Culture shapes our lives in more ways than we realize. As we grow up, we learn from our families, friends, schools, and religious organizations what culture is and how it defines us as people. Our cultural representation is unique to our person, and in some cases is so influential that it assists us with assessing and judging the world around us. We all grow up differently – no one’s family is truly identical, and there are many elements that affect our view on the world as we mature. It’s important to remember these cultural differences because it allows us a deeper insight into each other’s lives and why we make the decisions we do.

            Cultural orientations are generally separated into two distinct categories – individualism and collectivism. Individualism is characterized by a need for uniqueness (individuality) and a sense of independence and is most often represented in western countries like the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. On the other hand, collectivism emphasizes the importance of community (the collective good) and strives to prioritize groupthink rather than individual importance; collectivism is found in many eastern countries like Japan, China, and Korea. The cultures we grow up in not only affect how we view and interact with others, but also affects how we see and interpret our own personalities. Those raised in individualistic cultures tend to be more assertive, independent, and self-sufficient, while those raised in collectivist cultures exhibit more dependable, generous, and selfless traits.

            Debatably the most important element of culture, however, is how we communicate with each other. We morph and change the way we communicate to cater to those around us. Culture affects our interpersonal communication through a characterization of either an independent or interdependent factor, the way we interact with others, and by how modernized the culture is.

            Cultures are typically split into two categories when being analyzed. According to Saad, Cleveland, and Ho, “The independent view…is an autonomous entity with a distinctive set of qualities. The interdependent self-construal prevails within collectivist cultures, whereby ‘the self cannot be separated from others and the surrounding social context’”. (Saad 580) Cultures who are distinctively independent tend to emphasize the importance of originality, pushing people to set themselves apart from the group and be unique. Collectivist cultures, comparatively, value equal parts working together towards the common good, which leads people to be more selfless and aware of those around them. Those in individualistic cultures separate themselves from groups they’re involved in, defining themselves based off individual character traits rather than those in collectivistic mindsets who view themselves simply as a working component of their society. (Hopper 2) Those in collectivist cultures prioritize the good of their community, often choosing to live in the shadows rather than the spotlight. On the contrary, individualists put great emphasis on the importance of living life their way and believe that they are the only ones who should be able to control and determine their lives. (Biddle 1)

            We may view ourselves differently depending on the culture we associate ourselves with, but our culture also affects our relationships with other people. We tend to spend time with those who have similar views as us, so it is easier for us to connect with each other through normal speech and thought patterns relating to our beliefs and ideals. For those in individualistic cultures, it’s not particularly difficult to make friends – individualists tend to have a solid grasp on who they are as people and how they appear in society, so they can easily seek out and find people who assume similar roles or who agree with the same things. Those who associate themselves with the collectivist culture, however, tend to struggle more connecting with people, and usually meet people as a result of a situation or mutual acquaintance. (Cherry 5) Those in individualistic cultures don’t only make friendships easier; they also switch from relationship to relationship much more easily and tend to prioritize their own happiness over that of other people. Dr. Elizabeth Hopper states, “In individualistic cultures, relationships are often seen as voluntary, and it’s not uncommon to choose to end relationships that are not beneficial. On the other hand, relationships in collectivistic cultures are often seen as more stable and permanent.” (Hopper 2) Although it is generally tougher for those in collectivistic cultures to involve themselves in new relationships, those relationships are generally more stable and last longer. Individualists tend to have more friends, but those relationships are less permanent.

            Although there are still some very concrete differences between individualistic and collectivistic cultures, the lines between the two have been blurring, especially in the past few decades. Modernization has led both cultures to begin to overlap, especially in places like the United States where so many different ethnicities are mixed and communicate with each other on a regular basis. According to Dr. Takeshi Hamamura, “…more Japanese today would choose business over family, showing a conflicting pattern, although this item does not necessarily suggest the declining importance of family irrespective of the importance of business”. (Hamamura 16) As industrialization continues, and more jobs originally stationed in the United States and Europe are being outsourced towards the East, we are seeing less distinct lines and more mixing of cultures. We as a society have started relying less on the traditions that are handed down to us and taught in early life and more on the teachings of others, whose opinions we value later in life. Collectivism has begun to stray away from its traditional roots and adapt a more individualistic version of itself. (Biddle 3) It’s important to remember that, despite our cultural differences, we are people first, and that our beliefs should not ultimately determine who we communicate with; this is why modernization is a welcome idea for many people.

            Overall, the most important takeaway everyone should get from their lives is that they are ultimately in control of their own destiny. Human beings are intensely social creatures who look to others for support and for learning purposes, and we crave communication. We teach ourselves the ins and outs of society in order to connect with people, and, when we start to misunderstand each other, we troubleshoot and clarify in order to keep the relationships we value and learn from. As a society, we are taught to analyze pretty much everything around us. The first piece of advice to those who are looking to improve their communication skills is to factor in culture, which is just as important as people’s gender, race, and ethnicity. Dr. Elizabeth Hopper states, “…thinking about individualism and collectivism can help us to better understand ourselves and our relationships.” (Hopper 3) The second piece of advice

            Culture is divided between two different categories – individualism and collectivism – which affect the way people view and interact with the world around them.


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            Hopper, E. (2015, January 30). Individualist or Collectivist? How Culture Influences

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