A recent exchange of comments on David Hodgson’s Idea Hive blog around “A Culture of Innovation is the Key to Our Future” got me spinning off into an entirely different reflection on “culture.” As much as I’ve participated in the framing of “corporate culture,” for example, in the nearly mythical terms of vision, mission, shared values, and organizational transformation, this sense of “culture” and the way it has reverberated through the corporate marketing sensibilities that have come to permeate the public sphere, no longer seems adequate to express the “shaking of the foundations” in our times. And I simply don’t believe the often simplistic deconstruction of culture (as in “corporate culture”) into vision statements, lists of values and principles, and so forth in any way reflects how genuine cultures are created and evolve. These efforts more clearly document for me the loss of historic moorings and the quest for reconnection that can be “managed.”

My wife and I have often reflected over the culture shock and reverse culture shock we experienced over our years living overseas and then returning to the states–transitions that meant “home” was never the same again. And today, it seems like some level of culture shock at this primal level of self and collective identity has become the prevailing reality. You can see it in the intense collisions of aspiration and anger that supersede conventional categorization into right/left, conservative/liberal. The increasingly expressed fear that Obama can’t simply make things happen now that he’s president against the equally irrational fear that he can.

There is a popular quotation from Teilhard de Chardin that is most often expressed as, “The task before us now, if we would not perish, is to build the earth.” There’s a long form that reads, “The task before us now, if we would not perish, is to shake off our ancient prejudices and to build the earth.” Building is fun and by definition constructive; shaking off ancient prejudices takes a little more work. I learned in Alaska that a disease, like alcoholism, is pandemic when everyone knows someone who has suffered or died from it. We live in times where entire generations of children and youth know someone, often a close relative, who has suffered or died from the reverberating echos of ancient prejudices that continue to spiral seemingly out of control. Ancient prejudices are not easily shaken off, the last woundings are still too recent to simply forget and move on.

Cultures are born from events–“acts of God” if you will–that simultaneously expose the vulnerability and wonder of the human presence. Cultures are patterns of collective choices conditioned by events, in the midst of which values find expression, as an unfolding consciousness, not as a logical cause or precursor. I don’t think you can reverse engineer a culture from a list of values and principles. Cultural Esperantos are ultimately as artificial as linguistic ones, despite the best of intentions.

We are now eye-witnesses to and active participants in events experienced as seismic shocks and after-shocks that are profoundly disrupting prevailing cultural patterns, driven by the immediate and pervasive encounters with other “Middle Kingdoms,” other deeply rooted expressions of human civilization. And we have new choices to make, in this journey of emancipation from deeply embedded, formerly unconscious “ancient prejudices,” yet bound more tightly than ever to the well-being of strangers and historic adversaries who have and would still do us harm.

The seeds of a deep culture are rising…
…with the potential for re-awakening a profound consciousness, re-envisioning universal well-being, and reweaving the social fabric at a genuinely global scale, at a pace and scale never before imagined.

For a while everything will feel awkward, random encounters may persistently elicit raw emotions, the “sins of the fathers” and the aspirations of youth will continue to clash in unexpected ways when we are least prepared. Despite popular cynicism over being “politically incorrect,” we will nevertheless be required to listen and speak all over again, with all the discomfort of learning a new language and “owning” the embarrassment of familiar terms that are rapidly becoming archaic.

The seeds of a deep culture are rising…
…unfolding step by step, as an embryo, without a fully laid out conscious or manufactured vision of the “final product.” It is likely to look and feel messy, very messy at times, as our own expectations and actions inform the unfolding only to be superseded by it. How do our children survive our fumbling attempts at parenthood to raise their own children? Letting go is a state of being, not a resignation.

The seeds of a deep culture are rising…
…in the collective choices we make, acting individually, sometimes in concert, sometimes in apparent cross-purposes, building a legacy that is ultimately defined by future generations.

The seeds of a deep culture are rising…
Nothing is inevitable or certain, yet in some way, everything hinges on how and what we choose in this moment, our moment, in the human adventure.