To seek genuine change in our lives, we need a starting point. In many of my articles, I’ve mentioned, “Every journey starts with one step.” This journey begins with understanding ourselves and our relationship with Planet Earth. A crucial step is non-judgmental self-evaluation.
To change a culture, we must connect with our wellness. While completely altering a culture is unrealistic, striving to modify one is a more achievable goal. Remember the wellness aspect. Further, we should evaluate our integrity to practice our values as we intend, hopefully. In my role as a peer specialist and for those in similar positions, the philosophy of non-judgmental actions and progressing one step at a time is fundamental.
Everyone has options in life. These options allow us to assess our thinking and decide if we need to make better arrangements for living. We often find ourselves in situations where we can either showcase our values or question if these systems in our mind are ambiguous and inherited from our ingrained histories and facts.
What’s essential is that routines and thinking that envelop our minds must define wellness in the fittest manners. Our lives reflect these routines, so they must lead us towards healthier living. The human response to worldly conditions should also be beneficial. These methods, in my opinion, pass through freedom of choice and autonomy. Learning, understanding, and acknowledging the history we pass through can be overwhelming. All this processing may require relearning, but relearning healthy practices is the most viable way to evolve.
Are we ready to ask ourselves: What is “culture”? Culture is how we characterise the sum of knowledge as it passes through our sharp lens for viewing and understanding history. This lens and history include the collective people’s history and values, language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music, and the arts. It results from our belief systems that are embodied and shared as a group experience. This shared knowledge verifies and maintains these guiding principles and behaviours, often called traditions. In these instances, we may not even be aware of our behaviours and practices. Awareness marks humanity’s unmistakable collective beliefs and experiences.
Within a community, most individuals and many traditions can perpetuate or conceal some of the awful experiences. For example, we often see a history of mistreatment in society based on race, ethnicity, gender, and disability. This conceals events that were unpopular. There are even traditions that seek to preserve, ignore, and rationalize the adverse treatments of people indefinitely. Peer Specialists like myself strive to handle these situations effectively. The lived experiences of peers inform our practice and beliefs. These ideas continue to “modify a culture” in mental health through our collective well-being.
To “modify a culture” based on wellness, we must discern which values support our wellness ideas and which ones we have inherited through our culture’s belief system. As Peer Specialists, we have developed many new values from our lived experiences of getting well and staying well, despite the adversities we have encountered. Becoming a wellness culture requires ongoing, conscious effort to evaluate, question, and be self-determined to uphold those beliefs in our lives, supporting all of our relationships while fostering well-being for others and ourselves.
We can examine our own and our neighborhood’s culture by looking closely at both our external and internal language. These are the conversations that shape our relationships and our understanding of how we should feel and behave when interacting with other people. Cultural beliefs embedded in the system that governs the English language direct how we behave in relationships and care for our well-being.
Some of these are internal thoughts like, “I ask too many hard questions, so people will think I am being difficult,” or “I am weak because I cannot make decisions easily.” Both comments are not based on fact but rather on beliefs. It is also about how we, and others, are to be, plus our actions and reactions. Many of these we have inherited from our culture. Our values are those beliefs that we consciously choose to express or act upon. Not always perfect, but it is what we believe to be true.
Also, in the 2020s, we continue to live in fear. Terrorism is a pervasive fear, yet we often don’t know how to react. Unfortunately, it is present in most cultures and does not always come in human form. This fear often underpins ideas as times progress. Culture relies on a past and collective shared history.
Another way societies respond is when their physical and mental health is compromised. Over the last few years, a good example is the Covid virus, which has plagued most cultures. Many individuals have become sick, been hospitalised, and died from this virus. Vaccines and boosters were invented and helped some, but as of this writing, the long-term effects of these injections or the virus itself are unknown.
Changing a culture is an immense challenge because it involves altering our beliefs and practices, not just those of others. “Modifying a culture” is all we can realistically aim for. Any attempt to make cultural modifications needs the agreement of all parties involved. Idealistic, certainly, but without this consensus, we risk imposing our will and strength on others. We must first modify our own external and internal culture. By doing so, we can become more physically and mentally healthy, modifying our culture for the better. At least, that is my hope.”
Howard Diamond is a New York State-certified peer specialist from Long Island.