The Art of Individual Distinctiveness in the framework of cultural patterns
Are you unique in your behavior?
Defining culture has not been easy and scholars and anthropologists have not agreed on a fitting definition of culture even today. Perhaps, this is because culture is a broad term and is used in different situations, to mean differently. For example, culture is referred to mean the personal traits of a person (she is a well-cultured girl), or in terms of fine arts, aesthetics (cultural events) or in terms of behavior patterns of individuals learned from others. Therefore, there is no consensus on the definition or nature of culture.
However, it is important to understand how anthropologists define culture.
Tyler (British anthropologist, 1870) defines ‘Culture … is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.’
Spencer-Oatey (2008) defines it as ‘a fuzzy set of basic assumptions and values, orientations to life, beliefs, policies, procedures and behavioral conventions that are shared by a group of people, and that influence (but do not determine) each member’s behavior and his/her interpretations of the ‘meaning’ of other people’s behavior.’
I personally like the definition by Geert Hofstede (1994) that states, [Culture] is “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from others.”
From the above definition, I like to interpret that ‘cultural behaviors’ can be programmed in an individual’s mind. Therefore, we can be ‘culturally’ trained to be different from others. Arguably, though group of people shares culture, every person can and needs to define their distinctiveness by choosing parts of culture to shape them. In effect, an individual can distinguish himself or herself from others by chiseling out features or behavior patterns from components of culture.
The components of culture as identified by experts and scholars include such factors as symbols, language, norms, values and beliefs. In addition, few other components include motive, ideas, knowledge and traditions. Most of us merely follow the symbols, values, traditions or behavior of the group without a personal mark. However, when people learn and display behavior patterns by assessing each of these components, it leads to distinctiveness.
Among other things, the key features of culture are – we can learn, shape and apply it in our daily lives. Hence, it will do well if we consciously analyze the components of culture and identify relevant ones for our behavior displays. Besides, behavior need not always rely on societal acceptance. In fact, we need to go beyond group norms and carve the seal of individuality in our behavior. Remember, individual distinctiveness is essential for being successful at work and elsewhere.
Are you unique in displaying your behavior? Then, check if you have individual distinctiveness using this sample questionnaire. You may modify this questionnaire for research or academic purpose.
Spencer-Oatey, H. (2012) What is culture? A compilation of quotations. GlobalPAD Core Concepts. https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/al/globalpad/openhouse/interculturalskills/global_pad_-_what_is_culture.pdf