Cultural Scaffolds


Humans have large brains, but even larger minds. Our minds extend far beyond the boundaries of our skull and into our cultures. The human race succeeds because cultures create mental “scaffolds” on which to guide and hang future thought.

An individual human mind couldn’t handle the vast variety of fleeting stimuli that are thrust before it. We can function in the world only because we are embedded in the scaffold of culture. We absorb ethnic cultures, institutional cultures, regional cultures, which do most of our thinking for us. 

This underlines how the culture we grow up and exist in – our environment – has an overwhelming impact on our development and who we are. Although I’m thankful for the culture I exist in, there are many pieces of it I would like to grow out of or throw out all together. I’m sure you feel the same way about yours. How do we do that? Brooks offers some advice from the research.

Play the long game

Our species as a whole is intelligent because of many, many tiny gains in intelligence over a long period of time that we pass on between generations. I think we often underestimate the power of these tiny gains in one lifetime. Yes, life is short, but we can also accomplish a lot. What separates the geniuses from the merely accomplished? According to Brooks, it’s the ability to get better and better over time.

Check your mindset

A requirement for continually improvement over a long period of time is to have the right mindset – you need a mindset built on progress. Brooks outlines the difference between progress-prone cultures and progress-resistant cultures – the key difference for me being the ability to shape your own destiny.

See culture in others

Just as our culture is embedded in ourselves, it helps immensely to see the culture embedded in others. What is their mindset or perspective or lens they’re viewing their day through? How much does that lens affect their decisions?

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