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3 Signs of a Healthy Culture – facing change with know-how

There is a lot of turmoil around the world. This reflects in our culture and our health. Without a plan, it may seem natural to resign to pessimism and hopelessness. Many of my clients and friends ask me: How do you stay so motivated? I have my gray days, but I can share something that helps me.  I regularly envision a healthy culture. It feels good to at least know what that looks like. That gives me a lot of strength. So, to help others envision it and stay motivated as we tackle change, I would like to highlight three signs of a healthy culture! Here we go:


Number 1: A healthy culture is flexible


Social science experts agree that defining culture is harder than describing the shape of a cloud in a dream you once had. So, what does it even mean to have a flexible culture?


Culture is human-made and it is found everywhere. It is personal and communal, loud and happens outside, quiet and dances in your inner most thoughts. Culture is fluid, not static. A healthy culture holds a place for everyone. And I mean EVERYONE! Culture is meant to be alive and in full motion.


A healthy culture does not exclude or impose rigid rules that block people from thriving. Keeping a woman from driving, for example, or denying refugees the opportunity to work are rigid and unsustainable rules. These rules ignore the well-being of those individual members of society in a systematic way. It doesn’t take much for rigidity to become dogmatic. That kind of inflexibility is unhealthy, causes oppression, and as history shows, won’t last long term.


When culture is flexible, it provides resources and spaces for each person to access a prosperous life (home, work, education, arts, crafts, health, etc.). A flexible culture values each individual member of society. Then, that member can invest in the well-being of that culture. In other words, if culture can be flexible enough to include a person, that person can uphold that culture. When people can give and take flexibly all kinds of cultural rewards show up. New inventions, art, delicious food, and other innovative contributions are side-effects of thriving. Coexistence and prosperity are the poster children of a healthy and flexible culture.



Number 2: A healthy culture provides nourishing orientation for the people who live in it. 



Culture is meant to relieve each generation from having to invent the wheel, so to speak. Culture shows us how to participate in rituals, meaningful interactions, and celebrations from life to death, and everything in between. These practices need to fit the challenges which modern day generations face in order to provide members with nourishing orientation.


If a generation doesn’t have a functioning model of how to exist  i.e. be in a family, work, earn sufficient wages, have a home, be part of a life cycle, etc. then it is a sign that the culture is unhealthy. Without orientation, the newest generation faces a cultural crisis of ‘how to’ live viably; a new wheel needs to be invented.


Symptoms? Individuals may experience  downward spirals in poverty, anxiety, not belonging, depression, and disorientation. Cure? This type of cultural sickness needs a response from the community. Each community needs the means to respond. Dialogs, values and goals need to be negotiated by each community and include all voices if a remedy is to be found. It isn’t easy, but it is a group effort which no one needs to solve alone.


The greatest stories in history are ones of how people overcame great challenges together as a group (even if only one leader was given credit). The stories we tell provide orientation, so it is time to swap! I do love an epic story, now we all get to be a part of the coming change (unapologetically optimistic…)!



Number 3: A healthy culture is diverse. 



Natural sciences provide great examples of how an ecosphere thrives not despite, but because of its diversity. Each member of that ecosphere plays an important part in that environment. No matter whether they are perceived as being a big bad wolf or as plain as fungi. No individual is more important than another in sustaining their shared living space. They actually keep each other alive and healthy. Culture is very much the same.


(Wolves article https://www.yellowstonepark.com/things-to-do/wolf-reintroduction-changes-ecosystem

Wood Wide Web article http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20141111-plants-have-a-hidden-internet )


Believe it or not, any form of supremacist culture is as unsustainable as a snake eating its own tail. Trying to claim dominance or superiority is a denial of our connectedness. We do better when we appreciate each other.  A healthy culture recognizes value in everyone who lives there (even beyond political or national boundaries).


Being able to show respect towards our differences, acknowledges how we actually benefit from each others’ unique capabilities. That is worth celebrating. So, enjoying the cultural richness that we have to offer each other is not only healthy. It might even feel good.


As a history didactician, I get to revel in the successful moments of history that tell our shared human story. I know that human beings have an incredible legacy of overcoming challenges in the most unexpected ways. And, as we face more tremendous challenges, I smile because I am excited about the moxie we each have in us. I know that if we consciously choose to coexist and invest in a healthy culture, we can achieve it! I hope that makes you smile too.



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