A particular society at a particular time and place

All the knowledge and values shared by a society

The attitudes and behaviour that are characteristic of a particular social group or organization

On our journey of exploration into the human being, we have discussed many topics. All individually important; but as we start to piece the puzzle together, it is time to discuss what happens when man is not only individually conditioned, but when he acts as part of the largest tribal group – a country. The question I want to ask us all here is whether the conditioning becomes the culture, and if so, how do we find the individual again? Is he lost forever to national identity, or can he resurface, free of conditioning, free to think clearly with true intelligence?

Do I think as an individual, or is my thinking a result of the collective culture of the country I inhabit?

I would like you to think about this, slowly and carefully. We are asking whether the inhabitants of each country have been passed on some genetic quality which makes them talk loudly, have family values, be aggressive, materialistic, emotional, or angry; or are they simply conditioned by being in the same country as others with the same tendencies?

We have already seen how children are conditioned early on in life by their parents and their teachers amongst others, so is it not possible that the culture is simply the result of individuals being conditioned en-masse?

To give you a simple example: We have often heard talk of the italians being emotional and expressive, prone to hot-headedness, and also fairly aggressive whilst driving. Surely each one of them can’t be so hot-headed? Surely each person does not have an inherent aggressive quality? Some people have said that like the spanish, the italians are like that because of the hot weather in the country. Well, I don’t know about that, perhaps weather could be an influence, but as I am not an expert, I don’t want to jump to conclusions!

If each child is born with a natural mind, then why does he become like all the others in his society, but not like people from other nations? If we rule out genetics as the primary cause, our next port of call has to be the artificial creation of national boundaries. So on this side of the fence, we are french, with all our french conditioning, and on the other side of the fence are the italians with their italian conditioning, and so on. Are we clear so far?

Over many thousands of years these borders have been closed more and more tightly to ensure the french stay french, and the italians stay italian, and over time the populations of all the countries has grown considerably.

Before the creation of these national borders, there would have been tribal borders; and then as the tribes grew, these borders would be expanded, in part because of the need to acquire more territory to support these growing numbers. The few would become many.
But the initial conditioning must have started with very few people indeed; and as we have seen in so many other topics, it is the leaders – political and religious – who have done the conditioning.

They wanted people to behave in a certain way; to conform and obey the rules. They issued orders about how the people were to be treated, how they were to be educated, what they would read, what they could speak about, and what they could not; and how they were expected to behave. But remember, this all started with small tribes, where a small number of people were conditioned into behaving a certain way. It is only through the expansion of the tribe, the authority of the leaders, and the sealing of borders that this conditioning was contained.

Now we have large populations contained within countries with one national language, we are able to start seeing for the first time, the result of the many millennia of conditioning. Were the italians hot-headed on their chariots shouting and swearing at each other if someone pulled out in front of them on the via appia (an ancient Roman road in Italy)? Who knows! All I know is that the aggressive car driving, and the emotional outbursts stemmed from the conditioning of a small number of people a long time ago. After all, it takes a long time for something to become a tradition or “in the culture,” and there haven’t been cars for that long! I may be wrong about all this, and I’m sure there are scientists lining up to correct me, but bear with me for a moment while we explore this in further detail.

Can emotional expression be cultural?

When we are in our own countries, we can, to a certain extent, predict how people are going to behave. We look at how they are dressed, what posture their body is in, whether they look aggressive or peaceful, and we make judgements about them which we believe to be relatively accurate (based on our own experience, memory, knowledge etc.), but something strange happens when we go to a different country, doesn’t it?
All of a sudden, we are thrown into the lions den. We cannot judge peoples behaviour as we can at home; suddenly people can seem threatening, when in fact there is no threat, just fear of the unknown.

We don’t know what to make of these strangers, and in fact our ancestors would have felt the same walking into new territories, and meeting new tribes who had a different language and different behaviour. So what we think is being loud or angry, may in fact just be the way the people have been conditioned to be many years back.

It is really quite a simple act. The mother and father speak loudly, the teachers speak loudly, and the leaders of the country speak loudly, so why would you do any different? You are not being brainwashed, you are merely copying what you hear around you in order to fit in.

A couple of years ago I had a girlfriend from the czech republic. I had never been to eastern europe before, and only knew of the country as one that had been ruled by the communists for many years, everyone lived in soviet style apartment blocks, and people drove smelly trabants. I was quite nervous when I went there as I really did feel as if I was stepping into uncharted waters; and it had nothing to do with the language.

From my experience with working with several eastern european workers in ireland months earlier, I had found them all to be aggressive, and quite angry, so I wasn’t at all surprised that when we had a slight disagreement my girlfriend went off the rails shouting and screaming at me; and it wasn’t over anything serious.

I was shaken. I had never heard anyone speak like that to anyone, and I have had some serious arguments with my parents, and my ex-girlfriends! This was something different; this was something alien to me. Put it this way, I wasn’t used to being shouted at like that, or having to shout back loudly so I could be heard.

“I have never met anyone as angry as you,” I shouted. “You should get some help!”

But then something strange happened one evening later that week. My girlfriend and her parents were having, what sounded like a terrible argument, and I was concerned.

“What was all that about?” I asked her later.
“Oh nothing.”
“But it sounded like you were having a terrible argument!”
“What!” she laughed, “we were just discussing something on the news!”

As time went on, and after spending many nights in the local pub (doing research you understand), I began to understand what was happening here. They weren’t generally angry, but spoke more loudly than we british did in normal discussions, so that when they were really angry it sounded like they were going to kill someone! For someone who has been used to people behaving in a different way, it was quite scary.
Not knowing what people were like, what would upset them, what I could, and couldn’t say, or whether I would offend their religion, or their government by saying something I thought to be harmless, put a terrible strain on my mind. Try as I might, I couldn’t understand them. And of course I couldn’t; they had been conditioned, as I had, over many centuries. It’s just that the conditioners were different.

Needless to say, I found all this “culture” way too disturbing, and beat a hasty retreat back to the safety of my own conditioning. “Ahh, that’s better,” I thought, as I cruised through social interactions like a knife through butter.

But I learned something important when I was there. I learned that the conditioning of the individual and the group had gone so far that perhaps there was no way back.

Perhaps the culture was imprinted on my brain from day one. One thing I did know was that there was no such thing as a “true individual.” Sure, some thought a bit differently from others, or did different jobs, but holding it all together was the box clearly labelled “PRODUCT OF CULTURE.”

The miracle of the neutral cultural territory

As you will know from our previous discussions, I lived in australia for a few years, and had an australian wife. We travelled around the world for most of the time we were together, and so we were always on neutral cultural territory. We were always living in someone else’s culture, and we had to behave according to their rules and customs, so there was no me, the british, or her, the australian. We were both just individuals, and for a time we were both free of our cultural (if not individual) conditioning.

As time went on, we decided to return to her home country (as the weather was better than in my home country), and almost as soon as I arrived there, I could feel a change in her. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but there was something clearly different about her. Something I hadn’t noticed when we had been on neutral territory.
“You’ve changed since we came back to australia,” I said to her one day.
“No I haven’t,” she said. “You’ve changed.”
“I’ve changed?”
“Yes, you have; you have become a different person!” she retorted.
“All I know is, that when we were travelling you were different, now you’re home you act different, speak different, like different things to me. I can’t believed you’ve changed so much!”
“Well you’re different when you’re back in england too,” she said, half crying. “When we stayed with your mum, you changed so much!”
“How?” I asked. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“I don’t know, I just figured that was the real you,” she replied.
“But it isn’t the real me. The real me is when I’m with you!” I pleaded.

But it was true. All of it. The real me was when I was on neutral cultural territory with her, and it was the same with her. People said that the reason we were having problems with our relationship was because now we had stopped travelling and come back to reality; but I knew this was something different, something you couldn’t quite put your finger on. This was a clash of cultures!

Fast forward to the present day, and I am currently staying with in the north of sweden with my swedish girlfriend. We met on an island retreat off the west of scotland – a place where we were on neutral cultural territory. But once again, I noticed that when we came to sweden, she was different; she was on her home territory!

“Of course, I’ve changed,” she said casually when I asked her if it was just me thinking too much. “I’m at home. I’m swedish!” She wasn’t in any way arrogant about it, just very matter of fact. “Oh, and while we’re on the subject,” she added, “do you know that you’re different when you’re home in england with your friends and family!”
“Gosh. Am I?”

At that precise moment I knew the answer. I was different. We are all “different” when we are back at home, but the only person who can see that is an outsider who gets to spend enough time with you to see both sides.

The road back

We are so blinded by the conditioning, we don’t even realise we are loud, or emotional, or quiet and reserved; it takes someone else to show it to us. The effect the collective culture has on us is so deep, so profound that only by seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes (who is not conditioned by your culture) can you open the door to freedom. Freedom to think, not as a citizen of a country, but as a human being. Perhaps all this suggests that everyone should have a cross border relationship in order to see the depth of their cultural conditioning, or maybe what we’re saying is: If you’re going to have a cross border relationship, always live on neutral cultural territory!

But we all have to take a long deep look inside to find the authentic self. We have to unravel all the centuries of conditioning that has been piled on us. We have to look outside of our own family and our own culture, and go somewhere else, not so we can admire or criticize their culture, but so that in them, we can see ourselves in reflection. We must learn to laugh at some of the silly things we do that are so ingrained in our culture.

I wish to give you one last story before we wrap this topic up, and it happened in a fast food restaurant in england recently. My girlfriend ordered a burger and fries from the counter, but then asked if she could have a knife and fork with it as well. I started to laugh and I could see the woman behind the counter was quietly giggling to herself.
“What?!” she asked indignantly.
“Sorry. It’s just really funny that you are asking for a knife and fork.”
“Why?” She asked.
“Well, because over here you’re supposed to eat your burger with your hands!”
“Well in sweden, we use a knife and fork! Who eats with their hands?” she said getting quite angry.
“We eat with our hands; When in rome…” I added thoughtlessly.
“Well we’re not in rome, and I want a knife and fork!”
Within a minute, we could both see the funny side and we both started to laugh at how ridiculous we had been, at trying to convince each other who was in the right! We realised that this was the culture at work. Right here in a fast food restaurant. Deeply ingrained, ready to fight anyone who challenged it.

So we agreed that there was nothing wrong with asking for a knife and fork to eat your burger with, but that she should look into how she became so conditioned to needing it, and I agreed to try eating a veggie burger with a knife and fork one day; and look into how I became so conditioned as to think one no longer ate meals with a knife and fork!

So you can see what we are up against.

We shout “Savour the differences of our cultures;” and for tourism purposes, that might work, but there is something sinister at work here; the work of mind conditioning on such a massive scale that it has a new name – “culture.”

Where is the individual? Where is the authentic man or woman? Have they been lost forever or should we just start by looking at ourselves when we are on neutral cultural territory.

Do all of us a favour, and next time you are on holiday, or on business, begin to notice things that annoy you about the country you are in, or things you miss from home, and you may find yourself laughing at some of the ridiculous things you do, think, and say, because of your culture. Then again you may not.

Behind it all, this is no laughing matter. It is all of our responsibilities to attain the unattainable, and free ourselves from individual and cultural conditioning. Where will you find it? You will find it very close to home, but it exists only in awareness of self. Good luck with your journey.


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