If you were to design your own human culture, what would you include? What would you leave out?
Here are some basic design questions to consider, based on the three core principles of personal growth.
How would your culture relate to truth? Would you create a very honest, truth-based culture? Would your culture encourage the discovery and sharing of new truths? To what extent would people own, hide, or manipulate the truth?
Would you create a culture based on shared stories and/or mythology, even if the stories are made up?
Would you favor politeness over honesty in communication?
Note that there are trade-offs for each path you might take. If you favor a discovery-based culture, then you’ll need a very flexible culture and flexible rituals since your understanding of reality will keep changing as you make new discoveries. That could potentially make your culture more fragile and less cohesive.
If, on the other hand, you create a culture based on shared stories that seldom change, you might experience stronger group cohesion and greater stability through a shared identity, but your stories may begin to seem increasingly ludicrous as your culture matures and gains new knowledge.
Which desires will your culture praise? Which will it demonize?
How will the people within your culture connect with each other? Will people be in monogamous relationships only? Will homosexuality be allowed? What about open relationships? Is sexual promiscuity okay? How will children be raised?
Will your culture allow drinking, gambling, drugs, junk food, non-consensual sex, torture, firearms, suicide, etc? Will you have a rule of law, and if so, what will your critical laws be, and how will they be enforced?
What restrictions, if any, will you place upon people’s freedom to do what they might desire to do?
How will your culture relate to other cultures? Will it try to peacefully coexist? To dominate other cultures? To assimilate other cultures?
What relationship will your culture have with power?
Will your culture empower people as individuals to achieve their potential? What if an individual’s goals conflict with another individual’s goals… or with the general direction of your society? Is it more important to have empowered individuals or to build a powerful society?
What if another culture seeks to dominate or to eradicate your culture? How will your culture respond? Will you defend yourselves? Will you be passive and hope for the best? Will you ever take preemptive action against a likely aggressor? What kinds of weapons will you use, and how will you develop them?
Will you seek to elevate other cultures? To bring them down? To establish peaceful relations with them?
There are numerous possible answers to these questions, including the answers that earth’s cultures have already provided. Each answer has consequences, helping to determine how quickly a culture will evolve, how long it may survive, and how happy and healthy its members will be.
Understanding Your Culture
Why think about how you’d design your own culture? If you can get a clearer sense of the design decisions you’re inclined to make, you can compare your design decisions to the culture you now experience. This will give you a sense of where your culture may be out of alignment with your values.
You have the ability to define your relationship to the dominant pre-existing culture(s) in your life. Which parts will you accept? Which parts will you reject or modify? And why?
I really like some aspects of my surrounding culture. I like the sense of freedom that exists in Las Vegas, which is a very non-judgmental place to live. Some aspects of my lifestyle would attract punishment in other parts of the world, but in this city I have the freedom, and perhaps even the encouragement, to be myself and to continue exploring without substantial interference.
I also like the general sense of self-improvement that exists where I live. There’s a strong belief that through hard work and determination, we can change for the better.
Other aspects of my culture feel less aligned to me. I don’t feel inspired by many things that are popular within my culture, like working at a corporate job, going to church, following sports, obsessing over celebrities, or eating animal products.
The more I travel and the more I interact with people from other cultures, the more I see just how stressed out many Americans are. There is a lot of freedom here but also much tension with so many people having beliefs like “I’m not good enough,” “I need more,” and “I have to work harder.” People here put a lot of effort into things that don’t make them happy, and then they escape into addictions like watching tons of TV.
We have abundance but not enough appreciation. There’s an addictive quality to this more-More-MORE obsession. People here don’t realize that if they can’t appreciate a sip, they won’t appreciate a gulp either.
Influencing Your Culture
When you become an oddball within your culture, you can keep quiet and slink into the background, or you can speak up and share your observations and lessons. When you do the latter, you gain the ability to influence your culture to become more aligned with your path. Obviously not everyone will follow your lead, but some will find your ideas worthy of exploration and experimentation, and they’ll want to hear more and collaborate.
Surely there will be others within your culture who’ve gone down similar paths, and they’ll begin to influence cultural shifts as well as they speak up more and more. As these people begin to find each other and connect more deeply and more often, they may even contribute to a movement to help shift the larger culture. This can take many years to play out, but it’s exciting to behold.
If you feel that you’re all alone in your oddballness, that probably isn’t accurate. There are probably lots of others like you out there, but you haven’t found them yet. That’s likely because you’re invisible to them. If you’d like to connect with other like-minded oddballs, that becomes much more likely if you broadcast your desires and let the world know how you really think and feel. Sure, you’ll get some judgment for doing that, but so what? Own it anyway. Stand tall in being yourself. This will eventually attract the attention of others who think as you do.
The alternative is to hide. If you have to hide for safety reasons, that may be your best bet for now, but if there’s no physical danger in speaking your mind, then do so. You’ll be glad you did. In fact, you’ll wonder why you kept quiet for so long unnecessarily.
If your ideal culture seems far removed from your current culture, you could leave to find a culture that’s a closer match for you if you think one exists. Or you could stay put and strive to become a changemaker within your own culture, such as by gathering like-minded people together.
Question what your culture expects from you, and be willing to more powerfully inject your own values back into your culture, especially when you think your culture’s values are destructively misaligned.
Here’s a very simple example. I recently read that most people buy food for friends and family that’s less healthy than what they buy for themselves, especially during holidays. Most people also report that they feel obligated to eat unhealthy food when it’s offered to them by others.
And yet, most people would prefer to be offered healthier options by their friends and family. So why are we encouraging each other to eat unhealthy food, and saying yes to it when offered, even though most of us would prefer not to do this? Staying quiet only goes against the outcome that most people would prefer to see.
By staying quiet in such situations, you put your social conditioning, politeness, and brainwashing ahead of your health and the health of your friends and family.
Instead of blindly agreeing to follow cultural norms that have long-term negative consequences for everyone, you could always buy food for your friends and family that’s at least as healthy as what you buy for yourself, to decline unhealthy options offered by others, to encourage people to offer healthier options in the future and praise them when they do, and to publicly broadcast to your social networks that you prefer to offer and to be offered healthy options whenever food is provided.
By speaking up instead of hiding your preferences, you can help create ripples of positive change.
If you don’t fit in with your surrounding culture, perhaps the reason is that you’re there to help improve the culture. If you see some aspect of your culture that seems misguided to you, call it out as such, and suggest an alternative. You’ll often be surprised to discover that while you were keeping quiet, so were many other people in your life, and when you speak up, they feel free to elevate their standards as well.