September 01, 2009

Whether doing our best or worst, collectively we develop countless imperfect habits, customs and traditions – or “culture” – that give expression to our humanity. Usually by accident of geography, ethnicity or both, people share cuisine, art, technology, architecture and gods particular to their little corner of the world. The long-established cultural norms and attributes people share give their lives meaning precisely because they are nothing new. While we might find value in ourselves as individuals it can’t be underestimated how much self-worth we derive from being part of a larger human continuum. If you think I’m wrong, try telling any woman not to get excited about her wedding day or any man that there’s nothing special about his first born son. After all, people get married and have babies every day. It’s the same old thing. How boring?

But women do get excited about weddings and can’t wait to call the planner, choose their bridal gown, pick out the bridesmaid dresses, select the cake, order flowers and all the other many, little things their mothers and grandmothers enjoyed and hopefully their daughters will too. After sharing cigars with friends to celebrate the birth of a son, a man will then look forward to his first baseball game, his first schoolyard fight, his first job, his first beer and many other familiar mile markers on the winding road to American manhood. These families will go on to celebrate anniversaries and birthdays, Christmases and Thanksgivings, baptisms and bar mitzvahs, family additions and funerals – all through the filter of their particular cultural inheritance. Poet TS Eliot once wrote that culture is “that which makes life worth living.” He was right.

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