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Cultural Belonging and Identification

Humans have always fought for territory with the perspective of protecting cultural norms. We belong to our land and our land belongs to us. Therefore, traditionally, culture has been geographically tethered. With technology, modernization, affluenza and ease of travel, global nomadic lifestyles are changing the definition of cultural norms.

It is important that we broaden the scope of our understanding of culture and be aware of the limitations we place on people when we define them culturally. In addition, in business, corporations and multinational entities have to move from diversity awareness to multiculturalism and cross cultural inclusion if they want to continue to have substantial global impact.

In addition, when we evaluate the cultures of other people and categorize people based on their implied or overt membership in a particular culture, we are choosing to see that person as part of a group as opposed to an individual. When we observe others solely within the lens of their cultural context, we limit their humanness and individuality.

On the other hand, when we observe people solely as individuals and we do not encourage them to connect with others and partially define themselves as part of a larger group, we deprive them of being an active participant in the beauty of collaboration and the depth that the mosaic of culture brings to our daily lives.

The irony of culture in America is that although this is that exceptional environment that first put individual rights and freedoms above group rights, prejudice against groups that are racial and culturally defined continues to be a relentlessly destructive norm.

Humans have an innate need to be part of a group, a tribe that has cultural expression. When we were born, we belong to our mothers, our fathers and our family. Humans are the most helpless of creatures upon birth so our need to belong into a family system is deeply ingrained in our developmental DNA. Furthermore, throughout our lives, very few in any of us, live in complete isolation. We were created to belong to a group and so expressing and cherishing our individual traits while simultaneously belonging to a group wherein we are productive is necessary for the survival of the human race.

The delicate balance between an individual’s personal expression and that person’s membership in a group is something that is fluid and changes throughout one’s life based on individual experience and age. As children our entire identity is based on our gender, age and the family unit to which we belong. As we grow older, we use geographical location and membership in institutions of higher education or professions to further define ourselves and to set ourselves apart within the larger group to which we belong.

Lack of awareness of this evolutionary pattern can create a lot of turmoil for those in transition. Global nomads and third culture kids in particular have a difficult time navigating some of these membership issues in belonging to these various groups. As a result, they may feel a lack of depth of connection to larger groups as they recognize that they do not belong to any one culture.

For people that feel culturally lost or do not feel a strong connection to any one cultural group, the key is to be aware of where your individuality flows into a group dynamic at any given time. Check in with yourself regularly and give this some deliberate thought. Become more aware and take risks in engaging with mono-cultural people.

Comment on my blog as to creative solutions that you have had in this area. How did you gain awareness of our individuality versus the group? How important is it to consciously belong to a group?


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