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Culture and Experience
We all develop expectations based on our early experiences. Some are biological, such as food, comforts or pain. But expectations are also greatly affected by all kinds of experiences. We formulate expectations from previous experiences, guided by the society around us and by our own analytical faculties. Our first experiences, which we did not get to choose, give us a frame of reference for later experiences.
I think this is a common, simple way to understand how we learn and how we develop a concept of the world. We learn from experience, but then we process and evaluate new experiences in light of our previous experiences.
As a group of people go through certain experiences together, they develop a certain bond of empathy and identification. As they reflect on the meaning of these life experiences and adapt to the circumstances, they further come to have a similar perspective on their situation. This reflection and their response to the circumstances normally lead to a generalization of what the world must be like.
A culture group also usually shares a common language, which is a strong identifying and unifying factor, both as an expression of the common perspective and as a factor in the development or change of that common perspective. Language is one of the significant experiences of a community.
An Early-Experience Model
We see this when children learn language. They listen, then they begin making noises. They continue listening and analyzing, and before long they are generating their own sentences which they have not heard before. They use this early-experience model to understand the new experience. This basic model goes for all areas of life and learning. Previous learning and experience become the format for later learning and experience.
We can say that culture is based on shared significant experiences. Each society has a collection (formal or informal) of social institutions and practices correlating and expressing a common perspective of a group of people sharing an identifiable set of common or shared experiences.
These shared experiences and common identifying features lead to a somewhat common perspective on reality, moral and social values and assumptions which are entailed in the common social "institutions." The more similar the unique sets of experiences of two individuals or two societies, the more similar their view of reality will normally be.
We often use the term worldview for the shared perspective of such a culture group, or the set of assumptions arising from their shared significant experiences. This set of shared experiences, leading to a shared worldview, gives identity to the members and draws the line that separates insiders and outsiders.
The outsider entering the society or culture must learn and assimilate the major features of the worldview, that is, to take on the identity of the insider, in order to communicate and gain acceptance (credibility) with insiders. Foreigners who do not may be regarded with suspicion and mistrusted or resented, particularly if they suggest making changes in aspects of the society, like religion, political structure or certain social practices or institutions.
This process of learning and assimilating (or appreciating) the worldview includes language learning, a more obvious characteristic of the society. The language provides a vehicle for the worldview. The way the language works reflects the philosophy and worldview of the society. It appears that worldview affects language, and language affects worldview.
Sharing to Understand
To adequately understand and appreciate the worldview, a foreigner needs to experience the most important of those shared experiences. The outsider has not shared the same set of experiences the insiders have.
In order to communicate effectively, to operate from within the society or culture, the outsider needs to share at least the most significant of these experiences with the host culture, so that the outsider's worldview will grow to entail more of the insider's worldview.
Read the related file in my What is Culture? series Culture and Shared Experiences
Accents - Developing and Changing Them
Cognitive and Social Culture (What is Culture)
Cultural Role and Language Proficiency
Culture By Generation
Ethnicity and Nationality in Mixed Genetics
Gas-Pumping and Finger-Pointing Fiasco – Cross-Cultural Adaptation Needed: Haitian and African in America
Self and the World, Knowing Reality
Shared Significant Experiences
Socialization and Culture
First written 1999
Last updated 21 January 2014
Copyright © 1999, 2004 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Please give credit and link back. Other rights reserved.
What is Worldview? | Culture and Experience | How Do You Know? | Cognitive and Social Culture | Worldview Noise in Communication
Worldview in Language: Language and Thought | Worldview in Language: Identity and Relationship
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