Culture and Its Influence in Shaping Human Behaviour
Numerous definitions of culture exist but social scientists seem to agree that culture is a socially transmitted heritage peculiar to a particular society but beyond this there is little consensus. Definitions of culture in general entail the observation of rules, customs, responsibilities and morals which are affected by a range of levels of culture such as language, sexual characteristics and employment. Man is not only a social being but also a cultural one. Culture serves several functions to the individual. Culture separates an individual from an animal. It offers a solution to difficult situations. In the absence of culture, man would have been baffled even at the simplest situations. It shapes one’s personality and provides traditional interpretation to certain situations. There is no doubt that culture influences people in making almost all decisions in our lives, underlying what we are taught and the values with which we have been raised.
As one of the most conservative traditional societies in the world grapples with the impact of modernization wrought by the influx of great oil wealth that began only in the mid 20th century, Saudi culture is in a constant state of flux. Saudi culture developed through age old interaction between the Arabian people and their harsh desert environment. Being a Saudi national, the country’s culture has greatly influenced my way of life. For example, in terms of dressing, one is to wear lose, decent clothes since tight or revealing dressing that exposes shoulder’s, calves and thighs is forbidden. My attitudes of dressing, with that background is that it should be well fitting and not reveal the body parts mentioned above. My culture also prohibits greeting by touching if it involves a man and a woman unless they are related by birth or marriage and even then it tends to be minimal. However, a decent amount of touching between individuals of the same gender is allowed. Unlike in some cultures, it is common for two men to walk hand in hand in public and this does not have any implication on their sexual preferences. The above examples are a clear indication of how culture shapes our attitudes as well as way of life.
Human behavior is the potential and expressed capacity for physical, mental and social activity during the phases of human life. Aside from culture, anthropologists believe that human behavior is shaped by two main factors: genetics and the environment. In the Saudi Arabian culture, alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited. It’s consumption is illegal for all ages while smoking is only permissible to male figures. Anyone caught in violation of this can be lashed. Because of the culture, most Saudi Arabians steer clear from alcohol consumption. With regards to driving, culture norms dictate that women do not drive or ride bicycles or cars on public roads. It is also unacceptable for women to voice their opinions about many things or question their male guardian’s authority. Consequently, most Saudi Arabian women are considered shy and passive. Dating is not socially accepted and can result in serious consequences if people are caught. However, people still do it though very discreetly. One’s behaviour is therefore dependent on the culture contrary to which there are dire consequences as seen in the examples above.
The term morality can be used to refer to a system of ideas of right and wrong conduct. Ideals and morals are obtained at the early stage of someone’s life. Culture dictates what is considered right or wrong in a particular society as well as gender roles. Saudi Arabian courts will punish a rapist with anything from flogging to execution under the Sharia law. As there is no penal code in Saudi Arabia there is no written law which specifically criminalizes rape or prescribes its punishment. Concerning morality, dressing, especially for the Arab women, is considered an important aspect and the manner in which a woman dresses is considered morally significant. If a woman violates the dress code in this society, she may be arrested by religious police and detained. The women have to wear the abaya (a full black cloak), the hijab (headscarf) and the niqaab (face veil).
In the Arabian culture, family and tribe are the basis of the social structure. Saudis are cognizant of their heritage as seen in their naming conventions. They take their responsibilities to their families quite seriously and an individual derives a social network and assistance in times of need from the family. Nepotism is valued since it implies that employing people one knows and trusts is of primary importance. Culture instills in individuals a sense of responsibility which enables the individual to make significant contribution to the society. Culture gives shape to human experience.
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