Culture – The Iceberg, Continued

Lesson 1: Topic 14 of 25

As we move down the iceberg, at the water’s surface we find some behaviors whose origins are more difficult to nail down. How did you learn to wait in line to buy groceries? You probably don’t remember being taught to do this important behavior of western social order. When Ari was young and in Kindergarten, he arrived late, but tried to join his friend in the middle of the line at the water fountain anyway. The teacher stepped up to proclaim, “Ari, we don’t cut in line; go to the back and wait your turn.” That would have been a reinforcement of cultural norms, but was not likely to be the first time he had waited in line. 

Taichi Nakamura on Unsplash lpc lmft do rn lvn lnfa lnha do md lcp lmsw msw lpc

Waiting in line, for many cultures, is a type of action that is implicitly learned, or more “caught than taught.” Ari would have waited in line at various places with his parents, and the later correction by his teacher simply verified to him that this was the expected way to behave in his society, whenever multiple people need a limited resource or service. This example illustrates that not all behaviors are explicit in our understanding. Sometimes we don’t know why we do something, but we know that everyone who is “us” does it.

Below the surface of the water lie values and beliefs, then finally worldview. We already know that these intangibles are more difficult to talk about and implicitly learned. They are also subjective, and quite difficult to change. Mandy, a member of a Native American tribe, might give a few core reasons for an avoidance of owls, tied to tradition or spiritual beliefs. Some tribes believe the owls hold spirits of living people, or foretell death. She could study owls academically, and thoroughly understand their beneficial place in their ecosystem. Mandy may still retain the instinctual sense that owls may harm her. It is possible for her to hold both the understanding and respect of owls’ scientific value and their intrinsic spiritual threat. This holding of seemingly juxtaposed beliefs is actually quite common. The deeper reasoning of belonging, of marking who is “us” in particular situations, is harder to access.