Essay on Cultural Values in Today’s Society

Introduction
As derivatives of macro-level factors such as cultural values and narratives, norms prescribe sets of behavioral patterns, whose premise is to confine the individual’s behavior with societal expectations. In this context, societies use sanctions to convey norms and to encourage people to follow them. In many cases, cultural values that are not supported with a clear and effective set of sanctions (i.e. lack positive and/or negative sanctions associated with them) are considered as less dominate in a society, as in the case of altruism in most American cultures (Batson and Powel 478). This paper illustrates these points by examining two common values in our culture and the sanctions attached to them.

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Education as a Cultural Value
As argued by Hill, Hoffman and Rex, our society cherishes education as a predominating cultural value, which helps to promote both the individual and society as a whole (24). This notion is supported by many cultural, political and economic norms, such as the prestige given to holders of graduate degrees (most notably doctors and professors), the nearly unquestionable weight of education in public spending and the generally positive relations between level of education and income perspectives. Naturally, the other side of this coin is encouraging young individuals to pursue education and to excel in their schools and higher education institutions.

Therefore, education as a cultural value prescribes several significant norms also at the individual level. Ironically, these norms challenge other norms and natural tendencies of children and young adults, whose leisure time and social life, for instance, are more important to them than career perspectives. Consequently, we can discuss several positive and negatives sanctions that help to encourage young individuals to focus on their educational duties:

  • Positive sanctions: lavish graduation parties/ ceremonies, Dean’s lists, and achievement scholarships.
  • Negative sanctions: grade reports, poorer choice of colleges/ undergraduate studies, and the fear of being expelled from school.

The Value of Close Relationships
Close relationships, a generic term for several types of bonds between people (e.g. friendships and most types of interpersonal and intimate relationships) facilitate many of our culture’s celebrated values, such as family and cooperation. In order to engage in close relationships, one must adhere strict codes of conduct, which fall into the category of the so-called ‘communal norms.’ These norms include, among others, sensitivity to informal hierarchies, empathy and trustworthiness; failure to follow these codes will most probably limit the individual’s social prospects (Clark and Grote 452). In other words, there is a constant process of social negotiations, in which two or more persons check each other’s (or one another’s) adherence to the specific communal norms exercised in this specific group. Some of the resulting positive and negative sanctions are:

  • Positive sanctions: invitation to enter a group, agreement to enter an initial intimate relationship, expansion of personal and/or professional networks.
  • Negative sanctions: isolating and refusing to communicate, rejection of professional interactions, loneliness.

Works Cited
Batson, Daniel C., and Adam A. Powel. “Altruism and Prosocial Behavior.” Handbook of Psychology vol. 5: Personality and Social Psychology. Eds. Theodore Millon and Melvin J. Lerner. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2003. 463-484. Print.
Clark, Margaret C., and Nancy K. Grote. “Close Relationships.” Handbook of Psychology vol. 5: Personality and Social Psychology. Eds. Theodore Millon and Melvin J. Lerner. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2003. 447-461. Print.
Hill, Kent, Dennis Hoffman, and Tom R. Rex. “The Value of Higher Education: Individual and Societal Benefits.” Arizona State University. Oct. 2005. Web. 1 Nov. 2009.

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