16.Cultural Change Goes Slowly - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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16.Cultural Change Goes Slowly

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > All Relationships MultiCult

All Relationships and Therapy are Multi-Cultural- Family and Cross-Cultural Complications
by Ronald Mah

Cultural change follows societal change historically.  Attempts at change that are not evolutionarily productive or rewarded would tend not to be duplicated or maintained.  Patterns of attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors that make up culture would tend to have been derived and established over very long periods of time- probably beyond decades into multiple generations or centuries.  For example, a cultural behavior (along with relevant attitudes, values, and beliefs) of always saving and storing a portion of the annual harvest would have developed over generations of experiences with climatic variations, low to high crop yields, and times of abundance and of famine.  Gradually adopted cultural patterns that have served the community over very extended periods become embedded and resistant to change.  Rejecting the cultural behavior of saving and storing a portion of the crop after two or three years of excellent weather, the absence of insects or animals devastating the plants, and abundant harvests would be short-sighted.  A subsequent drought and famine would potentially not only wipe out the entire community, but also effectively eliminate all the "radical" thinkers who promoted the quick cultural change!  Slow and conservative cultural change would seem prudent since technological change has been historically extremely slow.  The previous description of change from teeth, hand, and feet, to wooden weapons and tools, to iron, to steel, and beyond took multiple centuries or thousands of years.  However, in modern times, societal changes and in particular, technological changes have accelerated to unprecedented speeds.  It is arguable that in the past two hundred years, one hundred years, or even fifty years (consider for example, communication or transportation speed and capacity), that there has been more technological change that had ever in the previous thousands of years of human existence.  In "Undaunted Courage" by Stephen Ambrose, he sets the historical context for the Lewis and Clark search for the Northwest Passage.  Ambrose notes that within a short time by the mid-1800, two restrictions for human civilization that had existed for thousands of years would be dramatically altered.  For thousands of years, transportation of people or goods, as well as communication from person to person took days, weeks, and months depending on distance and terrain (or rivers and oceans).  With the technological introduction of the railroads and the telegraph (and wireless communication), suddenly transport took hours or only days (even across the entire American continent) and communication was virtually instantaneous.  Continued advances in computer capacity and communication make life often remarkably different than even only one or two decades or generations ago.  As a result, there is an unmet demand for cultural changes to occur faster and more pervasive than ever before and as such, strongly influence societal change.  Intense and constant technological and social change and the pressure for quick cultural adaptation is arguably, a new dynamic in history.

In less dramatically dynamic historical times, cultural patterns had passed from parents to children and from generation to generation often without significant or even minor adaptations. Society and therefore, culture was relatively static.  The culture that each member in a relationship brings defines the couple, family, and or other relationship.  The modern challenge is whether the needs of the individual, each member, the relationship, couple, or family combine successfully to create a new functional relationship, couple, or family culture that will be successful in a constantly evolving greater societal context.  Couples or families, or communities, or organizations create and constitute situations of diversity that may or may not become multicultural.  Or, cross-cultural.  The survival demands have changed as society has changed.  The survival demands for traditional relationships, families, communities, and organizations have changed creating requirements for changes in culture.  In other words, falling back upon or depending on previous models (societal or family) of attitudes, values, beliefs, or behaviors may not be effective, nor will the various cultures automatically blend to create a new successful pattern.  

The presentation to therapy more or less confirms failure of many individuals, couples, or families to develop a functional relationship culture.  Whether as an individual, a couple, or a family, many people often do not attempt therapy despite years and even decades of dysfunction.  They are duplicating the normal reaction historically of society to the need for change- slow and conservative. Unfortunately, no individual, couple, or family has ever come to therapy and subsequently told me that they "came too early for therapy!" or wished they had waited longer!  Besides the normal conservative reaction of individuals, couples, or families to the need for change, there may be active resistance.   The instinct to be conservative, to keep things the same because they have served the individual, couple or family (organizations or organism or community) up until now, create what seems to be reactionary resistance.  In addition, under stress, the normal reaction of individuals, couples, families, communities, and society is also to regress to "traditional," "family values" and so forth.  This reflects the tendency for people to respond in traditional manners that have been previously taught, whether or not they have been successful or functional more recently.  Such behaviors are chosen because they are familiar.  Of note, is that the root word of "familiar" is "family."

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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