Wednesday, July 6, 2011


culture (ˈkʌltʃə)
  1. the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs, values, and knowledge, which constitute the shares bases of social interaction
  2. the total range of activities and ideas of a group of people with shared traditions, which are transmitted and reinforced by members of the group
I have a theory.

It's not fully developed, so bear with me.

I've been thinking about and observing the dynamics of the culture of groups for about two and a half years.  It's interesting to me how the culture of a group impacts it's members subtly, but tremendously.

I was initially drawn to the topic by my then-new job.  When I first arrived, I was told that our company had a "Safety Culture".  Little did I know how true that is!  Everything we do at work is soaked in safety.  We talk about it, we measure it, we live it, we breathe it.  The "safety culture" is very intentional.

Cultures in groups happen whether they are intentional or not.  We fit together with other people because we have common values.

(I'm getting to the theory.  Promise!)

It hit me the other day, that while a group may ascribe to an infinite list of values, reality is that there is a limit to the number of values to which we can truly hold.  Much like your eyes can only focus on a limited amount of visual data, our hearts can really only esteem a limited number of values as the highest.

Maybe a word picture will help.  After all, that's how it came into my head!

I imagined a table, like a coffee table, and strewn across it were magnets with words written on them.  The words were values people hold.  I saw, as my eyes went across the table, that there were good attributes in every value I saw.   This is an example of what some of the magnets could have been...

family     intelligence     friendship     security     comfort     children     reputation     marriage     activities     success     attractiveness     popularity     effectiveness     accomplishment     fun     education     wealth     fame     respect     love     health     parents     power     spirituality     safety     career

I envisioned that my task was to choose the most important values and move them to a magnetic board or a refrigerator.  I generously limited myself to 10 values.  (I say "generously" because, I don't know about you, but I find it difficult to focus on 10 items at one time!)

Every group has a list of the top values of the group.  Generally, it isn't formalized, but it's very real.  These values define how a group spends it's time and energy and resources.  What makes it unique?  What continually rises to the top as a priority?  What is chosen repeatedly over another value? 

And then it hit me, as much as we'd love to be able to pick every value in the correct portion and perfect harmony, it cannot work like that. 

Sometimes it's good.
Sometimes it's bad.

It really seems to be an issue of which values are chosen over the other possible values.  The values that rise to the top really direct the environment of a culture.  Sadly, sometimes the values that are sacrificed can be very telling about what really matters to a group.

Some examples of the bad:
A minister expresses to the leadership of his ministry that his marriage is struggling.  They respond by demanding to know how he will meet the needs of those in his ministry.
(healthy ministry is given preference over a healthy marriage)

A friend gossips entrusted information about another person with another friend.
(popularity is given preference over privacy or respect)

A company assures it's employees that no layoffs are anticipated, while knowing that layoffs are in the works.
(security and peace are given preference over honesty)

Some examples of the good:
A father declines a promotion that would ensure him no time for his family.
(family is given preference over career)

A friend is offered physical assistance during a tumultous period in life.
(friendship is given preference over comfort or ease)

So, what now?

I guess the first thing I see as needed is to raise your awareness of how the circles you run in see life.  Do the things people place emphasis on line up with what YOU WANT to emphasize?  I have a group of friends that place a high value on family.  In little ways, they are peer role models to me every day.  What values do the cultures you live in hold?  Are they more concerned about having fun than about safety and responsibility?  Are material possessions worth sacrificing other important things for?  This can play out in hundreds of different ways.  Just tune in and see what your people rank highest.

Second, evaluate.  Does their ranking line up with who I want to be?  You likely run in more than one circle.  The one you most closely associate with has the most potential to shape you.  Pay close attention as you evaluate that one.

Lastly, correct, if needed.  If no correction is needed, thank God for the incredible blessing He has given.  If not, you have two options:  influence the culture if you can, or line up with a different primary culture.  Make sure you're involved in a culture of people you want to be like.

I'd love your thoughts and feedback on this!

1 comment:

  1. Insightful. It made me think of my spiritual development in terms of the "fruit of the Spirit". I know there are certain attributes I focus more on personally, but then I notice God seems to work circumstances that force development of virtues I may have ignored, but were sorely needed in my life.

    And I think you're right about groups, we are very much influenced by those people or things with whom (or with which) we spend the most time, which is why I think God gives and takes away in our lives. (Especially in those who are willing to submit to His work.) Good topic.


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