Fear and right/wrong are not the only things we learn through primary socialization. We also learn about our culture’s social structures, family being the most important among them.

Family

A mom, a dad, and children: this is what many Western cultures consider a family.

A mom, a dad, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, great grandparents: this is what many traditional African cultures consider a family, with the eldest male holding the most authority. In fact, the eldest uncle might hold more authority over the children than their own father, if he is a younger brother.

Of course, these differences between family in Western culture and some African cultures are sharply contrasted. Parents in Western culture hold the highest authority over their children. If an uncle attempted to discipline the children against their parents’ wishes, a family feud might ensue.

But in multi-generational African families, the social structure is based on the need to survive as a group. The young take care of the old, and so living together within this eldest male authoritarian structure is a means of survival.

The Cultural Divide

This is where “the rub” comes in. The differences between what is acceptable in one culture versus another can often be morally divisive.

For instance, arranged marriages are often condemned in Western cultures, particularly when it’s a question of age disparities between the husband and wife.

However, in many traditional societies it’s more than acceptable; it’s preferred. An Indian woman, who I met while giving a lecture at an American university explained how her husband was chosen for her and, after six years together, they were still happily married.

“My parents raised me,” she said, “and in India, where we still get married at a very young age. I think my parents know far better which man suits me best. They have more life experience and their judgment is not as emotional as would be mine. I trust them to act in my best interest.”

In fact, some studies corroborate her experience, suggesting that this custom may not be as amiss as many Western cultures believe. A study led by Robert Epstein, the Harvard-educated Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, examined arranged marriages, interviewing more than 35 couples across different cultures.

According to the study, couples who connect through “love marriages” often experience a decrease in feelings of as much as fifty percent after 1.5 to 2 years of marriage. Those in arranged marriages report a gradual increase in feelings and dedication to their relationship.

Normal

So what is normal?

The point is no universal norm exists and, considering the different needs of a society, the economic influences to culture, and all other consequential factors, nor should there be. Your own cultural norms shouldn’t necessarily be someone else’s.

So before you rush to judgement, viewing others through your own culture-tinted glasses, consider the social factors that have created this difference. When facing cultural differences or integrating into another culture, look at the advantages that the custom in question may render to members of this particular society. See the bigger picture.

This does not mean you must accept, adapt, or adopt this custom. But you should be aware and try to understand. And you must respect that other cultures don’t have to accept, adapt, or adopt your own point of view.

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