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The Importance of Culture
How important is culture in determining how people think and act on a daily basis? Simply stated, culture is essential for our individual survival and for our’ communication with other people. We rely on culture because we are not born with the Information we need to survive. We do not know how to take care of ourselves, how to behave, how to dress, what to cat, which gods to worship, or how to make or spend ‘money.We must learn about culture through interaction, observation, and imitation In order to participate as members of the group. Sharing a common culture with others simplifies day-to-day interactions. However, we must also understand other cultures and the world views therein. Just as culture is essential for individuals, it is also fundamental for the survival of societies. Culture has been described as “the common denominator that makes the actions of individuals intelligible to the group” (Haviland, 1993: 30). Some system of rule making and enforcing necessarily exists in all societies. What would happen. for example, if all rules and laws in the United States suddenly disappeared? At a basic level, we need rules in order to navigate our bicycles and cars through traffic. AI a more abstract level, we need laws to establish and protect our rights. In order to survive, societies need rules about civility and tolerance toward others, We are not born knowing how to express kindness or hatred toward others, although  some people may say “Well. that’s just human nature” when explaining someone’s behavior. Such’! statement is built on the assumption that what we do as human beings is determined by nature (our biological and genetic makeup) rather than nurture (our social environment)-in other words, that our behavior is instinctive. An instinct is an unl~ned. biologically determined behavior pattern common to all members of a species that predictably occurs whenever certain environmental conditions exist. For example, spiders do not learn to build webs. They build webs because of instincts that are triggered by basic biological needs such as protection and reproduction.

Humans do not have instincts. What we most often think of as instinctive behavior can actually be attributed to reflexes and drives. A reflex is an unlearned, biologically determined involuntary response to some physical stimuli {such as a sneeze after breathing some pepper in through the nose or the blinking of an eye when a speck of dust gets in it). Drives are unlearned, biologically determined impulses common
to all members of a species that satisfy needs such as Sleep, food, water, and sexual gratification, Reflexes and drives do not determine how people will behave in human societies; even the expression of these biological characteristics is channeled by culture. For example. we may be taught that the “appropriate” way to sneeze (an involuntary response) is to use a tissue or turn our head away from others (a learned response). Similarly, we may learn to sleep on mats or in beds. Most contemporary sociologists agree that culture and social learning. not nature. account for virtually all of our behavior patterns. Because humans cannot rely on instincts in order 10 survive. culture is a “1001 kit” for survival. According to the sociologist Ann Swidler (1986: 273). culture is a “tool kit of symbols, stories. rituals, and world views. which people may use in varying conf gurations 10 solve different kinds of problems/’The tools we choose will vary according to our own personality and the situations we face. We arc not puppets on a string; we make choices from among the items in our own “tool box,”

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