GRE Issue Essay 136
“To truly understand your own culture-no matter how you define it-requires personal knowledge of at least one other culture, one that is distinctly different from your own.”
The best way to understand a subject clearly is to bring out its contrast with a similar subject. Similarly, the features of a particular culture stand out when it is compared to the features of another culture different from it. I agree with the given statement that to comprehend a culture completely one must have the knowledge of another culture as well. However, I also believe that all cultures share some basic features and are influenced by each other. The understanding, nevertheless, requires a certain amount of awareness about the differences that exist between the two.
The quality of the colour white comes out best when it is seen against black. Therefore, to bring out the true nature of anything it is best to compare it with another of a different nature. Every culture has distinct features. However, if we see our culture in isolation, we tend to neglect many of its aspects. This is because we get so accustomed to our culture that the salient features are generally overlooked. However, when we learn about another culture, these salient features come out as a striking contrast to the features of the other culture.
The culture of a society evolves from its social beliefs, political stability and educational background. Since these factors differ from place to place, the culture also differs. This accounts for different cultures, which can be American, European, Islamic or African culture. It is only when these cultures are seen against each other that we can term them as traditional, modern, backward, forward, conservative, formal, gentle etc. For example, the conservative Islamic culture stands in sharp contrast to the liberal American culture. While Americans might take their liberal culture for granted, its true meaning can be understood only when it is compared to a conservative culture like the Islamic. Similarly, for the English people, formal courtesies are inherent in their way of life. There is exceptional use of politeness in their language and gestures. Therefore, it is considered a usual behavior expected out of everyone. However, the uniqueness of this formal culture comes out when such a behavior is not to be found in other cultures. This is not to be found in Asian culture, where people are comparatively informal.
I also believe that all cultures have certain features in common. Against the statement that only by understanding a distinctly different culture can a person truly understand his own culture, I believe that the two cultures may not be completely opposite to each other. This means that virtues like honesty, truthfulness, sincerity, etc. are found to be common to all cultures. It does not require a culture with opposite features to understand these virtues. On the other hand, it has been seen that every culture is influenced by another culture. Therefore, there is an amalgamation of the features of different cultures in one particular culture. In today’s world, it is seen that different cultures co-exist in the same place. However, at the same time, I would maintain that the uniqueness of a culture comes out when it is compared to another.
To sum up, I would like to say that all cultures have certain unique features. However, there are certain features that are basic to all cultures. The understanding of the features of a particular culture becomes easier and vivid when it is compared with another culture, which need not be completely opposite in nature.