24 January 2011


I've been throwing around the phrase "Tibetan culture" for some time now, and as a result I really wish I had time to read this chapter, called "Culture Blends" in the book Language Shock by Agar, more carefully.  Here are some highlights.
Usually people think of "culture" as something that a particular group of people have. Cultures roll around the planet like so many billiard balls, self-contained objects that might collide or bounce off the cushion but still retain their perfect round shape.
I don't know that I've thought of culture this way, but it's an interesting argument and implies that cultures actually blend, rather than "retain their perfect round shape."  Tibetan culture is undoubtedly changing while the Tibetans are living in India in this fast-paced, technologically savvy world, especially for their growing children.  So what elements of Tibetan culture are traditional, what are new to the exiled location and circumstances, and what are unique to the time period?  I have just realized that I must actually define Tibetan culture since I will be analyzing its preservation all summer!
Culture is something those people "have," but it's more than that.  It's also something that happens to you when you encounter them.  As long as they're just out there, just a different group of folks, you won't have to deal with them.  When you deal with them, culture turns personal.  Culture is no longer just what some group has; it's what happens to you when you encounter differences, become aware of something in yourself, and work to figure out why the differences appeared.  Culture is an awareness, a consciousness, one that reveals the hidden self and opens paths to other ways of being.
When I'm living in India, this culture that I am reading about in books and discussing in a classroom and trying to define on paper will no longer be an abstract concept but a part of me, of my life experiences, something personal about which I'll have fond and funny and unpleasant memories.  What will happen to me?  Will I be the same person in September that I am right now?


  1. I love the quotes you've pulled out of this article. Culture is a concept that gets increasingly more vague in my mind the more I think about it ... but the way Agar explains culture feels more true to me than what most people seem to mean when they used the word.

    Any initial thoughts on how you'll define "Tibetan culture"? I'm really interested to see what decisions you end up making about this.

  2. Hmm...defining a culture, eh? I think it's going to be quite a complex undertaking, especially if you're looking at the preservation of a culture given outside influences. You'll have to identify what part of the culture was created by tradition, geological barriers, environmental factors, etc... and all of these things for back when the Tibetans you are interacting with were actually back in Tibet. Once they left Tibet any changes to those core things that influence culture would begin to change the culture in very subtle ways. You'll want to be sure to nail down pre-refugee Tibetan culture in order to make sure your analysis of preservation of culture is complete.

    Also, don't assume that all changes are permanent to the culture, those cultural aspects that might seem diminished and yet are held to in spirit by the people are likely to return in a form close to the original if not their original form if they were ever allowed to return to their homes and the lives they had before. It's a combination of the time frame over which parts of a culture remain changed and the view of the people about those changes that really determine how likely those changes are to remain in the future.

  3. Wow Jay and John, thanks for your input! I've been thinking a lot about how I'll define culture, but I've also discussed Tibetan culture with several Tibetans (here is one interview, where the man said "Tibetan culture - like any other culture, is its unique language, script, way of life, religion and more importantly its century old custom of love, compassion and warm-heartedness!" I love that definition--it is concise, simple, and workable. Some of those items are more tangible, too (script, language), and would thereby avoid some of the problems that John has been bringing up.

    You're right, though, I should see what I can learn about Tibetan culture before India to get an accurate idea of the preservation of that culture. Do you think it would be legitimate to interview refugees who grew up in Tibet?