top of page

How Our Relationship with Our Culture Shapes Our Relationship with Ourselves

A child praying
Image from Unsplash

Have you ever felt a subtle, strange discomfort that engulfs you when the conversations with friends take a turn towards religion, culture and practices related to your cultures? Have you ever felt a tinge of shame or extreme pride when a friend asked about a certain practice that belonged to your culture leading you to either defend yourself or boast about it? In some cases have you even felt an urge to disassociate yourself from your culture? I did too in many interactions.

For the most part of my teenage and young adult years, I chose to disconnect myself from my culture to save myself from the discomfort of being seen as biased. It’s probably a self-generated notion that formed by navigating through seculars and religious fascists as I grew up. It came from a superficial understanding of secularism and judgment towards religious practices.

I remember this compulsion in my body to overshow my interest in understanding other cultural or religious practices while demeaning my own. Probably stemmed from a need to comfort the other person and make them feel special. I was devaluing my culture to validate somebody else’s. You can now probably see that although my intention was inclusivity, it was layered on a vertical model (a mental model where one is superior to another in value/ power). This is how most people look at the world, one job superior to another, one more intelligent than the other, the rich more powerful than the poor, an idea superior to another, my culture superior to yours. A linear or hierarchical way of looking at things. It’s just another way of looking at the world. Neither good nor bad. But, if inclusivity is your goal, then this model will only take you far away from it.

The more I disconnected from my culture, the more lost I grew. I felt like a kite that was disconnected from its string and lost in the vastness of the sky. And thus began my journey towards understanding. After wandering for many years, seeking answers in books, listening to spiritual leaders, discussing with people holding similar interests and observing different cultures, I stand here with this understanding.

How our relationship with our culture shapes our relationship with ourselves

Our culture is what we interact with early on in life and those experiences get ingrained in us, they shape our choices in life. Getting too attached to our culture or disconnecting from our roots are both ways of disconnecting from ourselves.

When you are too attached to your culture, you become rigid, you tend to build intolerance towards change and other cultures. You identify yourself with the practices rather than understanding their purpose. You become a slave to what and how something needs to be done rather than understanding why it’s done. And somebody questioning the why triggers you. Because you have no clarity of it yourself and neither have you ever sought that information or it was lost in transfer. You are not connected to the purpose but to the practice and the rights and wrongs of it. For you, it’s a task handed over by your ancestors and if you mess it up, you might be punished. Yes, it could be fear-driven. A fear of things not going well if you do it wrong. A fear of losing your identity.

On the other hand, by disconnecting yourself from your culture you are disconnecting from all the wisdom that your culture has accumulated over generations. You become the kite without the wisdom of the kite flyer. A lonely, directionless kite (being directionless is not bad after all unless it's a conscious choice).

We choose to align ourselves with various cultures throughout our lives, like the school we go to has a certain culture, our workplace has a certain culture, our friend circles have a certain culture and so on. And with a combination of all these cultural practices you design a unique culture within you. And in that, if the foundation or your relationship with your roots is shaky, you can imagine the quality of your relationship with yourself. If judgement towards your roots is what you carry, that’s the culture you practice within yourself.

Inclusivity comes when you are deeply rooted and feel secure about your own belief system in your own skin. Like a tree, the deeper and wider its roots, the more centred it is; the shallower the roots, the shakier the tree.

How to revive our connection with our culture and ourselves?

From my experience, what enables us to build a quality culture within ourselves is to reconnect with our roots through a lens of understanding. A horizontal model (A mental model based on (for lack of a better word) equality). Where everything is accessed from the lens of what purpose is it meeting. A job is neither superior nor inferior to another but it exists to meet a purpose, one is neither superior nor inferior to another but different in terms of how their circumstances have shaped them and the skills they worked on, be it rich or poor they deserve equal or equitable opportunities, our culture and practices are different and were designed to meet certain purposes.

No culture is perfect and no culture is fixed. The kite flyer makes mistakes and learns through the kite. Likewise, a culture learns through the experiences of its people and evolves. And preserving a culture doesn’t necessarily mean, following the practices exactly the way it was practised 100s of years ago. It could mean, keeping the essence and values intact while adapting to changing times and contexts.

I sat down and reconnected with my ancestors, I allowed the courage and fearlessness they carried to flow through my veins. I opened my heart to trust their values around nature. I embodied their wisdom and in that act I found peace.

With this, I would like to encourage you to re-look at your relationship with your culture. Observe if it is operating in a vertical or horizontal model, consciously practice and experience both the models and choose what’s best for you. Judgement is not bad after all. To make the most out of it, use it at the end of your thorough understanding.

With Project We Connect it's our humble attempt to bring to you content that'll help you nourish your relationship with your culture and in turn with yourself and the world. To understand more about the Horizon and Vertical model, you can refer to the book Courage to be Disliked.

Hope you enjoyed reading this article, I'd be happy to know your thoughts and connections in the comments below. I am interested to know what resonated with you, what made you think, and how this article added value or is there something that I missed. That'll add value.

Thank you for reading,

I hope you found value :)

67 views1 comment
bottom of page