Culture to Personality: Curse & Blessing


Image result for culture and personalityEvery day most of us wander out into the world and deal with people.

It doesn’t matter if you lead, manage, supervise, parent or just communicate, you’ll be interacting with complex personalities.

Often it’s convenient to deal with people as groups, in some set manner, but it’s preferable we understand and address them as individuals.

Whether we’re working on personnel issues, negotiating or just generally communicating we are better prepared and able if we understand the unique personality of those involved. This is a complex problem and can be a tall order.

Yet it’s clear that the deeper and more specific our understanding of an audience, the greater our ability to Be Authentic, Connect and Communicate Effectively. So, we should attempt to consider and account for individuality.

Now, unique Personality is defined as: the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character.

No simple explanation of how personality is formed is universally accepted.

However, it is possible to make overarching judgements about what certainly affects personality, even if today no definitive model seamlessly explains how these elements interact.

Personality is created and affected by:

Culture– Programming the self

Experience(s)– Environmental, Physical and Mental

Brain Function– Baseline; also including Development, Growth, Evolution and Performance

Genes– Base Physiology and Persona

Health– Resulting from Lifestyle and Exposure

All this plus a person’s ability to Adapt to these factors helps establish a unique Personality; this fuels the outward expression of individuality.

Further, any of these elements listed above may have a lesser, greater or even disproportionate impact on the outbound personality; and elemental interaction may be either simple or complex.

I suppose this explanation is in some ways analogous to Atomic Theory: Waves explain some things nicely, Particles others and yet nothing comprehensively and elegantly really ties these very complex worlds together, either.

Now, these five (5) Elements (Culture, Experience(s), Brain Function, Genes and Health) individually each warrant extensive comment. But practically, this is a BLOG not a book.

So, let’s just explore one aspect to help advance our understanding of Personality.

I’ve always thought there isn’t enough attention given to the profound importance of Culture. Let’s focus on this

Culture is defined as: the ideas, customs and social behavior of a particular people or society.

I believe we are programmed throughout our lives by culture. Everything we experience is biased by the prevailing culture in which we are immersed. It dictates the very way we perceive the world.

Culture can impact our every action and deed; how we eat, drink, smile, laugh, sit, stand, sleep, bathroom, dress, seek partners, interact with others and more are all influenced at some level.

Religious Opinions, Social Beliefs and Values constantly bombard us though our immediately surrounding culture.

What we might truly independently believe and think can easily be lost with such overwhelming, ongoing immersion and social pressure. Also, many cultures seem to additionally immerse and burden females relative to their male counterparts.

Why is all this important?

Well, if we are raised in one culture versus another, then our behaviors, reactions, values and beliefs can all be quite different; a recipe for likely conflict.

Consider (say) a born-and-bred New Yorker relative to a Saharan Bedouin. Obviously such radically divergent exposure and upbringing would be expected to deliver notable culture (and thence personality) differences.

But must we consider only dramatically dissimilar environments to see such significantly different results? I think not.

Consider (say) the case of Scandinavians: Internally I am told their own various cultures consider Swedes to be paralytically PC, Danes frighteningly outspoken and Norwegians quite dull and less imaginative.

It’s not clear if such characterizations are wholly fair (certainly they’re not PC), but they are commonly held and have substantial general acceptance within these (physically close) cultural groups. These are relative impressions.

I must admit through years of travel and international dealings I’ve found some characterizations to be surprisingly meaningful; be they crude and unflattering in some cases. And the same is true across the world.

For example, a Bostonian is certainly not a San Franciscan; neither are they like a Londoner, Singaporean nor a Muscovite. We are an amazingly diverse species and yet generally quite strongly aligned locally, when within shared cultures.

Each culture when observed from any other often seems quite strange. It is not just the actual cultural differences that create this view but also the perspective from which they are seen.

And, cultural differences can be startling.

I once communicated with supposedly agreed, polite hand-written notes and brief voice-messages to a colleague as a solution to mutual meeting schedule conflicts. What was originally well-meant and efficient was ultimately taken as demeaning and rude. In this case there were pronounced West meets East and other disconnects; inevitably, significant cultural differences are prevalent within multicultural societies.

Never underestimate the importance of contrast existing between cultures. And, human tolerance of such differences is far more tenuous than their acceptance.

We are all products of our cultures. Most of us are heavily programmed to the preponderance of the culture in which we were formatively immersed.

In this sense those of us with very similar upbringing can be greatly alike, sharing many commonalities. And yet in practice, the other elements of personality (Experience(s), Brain Function, Genes and Health along with our adaptability) still cause us to develop unique identities.

It is generally held that our personalities are formed early in life: “Give me the child till age seven (7) and I’ll show you the man/woman.” Many of us will have personally witnessed reasons for such a claim.

So in summary, if we want to interact successfully with others it only makes sense to be well aware of their predominant cultural influences. It is one key window to who they are, what they feel, value and believe.

Are you involved with diverse cultural groups? Perhaps your communications should be better sensitized to serve your audience?

Are you the one from a different culture? Maybe some individuals you meet need more carefully considered interactions than you’ve previously offered?

Take a close look at the folks with whom you interact. Sometimes a lack of cultural awareness can burn both you and others.

 Ian R. Mackintosh is the author of Empower Your Inner Manager Twitter @ianrmackintosh


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