What is culture, and why is it important?
“Culture is the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterizes a society or a group. It includes creative expressions, community practices and material or built forms.” – from Our Creative Diversity: The UN World Commisssion on Culture and Development Report
Culture pertains to the characteristics and activities of a collective group of people or community and is defined and represented through the music, art, language, religion, cuisine, customs and traditions of a region. There are numerous cultures and cultural activities around the world that shape a society. In North America culture is constantly evolving, being influenced by those who have emigrated from other countries.
Culture is an extensive system of behaviour and understanding that defines the way of life for a community, and the cultural values of the community give it an identity all its own. Through the culture of its people a community also gains a unique character and a personality. Culture is shared by the members of a group or society and is passed from the older generations to newer ones. It needs to be translated into symbols in order to be effectively communicated from generation to generation. Examples of the symbols traditionally used are art, language and religion.
Culture is a connection that unites the members of a group or society. The shared bond brings the people of the community together and the customs and traditions that the people follow. The festivals they celebrate, the kind of clothing they wear, the food they eat, and most importantly, the cultural values they adhere to, are binding.
The true significance of culture lies in the fact that it links individuals and their value systems. The natural environment of a region greatly affects the lifestyle of the people of that region, thereby contributing to the shaping of their culture. The diversity in the cultures around the world is also a result of the mindsets of people inhabiting the various regions of the world. This diversity holds value to the people to frame the messages that sell products, services and ideas and reinterpret dominant trends to put a positive spin on what we do, and help to explain why we do it.
It is important to clarify the relationship between culture and the development of community in order to find valuable and practical ways to benefit all of society. People from different cultures exist side-by-side around the world, and sharing our cultural differences serves to enhance experiences in our communities and give us a sense of connectedness. The advantages to sharing and participating in our cultural traditions are immeasurable and can only give us a deeper understanding of the communities we live in.