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An Introduction to Culture and Cultural Wellness

Updated: 3 days ago

What stories shape how you see yourself and others? Part 7 of our 10-part series.


Culture is defined as the “multiple historical, socio-politically-situated, and organizing systems of meaning, knowledge, and daily living (Harrel, S., 2015)”, which co-exist within and across dominant cultures and subcultural groups. Dominant cultures are ones where a large percentage of people know about a topic and practice behaviors aligned with beliefs associated with that topic (e.g., the U.S. national anthem). Subcultures are ones where a smaller percentage of people know about a topic or practice beliefs aligned with that topic’s beliefs only in specific contexts (e.g., The Black National Anthem).


Culture is the template from which we view ourselves and others, influencing our traditions, expectations, values, and behaviors, affecting both our individual and group identities. We can not exist outside of culture (Harrel, S., 2015) as it’s woven into the very fabric of our being. Cultural wellness therefore has both “individual and collective outcomes”. These outcomes are based on the specific “point-in-time” bidirectional influences between individuals, groups, and multi-level systems (Harrel, S., 2015) that strive to promote agency and transcendence in individuals and the larger systems we live in. Culture affects everything we do, even how we view the importance or not of seeking support for individual mental health. Understanding this and practicing actions that promote consistent well-being in this life area is important as cultural wellness affects individual mental health.


Other examples of things influenced by and that influence culture include: 

  • Religious/Spiritual beliefs/practices

  • Socioeconomic status

  • Language(s) spoken/colloquialisms (slang)

  • Location of residence

  • Individual goals

  • Family/community goals

  • Food

  • Career

  • Clothing

  • Art (music, visual, dance, poetry, clothes, etc.)

  • History

  • Taboos

  • Knowledge 

  • Grieving processes


What Can You Do To Promote Cultural Wellness?



Individual

One of the first systems you were a part of was your family of origin, whether biological or adoptive. This cultural system can as you know influence your well-being. Likewise, you influence your family of origin’s systemic well-being. For example, attending traditional events with your family of origin may be expected for the group to be well. However, in more individualistic cultures, you may choose to stop participating in these traditions as the interactions that occur while present disrupt your well-being. How you describe and or respond 

to these interactions is likely to differ if you subscribe to a collectivist culture. Your presence and absence both change the dynamics of your family-origin’s (also, chosen family) and your well-being. For assistance in understanding and healing from any dysfunctional dynamics within your family of origin, read: Drama Free: A Guide to Managing Unhealthy Family Relationships


Community

Cultural wellness at the community level depends on understanding your individual history as it relates to your family, nationality, ethnicity, religious, and other aspects of your valued identities. With this foundation, developing cultural wellness involves seeking to understand identities that are important to others (UNCG, 2022), learning from others’ “perspectives, facts, stories, and experiences” (Rhodes College, n.d.) even if different from yours with respect, and refraining from stereotyping, discriminating, or simply judging others based on assumptions without understanding or empathy for their choices (Vu, 2023).

For assistance on unlearning dysfunctional practices that lead to negative cultural wellness outcomes, read: Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, consume any of the written or visual resources for adults and children from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, or follow these 5 tips from Mental Health First Aid. These resources apply to our local communities, and to our national and global communities to develop understanding based on respect for human dignity.


Closing Thoughts 

Culture is always changing and includes more than race, ethnicity, the clothes we wear, or the food we eat. Culture includes the unseen aspects of life that create the individual and collective human experience such as shared values, stories, and traditions. Cultural wellness is the lifelong practice of understanding our individual and group cultures that we as individuals are a part of and extending this practice to understanding the values, stories, and traditions of others with respect for their human dignity, even if theirs are different from our own.  


Call to Action

Looking for more? Subscribe to the Grace Counseling and Wellness, PLLC newsletter, Saving Grace for insights about prioritizing yourself, having better relationships with yourself and others, and dealing with life when responsibilities begin to feel overwhelming. We aim to empower you to make sense of your life so you can live with grace and wellness. 




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