End of the World Series: The Disappearance of Culture

If you look up the dictionary definition of culture, it gravitates to many different meanings.  The particular meaning I will discuss is:

“The sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another. Culture is transmitted, through language, material objects, ritual, institutions, and art, from one generation to the next.” www.Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/culture

When things, such as manners, courtesy, and educational values change within a culture, are these changes indicative of cultural downfall?  The Ancient Greeks, known around the world for their aspiring values, pursuit of knowledge, and patronage of the arts eventually melted into a handful of towns and villages which fell into ruin.  Ancient Rome, their culture, also fell into a state of disrepair and morphed into a religious center of power that never was able to dominate the world like they had during their acme. Egypt, China, Mongolia, England, France, Spain, Persia, all reached pinnacles of power within their own areas, only to eventually fade away into history. Some of their cultural beliefs managed to survive, but all in all, many have begun to fade away.

Today, we are faced with cultural changes.  These changes are a point of contention among many people, but what many do agree on, is that our culture is changing.  One can find a diverse opinion among many of us today regarding the debasement of our values in our global society.  The young seem to not have the same values that we did.  Life does not seem to hold the fascination for many of the young that we held in such high esteem 40 years ago.  Many of the older generation complains that courtesy and what we have termed simple common decency have left the younger generation.  I have been told of young people (teens and 20s), holding up a cell phone at the scene of an accident for example, intent on recording the drama, while older people are scrambling to help the injured. 

Listening to the radio this morning, I heard an interesting story by a broadcaster, who described how he held a door open for a younger woman with a stroller and 2 children.  As she passed by him without a word, he said under his breath, “You’re welcome”.  She in replied, “You should not expect a thank you for helping someone”.  He opened up the topic for discussion.  Two people who called in said that she was correct, that he should not have expected any thanks.  Yet, in my own mind, I was thinking that what he was expecting was taught to me as a child.  He was expecting simple, common courtesy.  If someone does something for you…acknowledge their actions with appreciation for what they have done.

There are so many times when I myself, hold a door open for a younger woman.  There have been countless times when women in their mid to late 20s have commented that my action is “difficult” to get “used to” because younger men these days do not “do that”.  Yet, if I am walking with a woman closer to my age, there is an unspoken expectation for me to hold the door open for her.  It is a red light for me, that our culture is changing, that what we considered good manners is slowly dying among many of the young (not all, but many).

So, I pose to you this question.  Do you feel that decay of courtesies within a culture are indicative of the end of the culture, or as some people of religious backgrounds feel, a prophetic sign of the end of the world?

More to come…

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