Culture and Heritage

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

This past week, a client brought this topic to my attention, so after discussing it, I said I would resubmit this previously written article on the topic of culture and heritage.
Question: I am 20 years old and live in a village not too far from Bethel. I did well in high school and went to college for one year. During the fall semester of my second year of college, my parents began to pressure me to come home to help them. As a result, I quit college and returned home, but find that my parents really don’t need my help. Instead, I think they were afraid of me losing my culture by going to college. I feel trapped by my culture, and am angry and depressed. I wonder why I have to preserve my culture and others don’t. Can you help me?
You present a scenario that is all too common and often results in adult children living at home when they could be creating a future for themselves. Your question is well written, suggesting a relatively high level of intelligence, so I’m not going to tell you what to do. I believe you have the ability to make whatever decision you need to make in the future. Instead, I would like to give you my thoughts on the difference between culture and heritage.
Culture is dynamic and heritage is static. What do I mean by that? Culture is living, evolving, and changing, just as you are, but heritage speaks of your connection with the past and cannot be changed. Culture you live, but heritage you preserve. Heritage gives you values and a sense of identity, and culture is an expression of how you live those values in interaction with your current environment. Since culture is living, you cannot preserve it. Instead, you preserve your heritage. You preserve it in stories, books, and museums. You can be proud of your heritage; it brought you this far.
Because culture is living, it is continually changing and adapting to the environment. Whether you realize it, you are an active participant in creating your culture that will become a part of your children’s heritage. Generally, our cultures are shaped by an intergenerational transmission of values. In other words, the values handed to us by our parents are an initial guiding force in developing our cultures. However, because culture is living, it is altered slightly by our interaction with others who also have cultures slightly different than each of ours.
To make this simpler, let me use the example of marriage. I believe every marriage is a cross-cultural marriage. You may be of the same race or ethnicity, but your marriage will be cross-cultural. You may have grown up in the same village and gone to the same high school, but your marriage will be cross-cultural. I once heard a man tell his story of what happened shortly after marrying. His wife popped some popcorn and he went to eat it in the living room. She was appalled. She believed everyone should know that you don’t eat popcorn in the living room. He was amazed because he believed that everyone ate popcorn in the living room. You see, growing up in his home, it was common practice to eat popcorn in the living room, but growing up in her home, it was forbidden to eat popcorn in the living room.
So what did they do? They both adapted to the new environment of marriage and created a new culture in which their children would be raised—they agreed to eat popcorn in the living room on special occasions, and he would help clean up the mess. So when their children grew up they would go out into life believing that you eat popcorn in the living room on special occasions, and that both parents are responsible for cleaning up the mess.
So, you are really not trapped by your culture. Instead, you are creating it as you move through life. And your parents should not need to fear as you head out into life if they have done their job well. The heritage they have handed you—the connection with the past, such as your language, religious values, values concerning work, marriage, and parenting your children, will be a strong force upon the culture you create. Also, you will find that as you move through life, you will borrow ideas and ways of doing things from others that will be incorporated into the culture you create, and in which the next generation will be raised.
I hope this is of some help to you in your future decision-making.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected].