“Culture is the acquainting ourselves with the best that has been known and said in the world, and thus with the history of the human spirit” (Matthew Arnold).

IF SOMEONE SAID THAT YOU WERE “CULTURED,” WOULD YOU CONSIDER THAT A COMPLIMENT OR A DISPARAGEMENT? For today’s meditation, let’s set aside the stereotype of the cultured person as a pretentious “highbrow” and consider culture in its better sense. It is, as Matthew Arnold suggests, “acquainting ourselves with the best that has been known and said . . . and thus with the history of the human spirit.” Is that a bad thing? Is it undesirable to know at least a little of what human beings have experienced and felt about life down through the ages? Only a person who values ignorance would say so.

Obviously, we need to avoid pride and pretense. If we’ve had the privilege of learning a little about history and culture and civilization, there’s no need for us to look down on those who haven’t. There may be good reasons why they haven’t, and there may be, in fact, some advantages to their situation. The world would be a dull place if we all had the same interests, so let’s not assume that wider experience necessarily makes a person a superior human being. Often it does not.

But let’s face it: when we have the opportunity, we do need to get out of our own life and learn something of how life has been experienced by people at different times and places. The basic challenges have always been the same for every person, but people have had to deal with these from within very different circumstances. To be cultured is to have had some curiosity about other people’s lives.

So Harold W. Dodds said, “Be sure to find a place for intellectual and cultural interests outside your daily occupation. It is necessary that you do so if the business of living is not to turn to dust and ashes in your mouth.” So read and travel. Visit museums and art galleries. Attend lectures and concerts. Explore “the history of the human spirit.”

We should do these things not to become “highfalutin” but to be better informed — and by being better informed, to make better choices. True culture is not for show. It’s for personal improvement.

“The value of culture is its effect on character. It avails nothing unless it ennobles and strengthens that. Its use is for life. Its aim is not beauty but goodness” (W. Somerset Maugham).

Gary Henry – WordPoints.com

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