry saleslady assented, “If it looks good to you, wear it; it’s all about confidence.”  I know my friend is independent-minded.   

Style is a big industry.  People advertise their designer creativity with crazy lines of clothing in fashion shows, and somehow make plenty of money.  This happens even though I don’t see anyone but models wearing those things, and if they’re not wearing them, are they really buying them?   Why do people follow trends, anyway?  The popular girl wore that, so I will too?  We really think the movie star’s life is so wonderful that we want to do everything like them, including clothes and hair? 

Because something is popular, we consider it beautiful?  Or just because it is new and different, edgy, we invest money in it?  I can understand doing that with a car (whose innovations usually look good and have functional improvements in performance).   Apparently advertising agencies run the world.  They created the concept of teenager, which now governs economics, education, family, marriage, morality, justice…  The industry tells us how to spend our money by manipulating emotional, need-to-fit-in people into feeling like they need their products.   

Do we have a choice?  Does God have choices?  What is the meaning of not choosing something?  Is value subjective or objective?  Is value placed on a thing by a chooser, or is it inherent?   The capitalist system of economics is based on the notion that consumers will act on their sense of value.  For example, I value a necklace at the jewelry party, but I value other uses of my money more. 

A wrench is thrown in the theory of capitalism when I say that even though I value something more than my fluid cash, I won’t buy the item because of moral/spiritual convictions.  I may believe that God doesn’t want me to spend money I don’t have, for example.  I believe that $15,000 would be a great deal for a house.  But I don’t have 15 grand, so I’m not acting on my sense of value.  Even if I need a house, or think it is a great investment, I won’t buy.   

God is also teaching me about embracing sacrifice, intentionally going without what I want.  This is part of the concept behind fasting.  Fasting is a huge exercise of will over want.   If I was being sincere, I would tell you how I really feel about fasting.  My convictions tell me that the way I feel is sometimes wrong.  So I will exercise my will in acting upon what I ought to be in order that I may become that ideal in sincerity.   

Finally, I’ve been reflecting on strong-willed people, especially children who try their parents.  Some strong-willed rebels are breaking my heart.  Other strong-willed children are too young to have made life-altering mistakes.  I listen to their parents talk about them, and I wonder if I could help them to understand the puzzles who are their children.  Would it benefit them to know?   Dr. Dobson wrote a book.  I haven’t read it.  He doesn’t seem to be strong-willed to me.  I think President Bush is.  President Reagan was. 

Heroes are strong-willed, fictional or historical.  Villains tend to be that, as well.  In Beauty and the Beast, both main characters are strong-willed.  Think of their argument after she runs away.  But, as the song says, somebody bends unexpectedly.  Notice it doesn’t say somebody was bent.  They bend.  The tense is intransitive.   

I can relate.  This could be titled, “Confessions of a Strong-willed Christian.”  In writing this series, I discovered a lot about myself, and happily connected dots.  I have a friend who thinks that it is inconsistent with the rest of my personality that I like to watch football.  My position is that it must be linked to my fundamental identity.  This has been an exercise in associating who I am with that identity.  But no, I still can’t explain why I like football. 

Still to come:

What is a Strong-Willed Person? 

How Can you Tell if Someone is Strong-Willed? 

What should Parents of Strong-Willed Children Do?  

Is there Hope?  The Good Side of Strong Will.  To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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