National cultures are made, not born. They last longer than a generation and they depend on the continual interplay of relationships between individuals, groups, institutions, and external cultures that help shape national boundaries and sometimes force them. While not “persons” in the legal sense, national cultures do indeed have identity. They are undoubtedly influenced by their beginnings, such as the moment when Abraham was asked to sacrifice his beloved only son Isaac. This defining moment appears in various forms across several religious and cultural stories, for example, and continues to shape our contemporary politics millennia later. On the other hand, there are many other stories that show continual unfolding and redefinition, usually linked to related global and local events.
Nations also reach decision points, just as individuals, families and companies do. Leaders arise who reflect (and sometimes shape) the full range of possible expressions for cultures. The intensity of collective emotion, belief, and thought determines which leader is chosen (whether through election or coup d’etat), which events occur, and eventually which national persona the culture adopts based on its current shared values. Do not underestimate the power of individuals and small groups to identify and promote leaders and frame leadership in any particular historical moment. There are many crossroads, many tipping points. In my opinion (which is all I have to offer) such events are not fate, even though blueprints from some deeper level of collective consciousness shape daily life and expression. Events exist to help us make choices, not to resign us to our predetermined fate.
The true meaning of destiny is purpose, expressed through understanding, choice and action. Destiny is active, creative, vital, vibrant, continuously changing as we make and act on our conscious and unconscious choices and beliefs. Destiny was never meant to imprison; it was meant to offer a frame of reference that helps us look into our collective mirrors.
National culture is a blueprint that provides the framework for a structure and the opportunity for a choice; that framework is not to be confused with the structure itself, any more than a draftsman’s blueprint is to be mistaken for a three-dimensional building. National culture offers us moments to decide who we are, to shape ourselves and our projections into the world. There is ample room for choice. In fact, embedded in the power and intensity of culture over time and generations is the responsibility to make continuous choices which ultimately contribute to the flourishing or the demise of that culture as we view the culture in historical context with the gift of hindsight.
I believe we do the best we can given our resources, beliefs and available information. Much like individuals, “when we know better, we do better.” Even in moments of deep personal despair and anger about what I consider to be the flaws of any particular national culture, I continue to believe that ultimately the collective “We” will both know better and do better. Unfortunately I cannot predict precisely when “ultimately” turns out to be or what the scenario will look like. That being said, I try to contribute something to the ultimate moment I would like to experience in each moment of each day in my little corner of the world and in my little corner of our national culture. That may be all any of us can do. And when I know better, I’ll do better…