Romans 12: Culture and Change

July 6, 2020

by David Williams, President, Taylor Seminary

Today, we are picking up on the topic of cultural conditions and why it is that sometimes patterns of behavior can be good in one context but not in another.  In the closing of last week’s article, I talked about driving.  It’s something that when first learned takes a lot of focus and concentration.  However, over time, it becomes a learned behavior and one that can be done with little thought.

The truth is that most of the things we do we do because they are habits learned through repetition and practice and can now be done effortlessly and thoughtlessly.  Most things we do are so much a part of us that we don’t realize that we are doing them.  That’s all well and good as long as our habits serve us well, helping us do what we want to do and be who we want to be.  But that’s not always the case. Sometimes things serve us well for a time or in one context but then when things change, they no longer serve us so well.

My wife often tells the story of growing up as a missionary kid in Hong Kong in the 1960s.  In her family she was taught to show respect by always answering adults with Ma’am or Sir.  “Yes Ma’am” or “No Ma’am” was deeply ingrained into her way of interacting with adults.  But when she got to her British school responding with “Ma’am” wasn’t a sign of respect but disrespect. She quickly gained a reputation as the ‘cheeky American’ and that brought her no end of grief during those early years of schooling.

It’s important for us to remember that patterns of behavior may be great in one context or at one time but do not work so well for us in another. Habits we have worked hard to develop or practices that we regularly participate in may have served us well in the past, sometimes even been liberating or life-giving but they don’t serve us well in a new context or when we face other issues.  Sometimes what is liberating at one time can be bondage at another.

This is the situation we are facing today.  The cultural conditions we are living in are bringing rapid changes to almost every dimension of life. These changes are causing significant disruption to our patterned behaviors.  Challenges to the habits of mind and body, so deeply engrained in us leave us not only confused, frustrated, and angry, but also alienated from the culture that used to feel so much like home. Often, we are at a loss as to how to respond to what’s going on.  Think, for instance, of the changes around communications and social media.

There once was a time when if something important happened it could take days, weeks, months, or even years for the message to get from one place to another.  As travel became easier and safer, communications traveled faster and more securely. The ways we communicated adapted to the changes. Because information was scarce institutions were created not only to collect it but to protect it and for transferring it from one place to another and from one person to another. Complex systems emerged. Because institutions are expensive, money was required, and financial models were created to support, protect, and maximize the work of the institutions involved. All of this was built on a cultural of scarcity. But the days of information scarcity are gone.

We all know that is no longer our reality: information isn’t scare, it’s abundant. With the creation of the internet it’s not that there is too little information but that we have too much. We have more information at our fingertips then has ever been available to humans in the history of the world. And it doesn’t take days or hours or even minutes for information to travel around the world, it takes nanoseconds.

Next week, we will take a closer look at the information revolution and how access to so much information so quickly is and how it is changing us.

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