Tuesday, August 23, 2016

You Are Your Cultural Influences

I was musing about technology advances, and got to thinking about stereo systems. What was your first stereo sound system? For many (most for my generation and earlier) of us, it was in our car. For me it was the first brand new car I ever bought - a 1971 Plymouth Fury station wagon. I bought it in Las Cruces, NM while I was stationed at Ft. Bliss, TX. (New Mexico exempted service members from the state excise tax.) I also bought a new Honda 350 CL Scrambler  motorcycle at about the same time. I was, indeed, living large! When they first came out, I added an 8-track to the car.

I started amassing a number of albums on 8-track, one of which was very instructive in a totally unexpected way. It was a "Favorites" compilation by a pretty poor cover band. Poor enough that listening to the album was pretty painful at first. But I persevered, and after awhile I got used to it.

Then I heard one of those songs being performed by the original group that had recorded it, and I (multiple choice here): a) realized just how bad the cover band was; b) realized that both of them really sounded pretty much the same; c) hated the original band's version.

Logically, we have good taste and can tell the good stuff from the bad - right? So the answer should be a), right? BUZZZZZZ! Wrong! My ear had been knocked so totally out of tune, that bad was good and good was bad. c) is the correct choice.

The same thing happens with our tastes in other areas as well. In Mexico, the people that harvest the high quality arabica coffee beans are not allowed to use them, because of their relative scarcity and value as an export crop. Instead, they are given the plentiful cheaper robusta beans. They learn to like them, and when they are given the chance to try the arabica variety, they can't stand it, so I'm told. Think, too of the folks down in Louisiana and their "coffee".

Our children grow up thinking McDonald's makes a great hamburger. Cubs fans grow up knowing you can never win it all. Yankees fans grow up expecting to win it all - every year. Little boys growing up watching sports nowadays know they'll have hard choices to make in the years to come - Bud Lite or the Silver Bullet; F-150 or Silverado; Viagra or Cialis. 

Increasingly, the media seeks out or fabricates conflict to win ratings to enhance the ad rates they can charge their sponsors. A good fight just reaps bigger audiences. Reality shows, the Bachelor, MMA. Even the mainstream news programs feature things like "Crossfire" where frothy-mouthed zealots from both ends of the political spectrum scream at each other over hot button topics. The worst part of this whole development is that the moderators, presumably (at least, ideally) level-headed intelligent types can't jeopardize their ratings by expressing their disgust with the whole panel of guests, kicking them off and then commentating on the issues. So they're becoming more like their guests - screaming and goading and trying to foment conflict. And viewers are never presented with any but the deep blue or the deep red views. What ever happened to well-reasoned, thoughtful, respectful conflict resolution? It doesn't sell Viagra, that's what! It was cancelled!

So folks lean a little one way or another and then go off and watch MSNBC or Fox News. Boy! There are a couple of places you can hone your diplomatic and negotiating skills. NOT!

We see clips of boys in extremist religious Islamic schools on their prayer mats doing their hypnotic head-bobbing chants and smugly think, "It's a good thing we're not into brainwashing in this country." Oh, really! Wake up and smell the chicory!

The first time you get shot at in combat is a sort of reality check. Here is some regular guy from another country, another culture, that hates you enough to want you dead, just because you are who you are. You may have a flash of realization that, except for the results of the crapshoot we call birthplace, our positions could be totally flipped. (Maybe you need to table that thought for right now, or he may succeed in his efforts to fulfill that deathwish on you. War is the ultimate "Him or Me" game. So don't do anything to jeopardize winning it. Think your profound thoughts after the battle.)

As humans, we are born helpless and ignorant. We reach adulthood mostly as a product of our upbringing. Nearly everything we think has been taught to us. 

Fortunately, or unfortunately, our societal attitudes and tastes are as pliable as our ear for music or our taste for coffee. With the right influence, we actually can refine and improve our tastes and attitudes. Or under the wrong influence, the exact opposite may occur. Our brains can be patterned, for better or for worse, through a process called neuroplasticity. We can be strongly influenced by those around us. 

The single best piece of advice a person can be given is this: Surround yourselves with the very best people possible. Because that neuroplasticity is, indeed, a sword that can cut both ways. 

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