OUTing our Cultural Assumptions

Culture is something we take for granted…it’s the water we swim in…the paradigm of reality that we can hardly even see because it’s all we know. It’s what we’re born into…the worldview and reality that get passed down from generation to generation.

It’s actually a bundle of assumptions about the world…a collection of ideas, expectations, practices and behaviors that are commonly held so deeply by members of a shared society that they appear to be universal (even though they’re actually culturally specific). These unquestioned principles determine how we view the world…and, therefore, how we behave in it.


You know what they say about ASSumptions…

Following cultural norms and allowing cultural assumptions to lead our way isn’t necessarily a bad idea. In fact, for most of our human history that’s what people have done…they learn their customs and traditions, mimic their elders and mature within the context of the culture they were born into.

But, for better or worse, those of us who have been born into a westernized industrial society don’t have this luxury…because the culture that we’ve been born into is curating its own destruction while it devastates every other culture, species and ecosystem on the planet.

This situation has escalated to such a level that, despite our cultural conditioning, many of us can no longer ignore it. We’re beginning to realize that letting these predominant cultural assumptions lead our way is signing a death sentence, not only for ourselves but for extended web of life, as well.


This time of global crisis is being accompanied by a significant uprising in personal empowerment and human consciousness. And that means…in this rare and precious moment…we actually have a choice about whether or not we’ll follow suit with our culture. Nothing is certain anymore…everything is up for review.

But, as we reexamine our relationship with the predominant culture, the first challenge we’ll face is in getting a clear view on it…gaining enough perspective on our collective situation and enough understanding of our cultural assumptions to avoid winding up just running in circles and feeding the same old machine in a different way.

Getting a clear view…

The deeply imbedded cultural bias we each carry makes it almost impossible to see our own culture with clarity. Usually, when we think about culture, we look for the differences. We can only point to evidence of some other culture by noticing unfamiliar crafts, clothing, art and housing or the foreign language, customs, style and etiquette that are used. It’s in the comparing and contrasting of distinctly different cultures that we’re even able to notice the nuances and consider the cultural assumptions that may guide them.

But, as cultural homogeny spreads across the globe and the distinction between cultures fades away this is becoming ever more difficult.


And herein lies the clue. Our culture…the one in question…is the one that’s sweeping its way across the globe. It’s the one that has been packaged and marketed and sold to people in almost every country on the planet, displacing centuries of tradition with factory produced uniformity.

Despite our ethnic and ancestral differences we’ve all become part of this conquering culture now.

It is the industrial growth society, as Joanna Macy coined it…the society and culture held up by an industrially based economy of continual growth…the one that requires exploiting the Earth to acquire “natural resources” and relies on an industrially produced food supply…the one that conditions its members to depend on industrial products for almost all their daily activities, from clothing and communications to recreational gear and cleaning products, from building materials and transportation…it all comes from a factory.


It is also the nation state culture…the one that recognizes modern national borders, constitutions and laws established by colonization and imperialism…the one that honors hierarchy of power and the “right” to rule won through conquest and war…the one that is guided by agreements and treaties made by heads of state within international organizations such as the UN, the WTO and the WHO.

And, of course, it is the technology culture…the one fed by mass media and connected through the World Wide Web. We know we’re part of it simply because we’re reading this article online.

We may take all these things for granted as “just the way things are”…as universal inevitable realities…but, whether we see them as useful or harmful, it’s essential for us to realize that these infrastructures and systems are in place only because of our collective culturally specific assumptions.

So, what are these cultural assumptions that it all rides on?

Well, that’s a big question…one bigger than I could attempt to answer on my own or do justice to in a little online article…it’s a question for our collective ongoing exploration and conversation…a question that we dove into on a recent Earth Tribe Council Call and that we can continue to explore in the comments below.

As we open our minds to discover the assumptions that guide our culture we’ll have to be like detectives…finding evidence and clues that characterize our culture…then tracing them back to the root beliefs.


Along the way, we may discover that we don’t personally agree with some (or many) of the assumptions that lay the groundwork for our culture. We may not want to associate ourselves with these beliefs. But recognizing and owning the cultural conditioning that we’ve received is the first step in gaining the clarity necessary to transform it.

Some of the underlying cultural assumptions that come to mind for me are…

  • success is measured in other people’s opinions, how much money you have, what you look like and what you own…

  • everyone has to work for a living and prove their worth…

  • there’s not enough for everyone to thrive…

  • we exist within a hierarchy of value, meaning that some things/people are more important than others…

  • our prosperity is dependent on exponential continual industrial growth…

  • humanity is the pinnacle result of evolution and has dominion over the Earth…

  • the Earth is made of resources for our use…

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Hopefully it gets your gears turning. I invite you to let this question unfold in your mind and walk with you through your days. Observe this culture we live in and begin to investigate our shared cultural assumptions for yourself. Then contribute to the comments below to share your thoughts and curiosities.

Post Navigation