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We are like a fish in a fishbowl. A fish swims around its bowl surrounded by water, having no knowledge on the significance of water in order to live, nor unaware of its presence. The fish represents us humans, and the water represents our culture (“Mirror Image: Know Your Own Culture to Understand Others”). Psychologists often use this metaphor of a fish in a fishbowl to explain how most individuals are only aware of their culture and don’t acknowledge any other culture (“Cultural Fish Bowl”). We live in a society where we are fortunate to be surrounded by different cultures, but oftentimes only recognize our own. This concept is known as ethnocentrism, which is the belief that your own culture is superior to other cultures (“Ethnocentrism”). Ethnocentrism can be bad because it prevents us from being exposed to other perspectives that possibly interest us. Avoiding this mindset by getting involved in your culture and those of others can have positive outcomes, such as helping you find your own cultural identity and benefit your health in many ways.
Culture can be defined as a way of life that keeps society going. It is made up of the “customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group” (“Culture”). We all have our own beliefs and traditions that belong to our culture. Some beliefs are similar across the world, while others are unique. For instance, take the traditional celebration known as el día de los Muertos (the day of the dead) that Mexicans celebrate to remember their loved ones who have passed away. Altars are built, authentic dishes are made, and families get together on this special day of reminiscing. This celebration is unique to Mexican culture because, while it is a popular tradition that is becoming familiar worldwide, it complies with their religion and what they believe. Other cultures may celebrate in similar ways, but el dia de los Muertos is what symbolizes Mexican culture, like the San Fermin festival is what represents the culture in Spain.
When thinking about the practice of culture, many people don’t realize engaging in it can have positive outcomes. One effect it has on individuals, which many don’t consider, is seen through our health. You might be thinking, how can being involved in my culture benefit my health? Research shows that participation in culture is “… linked to good health and high life satisfaction…” (“Culture is good for your health”). A study done in Scotland found that those actively participating in their culture by attending cultural events are more likely to report good health compared to those who aren’t as involved (“Culture is good for your health”). Participating in cultural events can cause a great sense of happiness because you are exposed to music, dance, food, and so much more. In fact, this state of being content can reduce the risk of heart disease by 13- 26% (“How Being Happy Makes You Healthier”). In this manner, this study proves how taking part in cultural activities can increase your chances of living a more cheerful lifestyle, which leads to good health.
Culture also affects how we view our health. It can influence how patients and physicians perceive chronic diseases and treatment options, such as cancer and birth control (“Pediatric Society”). This occurs because of the different beliefs that distinguish each culture. For instance, Catholics believe using any form of contraception, such as birth control, is wrong because it prevents new life from coming to this world (“Birth Control”). However, birth control is not only used to prevent having children. Many women use it for other medical reasons, including regulating their menstrual cycles, treating acne, and lowering their risk of anemia (Posted under Parents’ Articles). One culture that allows the usage of birth control is the American culture. Therefore, Americans see no problem using birth control, while Catholics oppose this action based on their beliefs. Each culture values certain things and treats situations differently due to the beliefs that drive each culture.
In addition to affecting your views on health, culture also influences how the brain processes information (Ambady). This impacts our emotions and behavior towards certain situations. It can also affect the way we think and react to particular situations. For example, psychological research proved how culture affects how our brain responds differently to information about ourselves, family members, and strangers. Americans show stronger activation in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) when viewing adjectives that describe the individual compared to those of family members and strangers (Meyer). On the other hand, the vmPFC of a Chinese person is “…strongly active when… [they hear] … adjectives about themselves and a family member, though not for strangers” (Meyer). These findings demonstrate how your cultural background influences your brain’s way of thinking and how it perceives information.
Culture plays a major role in shaping your identity as well, meaning being involved in your own culture results in you finding your cultural identity. According to Yuurei Serai, cultural identity is the sense of belonging to one or many groups in society. It helps us identify ourselves with other individuals who have the same traditions and practice the same beliefs. “The culture each person lives in shows them how to dress, talk, act, acceptable behavior, and gives a guideline of what is considered acceptable and normal” (A). This practice begins during childhood through acculturation because our parents teach us what they were taught in accordance to their culture. As seen through the fish in the fishbowl example, we are unaware of the values that drive us and we are unable to distinguish them from values held by other cultures (“Mirror Image: Know Your Own Culture to Understand Others”). By involving yourself in your culture, you are able to experience your culture firsthand and get to know yourself, while discovering new things. You are able to understand who you really are and learn about your roots.
Research from the 2010 Scottish Household Survey shows people who are “…encouraged to participate in a cultural activity as children are more likely to continue to do so…” as they grow up (“Culture is good for your health”). It is important to expose children to their culture at a young age, so they continue to do so in the future. This way, traditions and beliefs are passed on from generation to generation. “Understanding and celebrating cultural identity can boost pride and self-esteem” (Serai). Personally, being involved in my culture at a young age has helped me appreciate my culture and create a cultural identity. Before, I was not aware of the values that were important to my culture, but after actively participating in my culture, I learned and realized what I am passionate about. Through Mariachi music and Ballet Folklorico, I gained a sense of pride and adoration towards my culture, which led me to become more lively and culturally aware.
If a person gives up their cultural identity, then they’d experience confusion and isolation. This happens as a result of not being involved in your culture. By not accepting cultural identities, people create limited worldviews and perceptions of others (Serai). To better understand the impact of your cultural identity, imagine not having a name, nor personality. Your name is what describes and distinguishes you from other individuals. Although someone else might have the same name as you, your personality is what further differentiates you from others and makes you unique. Without a name or personality, it is hard to understand who you really are and gives you no purpose. This is why involving yourself in your culture is necessary to create a cultural identity that can help you discover new things about yourself.
Accepting your own culture is necessary to understand the beliefs and practices of others. Furthermore, learning about your culture will be interesting and stimulate your mind, while advancing your understanding. Actively participating in it, has greater outcomes. For instance, developing a cultural identity that leads to a happy and healthy lifestyle. Engaging in your culture and uncovering the hidden traditions that were once unfamiliar to you, result in these wonderful discoveries that make your more ready for the global world. Along the way, you can reduce the risk of heart disease, understand why you believe what you believe, and find yourself. Becoming more involved in your culture results in the discovery of your cultural identity that will make you more aware and satisfied with the lively life you’ll live.
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