• George Samuels

How To Keep Culture Alive In The 21st Century

Have you ever asked yourself, or others, what it means to keep culture alive? Even the word ‘culture’ can be vague. When you ask others what how they define their culture, they’ll usually describe it in terms of feelings, language, music, beliefs passed down, and so on. This makes it incredibly difficult to define culture – just about as difficult as it is to define ‘love’!


This does not mean culture is to be left alone and undefined. Much like the diverse cultures that inhabit the human race as a species, so too do the definitions of culture provide numerous answers and possibilities.

The conundrum we’re faced with, when it comes to culture, is “how do we keep culture alive?” If culture itself is difficult to define in simple words, how are we supposed to keep that alive? Who decides what is relevant and what’s not? Perhaps that answer is best left to communities.

Communities

When perusing culture amongst different peoples, especially those spread out across different countries, you will often find variations and adaptations of a culture. For example, Polynesians who live in Australia do their best to stay true to the “island way,” yet they often find themselves exhibiting Western behavior that would traditionally be unacceptable back in their native lands. So why does this occur? Perhaps due to the necessity of adapting to different environments and communities.

When trying to keep culture alive, we usually talk about the things we as individuals, or communities, deem worthy of keeping alive. This doesn’t necessarily mean keeping every aspect of our cultural past alive – just those things that work in harmony with the new times or environment. For any culture to survive, it seems that it must adapt. Perhaps that’s what Charles Darwin truly meant when he discussed the “survival of the fittest” (so not necessarily the strongest physically, but those more adaptable). I mean, there’s a reason why cockroaches and various other insects survived longer than the dinosaurs!

Corporate & Business Cultures

Keeping culture alive need not only apply to the indigenous or traditional communities. It can also apply to businesses or organizations. You can see how strong organizational culture is when you have “suits” (or corporates) walk in to the same room as, say, a bunch of artists. One has a presence of authority, control and seriousness, while the other an attitude of being carefree, lateral-thinking and eccentric.

When cultures clash, you can either have discord or harmony, the latter being dependent on values or beliefs held by both sides.

For businesses or organizations, culture can have a huge impact on sales, customer loyalty, team productivity, and much more. But very rarely are people able to define their culture enough to be able to use it strategically. This might be due to the fact that culture is something that’s lived and grown organically, not necessarily thought-out and structured (but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done).

Businesses like Zappos or PhysioCo have done a great job using their culture as a means to attract or repel, done in a more strategic manner. Other companies have tried something similar, but typically fail at gathering the same traction. Why?

This might have to do with the core of culture.

The Core of Culture – The Heart

As mentioned, culture is typically lived and breathed as value, not necessarily structured for the sake of it. If one tries to come at it from that bend, the “core values” (or heart) gets lost.

Therefore, it’s important to define what the heart of a culture is before anything else. From the heart, all else grows, just like a baby in a womb. From the heart, the music, the language, rituals and all else will form. Once they do, those who are drawn to it will replicate and share.

Culture is kept alive when enough people are connected at the heart-level, and either fight or prolong so that heart continues to beat, for time immemorial. Just like stories, they will change and adapt to suit the times, but the heart, or essence, always remains the same. Culture, like ideas, cannot be wiped out if it is strong enough. But its survivability depends on its strength among the people.

What does “how to keep culture alive” mean to you? Write your answers below in the comments. Look forward to hearing!

**Featured image, The Cave In The Mountain, courtesy of The Boston Public Library.**

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