COLUMN: Why culture matters

Published 10:00 am Saturday, August 5, 2023

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As an American of Filipino ancestry, I take pride in my native land and adoptive country’s cultures and traditions. I’ve got the best of both worlds, having Eastern and Western influences. 

In one of the videos I’ve watched lately, one in which a retired U.S. serviceman who has been back in the U.S. lately, after having lived in another country (Philippines) with his wife for years, said, “it was a culture shock to be back home!”

What did he mean when he said it was a culture shock for him to be back home after years of being away in the U.S.? Was he still experiencing jet lag, altitude sickness, disorientation, confusion or having this feeling of uncertainty because of changes he never expected happening in his new surroundings?

The word “culture” has been used almost daily in every significant occasion or event, our everyday discourse or interaction in life. We hear such words as pop culture, cultural heritage or tradition, culture of life, culture of death, counterculture, cancel culture. 

But, what do we know about culture? What does it do to a community, society, country? What influence does it have in our life? If it’s an integral part of our life, why does it matter? 

Culture is the customs, arts, social institutions, and human intellectual achievements of a particular nation, people or other social group. It is the way of life of groups of people and the way they do things. Different groups have different cultures. Each is unique, different  and diverse, yet  it contributes to the overall beauty of humanity. 

Examples and/or elements of (traditional) culture include arts, customs, norms (informal, unwritten rules that govern social behaviors), languages, religions, festivals, rituals and ceremonies, holidays, pastimes, food, and architecture, government, and social organizations.

Among the types of culture are 1) national/societal culture 2) organizational culture 3) social identity group culture 4) functional culture 5) team culture 6) individual culture. 

The eight elements of workplace culture: 1) artifacts—physical items found to have particular symbolism for a company 2) stories—Culture is often disseminated through stories about past events and people 3) rituals—repeated actions your company takes 4) heroes 5) symbols 6) beliefs 7) attitudes 8) values.

What are some of the characteristics of culture? 1) It is a learned behavior. 2) It is abstract. 3) It is a pattern of learned behavior. 4) It’s the product of behavior. 5) Culture includes attitudes, values, and knowledge. 6) Culture also includes material objects. 7) It is shared by the members of society. 8) Culture is superorganic. 9) Culture is pervasive. 10) Culture is a way of life. 11) Culture is a human product. 12) Culture is idealistic. 13) Culture is transmitted among members of society. 14) Culture is continually changing. 15) Culture  is variable. 16) Culture is an integrated system. 17) Language is the chief vehicle of culture.

British anthropologist Edward Taylor defined  culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by men as a member of society.” 

In anthropology and sociology, culture refers to the sum of human beings’ life ways, their behaviors, beliefs, feelings, and thoughts. It connotes everything that is acquired by them as social beings.

What does it mean when somebody says, “She’s a highly cultured person”? It means a person that has certain features such as his speech, manner and taste for literature, music or painting which distinguishes him from others. 

Culture consists of all learned, normative behavior patterns — that is all shared ways or patterns of thinking and feeling as well as doing.

With all the definitions of anthropologists, culture is the sum total of human achievements or the total heritage of man which can be transmitted to men by communication and tradition. It is a way of life of the people in a certain geographical area. Lifestyle and social pattern of a society being the direct consequence of the accumulated heritage of ages past distinguish and differentiate one community from another.

Culture is a moral, intellectual and spiritual discipline for advancement, in accordance with the norms and values based on accumulated heritage. It is imbibing and making our own, the lifestyle and social pattern of the group one belongs to. 

Culture is a system of learned behavior shared by and transmitted among the members of the group. 

It is a collective heritage learned by individuals and passed from one generation to another. The individual receives culture as part of social heritage and, in turn, may reshape the culture and introduce changes which then become part of the heritage of succeeding generations.

What are some important functions of culture? 1) Culture defines situations. 2) Culture defines attitudes, values and goals. 3) Culture defines myths, legends, and the supernatural. 4) Culture provides behavior patterns.

Culture matters. We need culture in order for us to survive and thrive, and to succeed as one big, human family. 

A Manila Times columnist, Yen Makabenta, opines that culture emanates from human society, not from geography. 

Culture is a tool for the survival of our human race. It guides us in our everyday life. It helps us to be united, not divided, and keeps us from tearing apart, as members of the human race.

Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk and Chesapeake. Email him at