Travel To Grow

Understanding The World Through Travel

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Sep '11

Questioning our Culture

I’m always interested in the different ways that we think about certain parts of life in our different cultures.

There are some big differences between Western and Chinese culture that become obvious for anyone that’s experienced both cultures first hand. From dating to personal space to manners to family values the differences are vast and truly show how environment shapes our ideas and behaviors.

We should understand that these differences in ideas and behaviors are not necessary ‘right’ or not necessarily even our own opinions, but instead come to us by default from our cultural conditioning… basically by living in the cultures in which we are raised we are influenced by our environments to have certain ideas about things… and until we realize this we have little control over what we believe… Instead of questioning the ideas that were programmed into our minds we just accept them as ‘normal’ or even ‘self-evident’.

To go against any of these ideas is seen as weird or abnormal, and to follow them helps you to fit in.

This can at times be dangerous though… or at the very least misleading. Many of us currently accept the ideas of our culture as ‘just the way it is’ but if we look back through history we can see many cases where the dominant cultures of the times were completely erroneous.

We once thought that the world was flat, and at the center of the universe… and anyone who questioned this ‘self-evident truth’ was persecuted and punished. This misinformation prevented the progression of science until it was finally accepted and caused harm to those who went against it.

We also at one time thought that illnesses were caused by demons. Instead of looking for various medical cures for these illnesses people instead looked towards different methods of exorcism or purifications. This misinformation prevented advances in medicine and caused harm to many sick people.

More recently we thought that slavery was normal and acceptable… Those who wrote ‘all men are created equal’ had slaves of their own. They just didn’t realize the hypocrisy of it because it was normal and accepted at the time. This misinformation caused mass suffering of slaves around the world for thousands of years all the way up until 1865.

and most recently were the inequalities between men and women and also between white and black people.

I’m sure China also has many examples of this kind of cultural misinformation that I am not aware of. (please comment 😉 )


Anyway as these examples show… Merely accepting ones culture can be really harmful to a lot of people, or at least fill our heads with ideas that don’t match reality, or serve us in positive ways.

…Now maybe you are thinking “well of course all those past examples were wrong, but now it’s the 21st century and we are smarter than that! Now our cultural ideas are right!”

Well… I’m sure with each new cultural breakthrough through time the masses thought the same thing as well. Plus we have some clear present day examples.

Besides our outdated ideas about wars and politics and religions, a nice present day cultural example that is quite harmful is our cultural consumerism ideas. We have been culturally conditioned through advertising and the media to want more and more, and have been conditioned to think that the more we have, the more possessions we accumulate the happier and more ‘successful’ we are. This idea is built right into our monetary system, which requires constant growth and cyclical consumption just to maintain itself. It’s this same social conditioning that we accept as ‘normal’ and even ‘self-evident’ that is responsible for the mass shortages of resources, destruction of the environment and terrible waste around the planet.


Anyway the point of this blog post is to encourage us to question our cultures and our common ideas.

We can’t help which ideas were planted into our minds by default, but we can help which ideas we keep in there and which ones we remove.

Question everything you think you know, and everything you accept as normal and see if it really is accurate with reality and if it really is serving your own life and the lives of everyone around you. The ideas we hold on to should be the ones that will provide the highest wellbeing and quality of life for us and our fellow man. It’s not always the big things as well, question even the little things, how do you think about dating, money, careers, friendships, talking with strangers, families, adventures? Are your ideas really your own, or are you just fitting in with your culture? Are your ideas making you as happy as you can possibly be? Or are you accepting the ideas of others or hiding your true self because you worry about what they will think about you?

How do we tell if our ideas are accurate or not? The one thing we can trust to always be the most accurate is logic and science, because science is updating constantly and always remains our closest approximation of reality that we currently have. But more simply… are your ideas making you happy? Can you be 100% open and honest about everything about you, or do you need to hide certain things? Do you admit to yourself what you want then really go for it, or do you simply follow the norm?

Our cultures and societies give us a lot of pressure and have a lot of expectations for us… but in the end our lives are our own and we need to choose for ourselves how we think about them and how live them. In the end it’s really all about following your own present and future happiness and not caring about what ‘normal’ people think about you.Follow the rule of ‘do no harm’ but then let loose and be who you want to be and think what you want to think. If you’re doing that you can’t be too far off.


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