Dictionary.com defines “culture” as “The behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.” The “American Culture” has its characteristic behaviors and beliefs, namely capitalism, democracy, eating fast food, watching reality TV, etc. The culture of Hawaii is one that is characterized by the “Aloha Spirit” (a spirit of acceptance and friendliness), Pidgin English, surfing, hula, etc.

There are many distinctive cultures throughout the world. Even within one country, or even within one state or province, there are cultures that differ from one another. Cultural distinctions can be further broken down into towns, clubs, groups, families, and individuals.

For example, in my own family I have a distinct culture from my older siblings. Part of this is due to the timeframe in which we grew up. When I was about five years old my father was an energetic man active in coaching baseball, basketball, and football. My older brothers played each of these sports and my sister was a cheerleader.

A couple years later my dad took a promotion at work and we moved to a new city. My dad’s new position drained him of energy and he would come home after work depressed and depleted. He no longer had the energy or interest to coach and instead he sat and read the newspaper, watched the TV news, and occasionally toiled in the yard.

Whereas my siblings grew up in a culture of participating in sports, I did not. My father didn’t encourage me to participate in sports nor did he teach me how to play. So I ended up the kid picked last for teams, along with my pigeon-toed friend, Mikey. The couple of times I did try out for team sports the other kids said, “What are you doing here? You don’t know how to play!” I knew they were right, so I gave up before I even started.

My athletic talent didn’t show up until the seventh grade when we were instructed to run a race around the school blacktop for PE (Physical Education). As the race began, I shot ahead. Soon I look to my left and right but I didn’t see my competition. Then I looked back and saw that I was ahead of everyone else by 10 yards! It turned out that I was the fastest kid in my class. (Think Forrest Gump; “Run Forrest, run!)

The cultures of me and my siblings differ in other ways also—so much so that it’s hard to believe that we even grew up in the same family. How we developed such diverse and sometimes contradicting beliefs is beyond my comprehension.

So it is with the wider world—we are often confused and sometimes repulsed by the customs of another culture. For example, in some cultures it’s acceptable to eat beef; in other cultures cattle are considered sacred. We may ask ourselves how someone can believe something that is so totally opposite to what is so ingrained in ourselves, something we believe in wholeheartedly, religiously, and fervently.

It is this lack of understanding and the inability to accept other cultures that starts wars. Is it possible to accept or to even allow a culture that has beliefs that we believe to be inhuman, unjust, or insane? How can we get along with different, contradictory cultures?

That is a question for the ages as we try to live in peace with one another. We are making progress. According to Fareed Zakaria, in his commencement address to the 2012 Harvard University graduating class, “The number of people who have died as a result of war, civil war, and, yes, terrorism, is down 50 percent this decade from the 1990s. It is down 75 percent from the preceding five decades, the decades of the Cold War, and it is, of course, down 99 percent from the decade before that, which is World War II.”

So it seems that we are making progress, at least for now. But the evolutionary process is long and arduous. In the whole of human existence it seems as if we have barely moved forward. It might take an alien visit or a computer chip implant in our brains for us to gain the wisdom to live in peace. Maybe we’ll have some kind of group enlightenment—the light of realization will come on for all of us at the same time.

But for now all we can do is scratch our head in puzzlement at what another might do; take a deep breath, relax our muscles and suppress our anger as it goes against everything in our own culture. We can value peace above all else and by finding peace in ourselves, we can move us further down the evolutionary path.

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