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Characteristics of Culture

What is culture and what are its characteristics? What are the basic elements of culture? To find the answers, read on…

Culture refers to the pattern of human activity and the symbols that give significance to these activities. Culture manifests itself in terms of the art, literature, costumes, customs, language, religion and religious rituals. The people and their pattern of life make up the culture of a region. Cultures vary in the different parts of the world. They are different across the land boundaries and the diversity in cultures results in the diversity in people around the world. Culture also consists of the system of beliefs held by the people of the region, their principles of life and their moral values. The patterns of behavior of the people of a particular region also form a part of the region's culture. The word 'culture' that hails from the Latin word, 'cultura' derived from ‘colere’, means, 'to cultivate'. Hence the way in which the minds of the masses inhabiting a particular region are cultivated, in someway determines the culture of a region. Let us look at the basic characteristics of culture and its fundamental elements.

Culture is shared, by which we mean that every culture is shared by a group of people. Depending on the region they live in, the climatic conditions they thrive in and their historical heritage, they form a set of values and beliefs. This set of their principles of life shapes their culture. No culture belongs to an individual. It is rather shared among many people of a certain part of the world. It belongs to a single community and not to any single human being.

Culture is learned. The members of a culture share certain ideals, which shape their lives. Generations learn to follow these ideals and principles. Culture propagates through generations, which adopt their old customs and traditions as a part of their culture. The ideals they base their lives on is a part of their culture. Cultural values are imparted from one generation to another, thus resulting in a continual of traditions that are a part of culture. The language, the literature and the art forms pass across generations. Culture is learned, understood and adopted by the younger generations of society. No individual is born with a sense of his/her culture. He/she has to learn it.

What are the elements of culture? The language, other forms of expression as also the thoughts and emotions of the people, their social and cultural norms, their principles and beliefs are the basic elements of culture. For an effective transfer of culture from one generation to another, it has to be translated in terms of symbols, which represent the cultural values of a community. Language, art and religion form the system of symbols that render a deep meaning to culture.

Despite the efforts of the older generations to transfer their cultural values to the forthcoming generations, many tend to remain unaware of their culture. People are often found to have an incomplete knowledge of their culture. People seldom know their culture completely.

A gradual change is characteristic to almost every culture. Cultures are subject to change. Culture loses some of its traits and gains new ones. The aspects of culture that change vary across societies. With the passage of time, new technologies emerge, new modes of work come up, social thinking undergoes transitions and so does culture. Every culture changes in time although the rate of change of every culture varies.

Studies have brought out a fact that no culture can remain in isolation. There is hardly any social community that is completely isolated from the rest of the world. Every culture hence, is mostly influenced by cultures of the surrounding regions. Cultural values are prone to be affected by the values of communities in close vicinity. The cultures, which emerged during the same periods of time often, show certain similarities. Modern times have witnessed an intermix of cultures. Cultures are blended together giving rise to shared cultures.

I feel that it is our moral responsibility to understand our culture. There is a need to study our cultural values and ideals, which have been shaping our society. It is necessary to have respect and pride for our culture. There is a need to peep into the past that has shaped our present.

By Manali Oak
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