Culture for Young Adults

If you were to ask people passing by on the street what “culture” is to them, what do you think they would answer? It could be one of those things you watch on Jimmy Kimmel where they send a team out to the street to ask a simple question like “Can you name any country on a map?” We laugh, but then we check ourselves to make sure we actually know an answer ourselves. So what is “culture” to you? The biggest answer I hear is “You know, like Indian and Arabic people are cultural.” Or “Christians have a set culture.” And even “Black and white people are some examples of culture.” While these answers are not necessarily wrong, it shows that most people confuse race or ethnicity and religion with culture.

So what is culture? It is much larger than just race, ethnicity, and religion. Culture is a set of patterns of human activity in an area or group. What makes up a culture at large are the symbolic structures that give the cultural group’s activity significance. Various cultural elements, such as the arts of an area or group of people, entertainment, humanities, social standards, religious beliefs, and traditions all make up a culture. At the foundation of every culture is a value system made up of the most important parts of it that make each culture distinguishable.

I want to share some details about different parts of what makes up culture in the hope that it will help you shape your view of yourself. Have you ever felt like you want to make a difference but just aren’t sure how? Understanding your culture and how it shapes you has the power to propel you into that action you are looking for because you become connected with the driving factors in your life. I believe what will help establish this for you is to explain the different parts of culture so you can see the hierarchy of what influences you the most and be mindful of whether some cultural elements blend well with others. You would usually find definitions about culture on a larger scale but this article will focus on culture at the individual level.

Dominant Culture

What is it?

Dominant culture is just as it sounds. It is the dominant way of life as determined by a majority population. This is established by the vision, values, and belief systems set in place. The saying “you are a product of your environment” comes into play here. We do what our parents do, and our parents do what they observe in their world. We often mix up the world at large for the world we know. “Our world” is what we perceive as bigger than us and influencing us directly. The world at large is much more complex than that though.

For example, in America, we are a free and Democratic country. This impacts the way that interact with each other because we are free to share our opinions. Have you ever seen a debate on Facebook? You see a lot of passion in America, especially in relation to entertainment and equality. This is at the heart of American culture and the values that drive it are fairness and a spirit of help. Our leader can directly influence the culture of our country, which can directly impact our lives if “our people” (our family, our caretakers, friends, etc.) are influenced by it.

What does it mean for me?

If you view dominant culture on the personal level, it is the foundation of your value system. What shapes your vision of where you see yourself contributing in the world? What values do you have in place that you must or must not do? Where does that come from? Dominant culture elements are things like traditions, religion, language, etc. These things shape our behaviors because they are what we feel guides us the most. Not knowing what your dominant culture is is like a baby bird that wakes up with no mother to guide it. You will find yourself straying a lot in search of “bumpers” until you get more connected with it. You will likely fall out of a lot of trees, but you will find it! The sooner you can determine your main value system, the sooner you can start building on it.

Sub-Culture

What is it?

Sub-cultures could also be considered niche culture. They are generally societies or organizations within a dominant culture that are based on interests or lifestyles. Some examples of a sub-culture would be skate or surf culture, motorcycle culture, or business culture.

What does it mean for me?

This is hands down the most important part of what I wanted to share in this. You must be aware of how sub-cultures blend together. For example, I grew up immersed in skateboard culture. The dominant group in this group were rough, bold, and brave. Many of the people I looked up to within this society proudly reveled in grunge music, were tattooed, and had a “whatever” attitude. Heavily influenced by this, I also shared the interest in loud music and tattoos. As I got older and more mature, my career took me deeper into business culture where the attire and attitudes were night and day. As a nearly 30 year old now, I deeply wish I understood these things as a teenager.

If you are not established by your dominant culture, your sub-culture becomes your main influence. This is not building your house on the rock because interest and lifestyles change as we mature. I encourage you to immerse yourself in various cultures because there is so much to learn about life and human beings in general there, but be mindful not to be carried away by something that will change over time. This is where your dominant culture keeps you in bounds and is why it is so important to have that foundation.

Organizational Culture

What is it?

Organizational culture is the behavior of people within an organization, such as an employer group or non-profit. An organization’s culture is different from dominant culture in that it is made up by its vision, values, systems, beliefs, and habits that are driven by those things. The types of organizational culture from the Competing Values Framework are:

o Clan culture

o Adhocracy culture

o Market culture

o Hierarchy culture

Each of these cultures will have a different person-organization fit as they each have their own behaviors as established by their own visions and values. More about identifying with these cultures below.

What does it mean for me?

As a young adult, this is so important to understand the differences in organizational culture because you want to invest yourself in a place that you are a good fit for. For example, if you are accustomed to a culture of kindness, you may not feel comfortable or thrive in a Market Culture environment that is highly competitive and task-oriented. Check out the differences for each organizational culture at this OCAI-Online resource. You can find what the theory of effectiveness is for each, as well as the type of person that would thrive here in leadership. You will easily be able to see why it is important to find the right cultural fit in your job searches.

I would love to hear what your dominant culture is and what helps you really define it. How did it help with identity and what major life decisions or lifestyle choices (subcultures) are influenced by it?

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