Culture innate or can be taught?

I read this quote the other day by Thom Hartmann:

Culture is not about what is absolute, real or true. It is about what a group of people get together and agree to believe. Culture can be healthy, toxic, nurturing or murderous. Culture is made of stories.

I find this phrase so interesting because what I hear these days is this: “ this cannot be implemented here, the culture is so different or the culture of the people would not accept it.” And the thought that comes to my mind is naturally that of the title of this post: can culture be taught and therefore change or is it hardwired in us, on our DNA and cannot be altered? I go for the first one, for the very simple reason that the history of humanity is full of such proof, call it religion, call it political shifts, call it economy or anything else, but the fact is that cultures have changes either to a positive outcome or not.


“Sometimes the greatest gifts of a nation lead to its stagnation.” I read this quote recently at a “story-telling” book, that really inspired me to think, reflect upon and re-view my own story.I cannot stop from thinking about the current situation that Greece is currently into and how some of the greatest gifts may have led to our stagnation. It must have been more than 5 years now that I was discussing with some expats about Greece and then I was of the opinion that Greece  is a nation in search of its identity. Between the glorious past and the mediocre present, Greece had to search and reflect upon what it now had to offer to the world, what was the role that it should now play in order for its people to also feel present, proud and happy with the achievements of the present…It did not turn out that well as you see, despite the brilliant things that take place by young leaders, enterpreneurs and businessmen that still manage to build and maintain a positive image of the country internally and abroad. As an optimist I think that the same stories that put us in this situation can also change. And I am of the opinion that the role of Education is crucial here; in changing the stories that we tell about ourselves, our communities and nations and as a result change our view about ourselves and the way that others perceive us. In the end, we will manage to re-shape our destiny, re-design the plot, re-write the scenario with a better end.


“If you want to understand a culture, listen to their stories. If you want to change a culture, change their stories.”


Now, how to do that and what role can Education have? Naturally, this approach of changing stories-changing culture-changing destiny can be applied in any situation that requires an intervention, be it either a nation, a community, a team, an organization or a one2one relationship. Here some key tips:

  1. Choose a story angle that helps people get inspired and internalize the truth
  2. Frame a story that reflects people’s lives
  3. Find something everyone can agree on. Build your story around this message.
  4. Every story’s evolution needs connection to a context. No connection to the past, present and future will be disastrous.
  5. Leaders lead by telling stories that inspire people to lead, not to follow.


So, as educators, what can we do in order to achieve the desired change? Here are just some reflections, but I would love to hear your thoughts:

  • Let’s try to shape the story and the solution by recognizing the context that our pupils, our teachers, our states operate in. Historically, regionally, globally, economic wise, technologically wise, emotionally wise, where are we now?
  • What are these stories that help us move forward? Which are the ones that keep us behind? Why do we keep telling them? What purpose do either serve?
  • What are the stories that we need to start saying about ourselves and each other? Which angle of the story do we need to stress out more? Does this angle inspire reflection and action?
  • What is that key element that everybody agrees upon? That all teachers, parents, students, management staff, policy makers, politicians etc etc agree on? Let’s take that as our corner stone.
  • Which stories can inspire people to lead and bring solutions to the problems faced?

What do you think?

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