Culture clashes: You are what you believe
By BILL PIRKLE
Federal Way Mirror The Pirkle Report
September 26, 2008 · Updated 11:15 AM
Culture is a term from sociology, and although complicated, it basically means what you believe is true.
There is the Mexican culture, the Asian culture, the Western culture, American culture, etc.
Mexican food is part of the Mexican culture and refers to how Mexicans believe that food should be cooked. It involves certain meats, vegetables and spices.
The Chinese have a different belief as to how food should be cooked. Some cultures eat snakes, dogs and rats — something Americans would never do.
Different groups of people have beliefs on how music should be made, clothes should be worn (called their national dress) and how people should react to one another. Most believe that when two people meet, they should shake hands, a habit that is responsible for spreading the common cold.
I have traveled around the world and have observed many different cultures. In South Korea, I was surprised to see that when people came into the office in the morning, they bowed to their co-workers at the door before entering. Those co-workers standing would bow back.
In the Middle East, I was warned that the very worst thing you can do is to show the sole of your shoe to the people you are meeting. In the West, we have a way of crossing our legs so that our ankle rests on our knee showing the sole of our shoe to everyone. That is totally forbidden in the Middle East and they believe it is highly insulting — like giving someone the finger.
But culture extends beyond food, dress and music. Culture includes how different people believe that wars should be fought — thus the Japanese kamikaze warriors in World War II, and the suicide bombers from the Middle East. In the West, we believe in having the Geneva convention, where you only have to give your name, rank and serial number when captured — while other people cut off the heads of captured prisoners. Why? Because they believe this is how you fight wars.
There are places in the world where bribery is an essential part of doing business. It’s part of their culture and they think that it’s appropriate. It’s what they believe.
Now comes the hard part. Are there good cultures and bad cultures? Who is to say that what you believe is wrong? To some cultures, aborting a baby is a horrifying thought and they can’t understand how anyone would even consider such a thing. Yet we can’t understand how anyone could agree to become a suicide bomber. In certain matters, it is difficult to determine what is right and what is wrong.
Some cultures look to the Bible, while other cultures have different religions. Who is to say that the Bible is right and Confucius is wrong or Buddha is wrong? It seems presumptuous to think that our religion is right and all the others are wrong. What proof do we have? Millions of people have been killed under the name of Christianity in history.
Wars are fought so that one culture (belief system) can stamp out another culture (belief system). The theory is that if we win, then our belief system must have been the right belief system, otherwise we would have lost. It is called trial by death, since God will decide who will win. Abraham Lincoln said that in war, each side thinks that God is on their side. Both may be, but one must be wrong.
Within American culture, there is a Western culture (cowboy boots worn by Texans), a Southern culture, a Northwestern culture, a Washington culture and a Federal Way culture.
The question is, how do we characterize the Federal Way culture? What do we in Federal Way believe is true regarding education? How does that differ from what the people in, say, Indiana believe is true regarding education?
What do we in Federal Way believe is true regarding sexual predators? How does that differ from what the people in, say, Mississippi believe is true regard in sexual predators? Ask that question for abortion. America is 50 different belief systems, as indicated by the fact that we have 50 different legal systems that are often very different — say, regarding divorces.
The ancient Greeks said “know thyself” and Shakespeare wrote “this above all to thy own self be true.” So perhaps we should follow this advice. Perhaps in Federal Way, we should find out who we are.
One way is to have a conversation about things. This might involve writing to The Mirror and being published. Perhaps conversations would start in the workplace and around the kitchen table. Perhaps the kids would get involved.
Of course that entire system breaks down when people put pressure on the paper to stop printing the writings of other people. Do not forget that freedom of speech was the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was far from an after thought. They were wise men who realized that nothing gets settled that doesn’t get discussed.
So you don’t have to agree with other points of view, but you do have to tolerate them and their right to exist. What do you believe is true?
Federal Way resident Bill Pirkle: email@example.com