In the 10th grade, our world history teacher, Mr. Kaempfer (who was recently made famous by playing a game of wiffle ball with fellow former student Jimmy Kimmel. What?!?🤩), put the same question on every single test we ever had and the answer was a definition we had memorized that we had to get right verbatim or we got it marked wrong. The question was, “What is cultural diffusion?” I’m not 100% sure I still have the right answer. It has been 20 years, but it went something like this: The spreading of cultural traits or characteristics from one group of people or civilization to another.
The controlling idea of the entire class was that world history in its fullness is made up of instances where one group of people or civilization intersected with another and exchanged their cultural traits or characteristics. That every society is an amalgamation of the society that both came before it and lived adjacent to it.
Preservation of a culture is objectively the preservation of many cultures and while appropriation today gets used in the pejorative, culture diffusion would suggest that all culture is appropriative.
That doesn’t, to me, suggest that nothing is original, rather that everything is iterative and that holding onto the way things were or the way you think your culture is to be, is not only limiting of progress but it’s also impossible.
Keeping in mind a certain inevitably to cultural diffusion, what responsibility do we have as promoters of ideas (i.e. anyone with a social media account, especially marketers) in respecting the culture of others versus incorporating the traits that are truly so amazing that they are worth spreading?
There are many ways traits can be transmitted and appropriately so. It isn’t disrespectful by any means to listen to the music or eat the foods of another culture. Supporting causes and philosophies is usually welcome.
Adopting dress and appearance is a little fuzzy. Sometimes it’s ok, sometimes it’s really bad. Dialect seems inappropriate while language is applauded. It’s ok to celebrate some cultures while others are feeling attacked. Maybe that even changes and flips over time and the majority cultures that were once celebrated are now under scrutiny and the minority cultures are now being praised.
A lot of this culture stuff hurts. It’s easy to retreat to your tribe and think that my tribe is good and everything that is not my tribe is bad. We do it in small ways and big ways. We do it by faith, by profession, by school and status. Everyone does it.
This summer I was at the beach on Lake Michigan, walking down the shore and I had zero interest in talking to anyone. That is until I saw a guy with an IU canopy. There was a man from my tribe. Was there anything inherently more friendly about him than anyone else? Was there any reason that I shouldn’t talk to the other strangers? Were they dangerous? Why was I guarded around the people not wearing the IU brand?
There is nothing wrong with finding a tribe. The brotherhood and sisterhood of people you know who have had similar experiences is important. We need fellow humans who get what we’re going through. But being guarded for no other reason than something silly like a college brand does little good in the world.
Imagine if universities kept all of their research proprietary and only reserved it for current students, faculty, and alumni? What good would that do the world?
Or imagine if a university denied the research of another’s because they shared a basketball rivalry. That would be absurd.
Sharing and the adoption of cultural traits and characteristics should be celebrated or at least tried.
Last year I went down to Nashville, TN for the first time. I went downtown. I hopped from bar to bar listening to country music. Country music isn’t my thing but I tried it. I allowed myself to get caught up in the spirit of Nashville and it was fun. It was different. I was the only one there that looked like me but it was ok.
From that experience I was able to see the world through a slightly different lens and able to see that something that has very little to do with where I came from can still be good. Understanding others to a large degree takes immersion.
Now, I probably won’t go to the same political rallies as some in attendance would but at least I can start a conversation with someone who listens to country music and talk about when I had the time of my life at a Broadway honky-tonk down in Nashville, TN. We can start from there and grow.
Go immerse yourself in something completely different than anything you’ve ever known.
I want you to imagine a world where not only are the people who you would view as being close-minded were just a little more open but where you were able to look at them to find the tiny bit of value you can embrace in a world view you can’t quite understand. Sometimes that means trying to figure out where your parents are coming from. Sometimes that means raising an ear rather than a sign. Imagine the tiniest bit of openness that you extend being returned in kind. The world would be a little bit better and you would be changed forever. That is, after all, the only person you can ever truly hope to change. Yourself.
Change takes patience, forgiveness, and a relentless pursuit of figuring out how to love others despite of themselves.
And after that change happens you’ll realize that it’s because a tiny bit of others has rubbed off on you. Cultural diffusion.
If you don’t know much about me yet on the professional side. I work with companies who are trying to automate their marketing funnels and drive more business. My design and tech team and I do this through helping companies design and build a booking site that puts appointments right on their calendar using WP and the Periodic platform. I’m very happy to make new business friends and have whiteboard sessions. Let’s collaborate! Hop on my calendar anytime.
Torlando Hakes | Author | Speaker | Podcaster
Director of Business Development at Periodic