“The only way to change culture is to create more of it.”
Last week we discussed the importance of being a culture keeper if we desire to be a culture maker. This week we’ll discuss a bit more why it’s so important to be a culture keeper and maker if we want to make a difference in the world.
Andy Crouch illustrates the various responses to culture we can have and their relative effectiveness by using the example of making chili for his family.
Crouch and his wife love chili, but their young children do not.
What options do his children have to “change their world” – to change the particular disliked cultural good of chili at dinner time?
Most children whine and protest when they don’t like dinner, but we all know that doesn’t change a parent’s mind. This illustrates the idea of “condemning culture,” that is a common response that might make us feel superior, but has little effect on the world.
As kids grow older they grow more sophisticated in their protests. They could argue why green things (like bell peppers) should not mix with red things (like the tomatoes in the chili) and that cooking tomatoes makes them inedible.
We all know children with incredibly creative, if not effective reasoning. There is an important place for critiquing culture, but critique alone won’t change what’s bad out there.
After a period of fruitless protesting and arguing, often children stop fighting and eat a little of what’s before them, perhaps after a period of silent sulking. Over time they might grow to like it, or tolerate it, but it certainly won’t reduce the amount of chili served. It’s more likely to increase.
The chili example doesn’t lend itself well to the idea of copying culture, but when we take the objectionable bits out of a particular cultural good and replace them with something more palatable, our cut-and-paste result is unlikely to be attractive to anyone but our own subculture of folks who already share our values. We won’t touch the mainstream or change the culture we object to.
“There is one thing our children could do, though, that could have a decisive effect on our family’s culture of the table. If I come home . . . And find dinner already simmering on the stove, even if it’s not chili, I will likely be delighted. Especially if the food being prepared is a substantial improvement on our usual fare, just as tasty and even more creative than I would have prepared myself.”
Crouch points out that each of these responses can be appropriate at certain times. The problem comes when a response becomes habitual.
If we’re always critiquing and never creating, we’re not doing the world any good.
Consuming culture is unavoidable, but if all we ever do is consume, we are giving up our culture power and our ability to make the world a better place.
What part of your family culture do you dislike? Instead of trying to change others, could you create something new that would be an attractive alternative?
For example, instead of yelling “dinner time, go wash your hands and get to the table” and getting the usual sluggish response, I could try singing a particular “eating time” song for a few weeks and see if that doesn’t help with the transition. I hear from my teacher-friends that music helps a great deal with transitions.
Remember, we can’t make culture, we can only make particular cultural goods.
Singing one song is a small cultural good, but it doesn’t take much more breath than complaining that nobody comes to the table on time, and it could have a significant positive impact on our family culture. Hmm, maybe I’ll try it!