Leon’s Existential Cafe

How Culture Shapes Our Characters and Why We Hate

How Does Culture Affect Us?

Culture shapes our thoughts, and defines our characters; culture is where we begin, and it’s where we finish. Our lives are lived within culture, and they’re of it. We love to consider ourselves as individuals, in the form of the great mythological heroes of lore; we’re the difference makers and the ones who would, invariably, stand against tyranny. Although most people consider themselves as unique, their environments possess the power to sway their actions in terrifying ways, and often do.

Within each of us lies a profound dichotomy of character, of the so-called light and dark features, of the pro-social values which we intermittently uphold and the less wholesome ones, which religions the world over have interpreted as sins. Our cultures, and our environments, instill both within us, despite our unwillingness to acknowledge it.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the individual who was Tupac Shakur, the famous rapper and poet who spoke truth to power and lived a life full of contradictions. Pac was a feminist, but he was also a party animal. He loved to sleep with multiple women as much he loved to defend them. He could recite I Get Around, a song about womanizing, in one breath, and Keep Ya Head Up in the other. His disharmonious actions become evident when viewing his life from an expansive lens.

We see the gangster and the poet, the thug and the angel; for every aggressive outburst, there was an immensely compassionate act. And while we consider Pac to have been unique, he wasn’t, at least not in the way we tend to think: that same dichotomy, and those exact contradictions, exist in each of us.

Why Do We Hate on One Another?

Studies continue to indicate how easy it is for most of us to conform, proving how influential environments are; Pac wasn’t above the influence and neither are we. For me, the struggle is seemingly eternal; one set of values continually clashes with the other. One side of me lusts after riches, and entices me to compete with others, while the other implores me to help them. Thus, I’m caught in an everlasting struggle between myself and others, between the selfish values instilled in me by my culture and the selflessness I learned from my mother and my mentor.

I wrestle internally in the way Pac wrestled, searching to create meaning in my life while fending of the demons of greed and lust. If you can’t understand what he went though, then you must not possess much insight into yourself. Just as it’s natural for us to want to be selfish, it’s also natural for us to want to be helpful, and in the moment, depending on one’s environment, one of the opposing desires wins, and that’s true for all of us; so, we’re living contradictions, like Pac was.

As an existential psychotherapist, my job is to help others create meaning for their lives, and that journey starts with an articulation of one’s values. More often than not, when people become aware of what’s important to them (through verbalizing their code of conduct), they realize how far they are from it, acknowledging this other, unconscious, set of ethics, which dictates their lives. These inner-laws are the ones which Tupac struggled with; they’re the ones that I continue to struggle with.

The Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, noted that those aspects of ourselves which we hate, we project outside and see them, exclusively, in others; and, that was what happened to Pac, and explains the media’s assault on his character. He was far from perfect, but so are we. And if we are to continue to work toward a utopic society of social and economic justice, we have to acknowledge the dark parts within, or else we are doomed to persist in the judgment, and subsequent chaos, that ensues. Everyday is a battle for me, and I’m sure it’s the same for all of you.

Each morning I ask myself, “Today, am I going to strive for personal success or will I help others?” Some days, I’m competitive, and cooperative on others. Some days, I wake up wondering if people really care for one another, and on others, I know they do. If we are to make our lives meaningful, we can’t deny the necessity of temptation, without which purpose can’t exist.

Pac’s compassionate acts and those of the great and minor figures in history were important not only because they affected others’ lives, but also because they were difficult to perform. The temptation to act selfishly will remain strong as long as our time on Earth remains limited and the potential for personal rewards remains significant.

If we are to create a better, and more harmonious world, we have to start with accepting our shadows — the unacknowledged values instilled by the cultures from which we came. When we decide to do that and learn to empathize with each other, we’ll gain the ability to help each other re-create ourselves, becoming better than we ever were. Much of my work is related to helping others mature and become more oriented to their communities. I help them hold up their darkness and shine a light on their vast potential. It’s been said that guilt is the catalyst for individual progression, and I also think that it’s the catalyst for harmony.

To accept one’s shame is to understand another; to accept one’s guilt is to begin to work toward becoming what it means to be a man. A man doesn’t need to be perfect, as he doesn’t project his flaws onto others while believing himself to be superior. I have a dark-side, and Pac had one, too; but so do you.

My purpose for living and yours are inextricably linked, and for us to find meaning for our lives, we have to create it together, in helping each other in our times of need. That deep sense of community, a necessity for meaning, is fostered through empathy, which begins the moment you allow yourself to perceive your own reflection in me, re-assimilating your own projected shadow.

Please check out related blog posts, about topics encompassing self-esteem, dating, relationships, death, meaning of life, mental health, hip hop, authenticity, social justice, and love @ existentialcafe.blog.


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