Geert Hofstede, who has conducted landmark research in the field of culture and its impact on organization dynamics, defines culture as “the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from another.” Each person’s specific DNA makes that individual’s mental programming unique; however, we also know that cultural norms often level that individuality. Contrary to what many think, humans are not born with completely blank slates. Every person has a unique genetic makeup, and although at birth there are a few blank spots, society quickly fills them in. Babies begin life with a very simple sense of kinship to all other humans; there is no concept of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, or class. The only thing that matters is that they are cared for, fed, and loved. Most infants and young children are open and comfortable with any person who shows them love. These little human beings are genetically programmed so that adults will want to care for them. With their fascinating and adorable manner, they convince us to attend to their extreme and constant needs . . . at least for the first ten years of their lives, and in many cases beyond.

Children learn racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, and xenophobia through their cultures and surroundings, and they eventually exhibit these ideas in their behavior. The mass influence of family, friends, schools, the media, and other institutions socialize the population by communicating what behavior is typically good or bad. These influences teach us as a society what to expect of our friends, our families, and ourselves. Children learn the ways to belong to their correct cultural label, whatever it may be. They acquire a sense of their own self-worth, as well as the worth of the social group to whom they relate. Although children develop into freethinking adults capable of making personal decisions, the range of conceivable values, beliefs, and assumptions from which they draw when making those decisions is defined by the societies in which they were raised and those in which they live as adults. The groups with which we identify influence the individual values we hold. Although personal experiences are the primary impact, we define ourselves via the cultural lens through which other members of our society and other societies see us. Thus, although culture is formed on a very individual level, it is maintained and exists within a much larger societal and organizational context. This overarching influence on individuals leads us to conclude that culture is not something that we can easily change or make conscious choices about; it is a part of who we are, and it is irrational.

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Why Is Culture Irrational?

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