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Culture is the sum of beliefs, ideas, attitudes and ways of life of a particular group of people in the same area or with common backgrounds, like ancestry or birthplace. More atypically, culture can be a set of values that bring people together who have the same goal or a common antagonizing force. It can be a uniting thread even among people from different parts of the world, a common ground, something people agree on to coexist, survive and have community. Culture, therefore, is a force that can shape the way a person or an entire group of people think, behave or act. When people speak of culture, it is in reference to their birth place and how they were raised, for example Italians, Chinese, Zimbabweans. But even within those broad cultures, there can be found subcultures; for example, people from the south-western region of Zimbabwe share a common language, Ndebele, and a common history and practices differing from those of the people in the north-eastern part of that same nation, who, in turn, speak Shona and have different values. Hence, while culture is a thread for unifying some people, it can also be the tool that encourages tribalism, racism and genocide in the extreme. This paper will discuss different ways in which culture influences individuals, groups and different societies.

Every individual has a set of values that shape the way he/ she thinks and acts. If a person was raised in an environment that is more liberal and tolerant, he/ she is more likely to be open minded on socially controversial issues, like same-sex marriages or abortion. When, however, a person grows up in a more closed or conservative environment, he/ she is more likely to be conservative in his/ her understanding or accepting of social issues. This is an example of the most immediate influence of culture on an individual’s personality. Even if people in the two examples given were raised in the same society, no matter how neutral or extreme is it, the most immediate influence on their mindset would be the subculture of that society, their homes. This shows that culture is taught from young age. It is passed down from generation to generation, and shapes the morals of an individual from the moment he/ she comes into existence.

There are some “cultural universals” which are shared by all human societies, like sexual division of the labor, using age and gender to classify people or even communicating with a verbal language. But even with those expectations in place, there are some changeable values that can be found in every sub-culture. Nevertheless, culture puts expectations on more than just individuals, but on a society as a whole. For example, an aspect of culture is religion. All over the world, no matter where, people, who follow Islam, kneel and pray five times a day. Nothing can interfere with the prayer time because of the influence of the strong belief system that they are raised with. Their unifying thread is their faith, and it is a global culture.

When one looks back into the history of America, slavery was a widely accepted and normal thing in the south. Darker skinned people were seen as sub-human and bought and sold as a property. Not many thought that practicing this was wrong. America was built on the back of that slave-master culture which spanned a few centuries before people decided to challenge the status quo. Culture can blind whole societies to right and wrong, especially if the existing norm permits something like slavery to go on unquestioned. Now, well over a century later, there are still parts in the southern states of the USA that dehumanize dark skinned people and think of the whiteness as superiority. That mindset exists because it is a culture handed down and taught through generations. There is a sub-culture that will not accept the equality of all mankind. The strength of this subculture is in its age.

Culture can have positive as well as negative effects on people. While it binds people together and gives them a sense of community and belonging, it can also be a tool to perpetuate injustices done on people; for example, some African nations practice female genital mutilation on young girls as a means of ensuring chastity before and during marriage. According to the Hunger Project, “FGM is a long-standing cultural practice of cutting away parts of the external female genitalia and is most commonly performed on girls between the ages of four and eight”. Therefore, culture is highly influential on people as individuals, groups or societies.

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