Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Word "Culture" is Recursive

I know someone who I think is mean and rude. I have a friend whom I really enjoy, very nice person, who thinks the mean/rude person is "quite pleasant."

So we all have "lenses" color the way we take in reality. In clinical psychology, it is well documented that people who are depressed have "bad luck" and those who are giddy seem to always have "good luck" - even when they have all-but identical things happening to them.

So I watched my friend-I-like interact with the mean/rude person. Sure enough, they were both pretty nice to each other.

I'd like to propose another metaphor that runs parallel to (and interacts with) lenses - that is Bubbles. It works like this: how I act not only colors how I see the world, but also how people act towards me. It's as if there is a bubble around me that affects Others; when people enter my bubble, they are affected by being in "my bubble" and act differently. It's as if the color of my lens affects the way I view the world, but the color of my bubble affects the color of the Other's lens. If I have a blue lens and a blue bubble, then my red-lensed friend sees things purple-y when in my bubble (red + blue = purple).

That's why my friend-I-enjoy likes the mean/rude person because the mean person isn't mean around my friend - my friend's bubble affects the mean person. It's more than just a happy person and a happy lens, the mean/rude person changes.


I have noticed that pastors tend to know some of there staff and some of "the congregation." Usually about 20 people (that's an emotional statistic that I just made-up to convey a hypothesis/conclusion). I've noticed that when someone close to a pastor/speaker has a deep up-movement (or down-movement) in life, the pastor starts seeing most people in a much more positive (or negative) light. Even more frequent, the whole church-body "is doing well" when the majority of "the 20" is doing well.


Putting these two together, I would like to propose that the word and idea of "culture" is recursive, that is, self-defining. [In the Linux world, there is a "program" called Wine - the letters spell out "Wine Is Not an Emulator." That is a recursive description in that the word "Wine" is in the definition of "Wine."] Here's what I see happening (read: hypothesis with no experiment coming)...

We think we are seeing a "culture" - foreign nation, inside the U.S., etc. But it's impossible to loose our lens(es) nor our Bubble. So the lens we look at "culture" with is tinted. And all of our direct (anecdotal) experience with a "culture" is tainted by both our lens(es) AND our bubble. That is, people of a given "culture" will be viewed with a bias (lens) as well as interact with me in a unique way (due to my Bubble). Further, my assessment of a culture becomes a part of my lens by which I observe that culture (plus a part of my bubble). This, it would seem, is a bit spiral.

So is it possible that "the culture" around me has much more to do with the 20 people closest to me? That I read cultural news through such a deeply colored lens that it really is more about my 20 closest?


Ever been categorized by someone who has completely missed? When I was working in the computer realm, I was thought of as a geek. When I talk to people at my local church, many of them think I'm a musician (most of how most people know me is from my involvement with the music on Sunday mornings). When I consult pastors, they see me as a academic. Mikaela and Luc's friends think I'm a "professional clown."

So when I hear my pastor/ministry friends talk about being "culturally relevant" or reaching out to those of a certain "culture," I cringe. If I am correct and culture IS recursive, then treating a "culture" as "those out there" makes absolutely no sense.

So what - maybe I should stop being "culturally relevant" and be interested and invested in at least "the 20" closest to me and perhaps another 20 whom I come across -- since "culturally relevant" is actually a misnomer ;-)

Push back if you get time.


N.Briggs said...

Great post Dave. Haven't had time enough to digest it all so I won't even try to push back. Just a thought though...

Did Christ's perception of the 12 make up his view of his local culture? Or the world?

Tony Myles said...

I think this is a good post. Most of the people I know would agree.


BAB said...

I like concept of lenses and bubble (though could it be wrapped up into just bubble since we have to look through it, too :)

I am not sure of translation into the twenty. Maybe I am not understanding where you are going with it. Are you saying that there isn't such a thing as culture?

Other concern. If our lenses so color everything we take in, what explanation do we have for changes in our perception and understanding? In other words, what accounts for those times when we wake up and say, "Holy goodness! I am seeing things all wrong here."

David Malouf -- said...

[in reverse order]

I'm making up this metaphor-set as a way to see what is the more common of human experiences as it pertains to the way we interact with the word and idea "culture." I kept the bubble and the lens separate partly out of the same concern you state: how do changes occur that are either not-bubble or more grand in scope than the bubble-lens interaction allows.
In other words, I was responding to something I read the other day ;-)

As to "the 20" - I put that in to represent that "layer" of people around us that we know well enough to impact our bubble-lens complex. In various jobs you've had, that number has fluxed quite a bit, I would suppose. But for an average Joe with an average job, I thought 20 might be a good number. It's more a representation of sphere-of-influence and since this post is full of metaphors, I thought something more concrete would be helpful.

Am I scratching yo' itch?