The title is from one of my fav Simon & Garfunkel songs, but the whole idea of culture has been on my mind of late.
I just finished reading Eric Weiner's "The Geography Of Bliss." Weiner, a self proclaimed grump, searches out the happiest and most unhappy places on earth. The most disturbing part of the book was the trip to some eastern block region that starts with an M. I don't remember the name of the country and hope not to ever encounter it again, much less travel there. It's wedged in between Russia and Romania, but doesn't really fit in with either country.
Throughout Weiner's travels through the M country, he consistently ran into this feeling of discontent. Nah, that's too easy. A feeling of anger underlying impotence and despair. For example, an elderly woman gets on the public bus, only to realize she's on the wrong line. As she tries to sort it out with the driver, the other passengers start hurling insults at her, screaming at her for an innocent mistake. Another story came from a meal the author had with a native. At the lunch, the waitress spoke in Russian, the patron spoke in Romanian and each understood the other perfectly. This isn't as much of a nice, tolerent bi-lingual society as you'd imagine. Instead, the two are so stubborn to their ways that, even though they know how to speak the other's language, they simply refuse. An undercurrent of arrogance seems to be present, too.
As Weiner was leaving the country, he came to the realization that unhappiness is so ingrained into this culture that happiness cannot have a chance to survive. If everyone acts in a nearly identical manner, it shows that that is the culture. The herd mentality, if you will.
Bring this into our lives. Okay, my life since it's my blog. I've worked for institutions where the culture is, well, not open and accepting. In these organizations, I've seen the culprit as the trickle down effect. He/she at the top of the organization creates a culture around him/herself of superiority. There's a lack of openness that makes the head honcho seem aloof and unapproachable. That mentality seems to seep into lower ranking positions and then down to the folks the org is supposed to serve.
Now, let's take the alternative of that culture. I don't mind sharing that this happend at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, NC. In October, I worked with GWU students for the second time. Every time I've been to the university, I've been met with friendliness, acceptance and openness. Is it just southern hospitality? Nah, it's in the culture of the school. The university president helps set the culture.
As I was having dinner with some student athletes in the cafeteria, the university president was just finishing his meal. In the cafeteria. Sitting with students. As he was leaving, he stopped by our table to shake my hand and welcome me to campus. He also thanked me for being there and just showed so much grace. THAT is the culture of happiness and openess. Compare that with university systems where students don't even know the name of the university president. Can GWU students approach the head honcho if they have a problem? You betcha! Can students at other schools do this? Only if the culture is set where the student feels able to do so.
What kind of cultures do you interact with? Do you enjoy those cultures? Or do you, involuntarily, help perpetuate what that culture has for it's bad points? We all have the ability to make a difference in the culture of our organizations...do something positive to help yours.