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Is enculturation is a good thing or a bad thing in terms of individuality and freedom of expression?

I am a student in a grad school in New York City and recently came across the concept of Enculturation. Coming from India, a country that is rich in culture and has strictly defined 'rules' in society in terms of acceptable behavior and habits I was forced to question if enculturation has more positive or negative impact on a individual when it comes down to developing a sense of individuality and freedom to express opinions.

  • Oct 30 2013: Enculturation is unavoidable. We all exist in cultures. But enculturation and individuality/freedom of expression aren't mutually exclusive. It depends on the culture to a large extent, but no culture is so uniform as to be able to completely erase all possible thoughts or actions which differ from the norm.
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    Gord G

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    Oct 26 2013: I think enculturation is a continuum.

    On one end of the spectrum there's a need to respect and adapt to an adopted country's fundamental values and systems. On the other end of the spectrum,sharing cultural memes can enrich both cultures. Unfortunately I feel that encroaching globalization is quickly making the term itself endangered.

    A mega culture negates the need for enculturation. It also negates the richness of diversity. I truly hope dominate cultures learn to preserve the beauty of diversity.
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    Nov 19 2013: Enculturation is inevitable and continual. But your specific question pertains to the impact on persons with respect to developing individuality and freedoms of expression. This requires us to look more carefully at the words you use to postulate your question. The term "develop" encompasses enculturation at the expense of individuality doesn't it? Let us suppose that ones culture could be expressed in parts such as 3 parts spiritual, 5 parts language, 6 parts dress etc. now let's suppose that a youth born into a "culture" has only the ethnic potential of the group but none of the expressions, standards or practices. That youth is displaced by adoption to a very different cultural group before any development takes place and begins a rapid ascent up the cultural ladder of his new found home. Is there any enculturation going on in this development of this displaced youth? he has developed no part of the spiritual, mental, emotional, social, cultural traditions of his birth culture so his development is acculturation. But take a 95 year old out of a very expressive and dynamic cultural experience and place her into the same new culture as the youth and enculturation becomes a very negative experience to that elder. It seems to me that the only value of culture of any ilk is to develop kinship among the members of the common tribe. The tensile strength of cultural development of each individual determines the degrees of freedom as well as the degrees of trust. Look at first generations of any culture and compare them to the 4th generation and the value of enculturation becomes obvious. But another implication of your question has to do with what is the meaning of individuality? Identity as an individual can only be tested when ones narrative does not match ones perceptions. I recently had an occasion to witness a white South African who was displaced to the USA attend an African American event and said, I am African American. was he wrong? story v perception.
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    Nov 19 2013: Like most things in our life: it depends.

    If your culture is to kill painfully and slowly a bull with a sword while whole stadium watches and shouts in joy: then you should consider changing it.

    Although "enculturation" makes us what we are. But a culture should be able to change its ways if they go against human values.
  • Nov 18 2013: Swar ... this is a great topic!
    My wife and I have travelled to India and I was fascinated by the rich and very vibrant culture. Sometimes, I feel a bit of envy toward people whose families have kept their root languages and beautiful traditions alive.

    However, If one's enculteration is within a very restrictive culture, it may be quite difficult for that person to express anything that challenges the customs of their birth culture. This may not be so great for all people and all situations. For instance, both of my parents come from cultures where homosexuals are struggling to gain equality. My parents were definitely not okay with me "coming out," in part because of their cultural backgrounds. Fortunately, I was born in a culture where I can find a comfortable level of acceptance within my larger community. I am grateful that I was born in a fairly progressive region of the U.S. and I feel that there is a reasonable chance that equal rights will eventually be gained for my wife and I, throughout the U.S., eventually. We were (finally, after 10 years) married this year, as it is now legal in my state.

    Still, has acculteration (the melting pot) hurt my sense of root cultural identity? Yes ... I think so. I really know very little of my Mother or Father's birth culture/heritage and this is a loss, in many ways.
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      Nov 19 2013: Juniper, you bring up a good point. Depending on the general restrictiveness of the culture in question, "enculturation" can have a varying degree of positive and negative attributes.

      I myself grew up in a very progressive region of the U.S. and was raised by equally progressive family members who encouraged me to find my own interests, beliefs, and sense of self. As a result, I have a strong sense of individuality and have my own set of beliefs, yet I lack a clearly defined cultural identity, as there is no particular culture that I specifically identify with.
      • Nov 19 2013: Yes ... when I am asked what is "American" it is really hard to answer. Even values of supporting "freedom and equality" are interpreted radically differently by people in the U.S. I grew up with many different cultural influences as I grew up in a neighborhood where being a recent immigrant (especially from Central America or Asia) was fairly common. I had first generation neighbors and friends from Vietnam, Korea, China, the Philippines, Columbia, Armenia, Iran, Mexico (and in my own immediate family, Nicaragua and Italy. ) While I LOVE coming from this background , I also feel that I have no strong root cultural identity of my own. My "comfort foods" are all from other countries! Interesting to see that you have a similar experience, Michael.
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    Nov 16 2013: This is a great question, especially considering that the United States is a diverse cultural "melting pot," particularly in New York City (a large metropolitan population from all walks of life). Generally speaking, diversity facilitates acceptance and breaks down the barriers formed by biases and stereotypes. While traditions, beliefs, values, and other elements related to "enculturation," might be positive from the standpoint that these elements can be preserved throughout the generations. Some of these elements might negatively impact an individual, and prevent them from finding their own sense of self (individuality and freedom to express opinions).

    Overall, it's a matter of what one truly values. If one values a rich cultural or ethnic heritage, then "enculturation" would be a positive aspect of life. On the other hand, if one values individuality and freedom of expression (as opposed to strict societal norms), then "enculturation" has more of a negative impact. Yet the truth of the matter is that one typically can have both.
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    Nov 14 2013: To what does “rich in culture” refer? Which countries are “poor in culture?” Are countries with more “strata” richer in culture than their “flatter” counterparts? Are multicultural societies richer or poorer than homogeneous cultures? When it comes to the “goodness” or “badness” of enculturation’s impact on individuality, that would obviously depend on the culture. By virtue of demography, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, liberal democracies tend to tolerate, if not promote, freedom of expression, whereas the reverse is often the case in “monocultures.”

    Whether written or unwritten, rules of behavior reflect, as well as inform, the values of a society or group—even rebels have their codes. To be sure, New York City has its own vibe, as do Los Angeles and Atlanta, for instance, and it can take some getting used to. But just as a rural resident from Upstate New York might feel out of place in NYC, a farmer from Maharashtra might well feel more “acculturated” in California’s Central Valley than he would in Mumbai. Stories of “ugly Americans” aside, the near-global expectation is that the visitor or émigré adjust, if not conform, to the host society. Following rules governing behavior is the easy part, adopting new values—to the extent that they can be determined in a pluralistic society—is the more challenging part, assuming of course that this is, or should be, required.
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    Nov 13 2013: I just wonder whether it's the right kind of question to ask. Culture has its effect on how we make sense of our experience, not sure why it is useful to label it positive or negative.
  • Nov 1 2013: One of the often-used phrases in the book ACIM, "A Course in Miracles" is "because of what you are", "for I know what you are".
    It is a concept that not only parents need when growing/protecting a child, authorities, friends, etc need to know when identifying someone... but anyone that needs to interact with someone else. Whether traditionalist, or more modern (culture-morphing, slider, international, tech-user, rich/poor, familist, nationalist, body-type or looks, etc), the culture of everything is its own culture.
    The ability to know, recognize beyond one's own culture, understand, and practice is what cultural understanding is mostly about. It can go from wearing clothes (burka), eating stuff one's culture does not (i'm so tempted to say canibalism), to behaviours (kneeling, speaking in public with your eyes closed, wearing a knife, being mentally prepared to throw rocks or kill for a specific "social" rule).
    In the context of the definition: "Enculturation is the process by which people learn the requirements of their surrounding culture and acquire values and behaviours appropriate or necessary in that culture.[1] As part of this process, the influences that limit, direct, or shape the individual (whether deliberately or not) include parents, other adults, and peers. If successful, enculturation results in competence in the language, values and rituals of the culture.[1]" - source Wikipedia

    In the context of this definition, there is a sad difference between how people present to each-other or understand how to become or understand a culture. In an ideal, modern world, it should be something like "this is a legacy that needs to be known, to be handled. To know it, it takes time to study it, practice it, live it to understand. That also means focusing on it."
    Sadly, it sometimes it like: "this is what it is, this is what you are, get the world out of your head!"
    Focus is presented as forced limitation, or life-long-renunciation.
    • Nov 1 2013: This makes so much sense! Esp the difference between 'This is a legacy...' and 'This is what it is..'
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    Oct 25 2013: Some cultures encourage individuality and embrace the freedom to express divergent opinions more than others do. In some settings, the worst insult you can apply to someone is that he just follows the crowd. Within such cultures, people love to be different, the "outsider," the "maverick" or to suggest that others (only others) are part of some indistinguishable crowd of people who do not think for themselves.

    Cultures may have widely different penalties too for not adhering to social norms.

    If there are strictly defined rules of acceptable behavior and habits and obvious penalties for overstepping these boundaries (including social stigma or reduction of opportunities), such a culture may well be stifling of individuality, at least in the areas in which there are such rules.

    I think the area rules govern is important. When I was young, schools had dress codes stipulating things like how long skirts had to be and whether boys needed to tuck in their shirts. This restricted kids' ability to express their different fashion tastes, but I don't think rules in that area had any significant effect on their actual individuality beyond clothing. They expressed their individuality in other areas.
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    Nov 17 2013: Do you mean acculturation, Swar?
    Enculturation is a process which can work both ways depending on the value sets of the culture in question, that is, whether the culture has conservative or liberal values.
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    Nov 17 2013: Esteban, the rich take little from the poor, because there is little to take, except what's left of their dignity. The rich take whatever they can from each other, of course, then feed on their largest available prey, the complacent middle class. The strategy of the rich is to lure us with the very goods and services which we have produced and to sell them back to us at greatly inflated prices. Net profit is their favourite meal.

    This definitely is a 'partnership' already in place, albeit an entirely inequitable one. The rich are represented by the bullies in your economic playground, and it's true that the middle class majority has been looking the other way for a long time. More concern for the poor 'kids', however, is now being exhibited by the middle class 'kids in the playground', perhaps because their circumstances are rapidly intersecting.

    My point, actually, is summed up perfectly by your closing remark, which suggests that "...It is everyone's business what happens in the playground and it's now time for shared cooperation to rule".

    The rich seem disinclined to promote such a sharing of equitable cooperation, and the poor, unfortunately, have little left to contribute. It's up to the middle class majority to awaken to its complicity in our social and economic imbalance, and to take definite steps to correct it.
  • Nov 15 2013: There is no Doubespeak in my comment. What you call my grievance speaks directly to enculturation.

    I was once an elected middle-of-the-road Republican common councilman for a northeast city of 79,000, not far from Manhattan. As a fiscal conservative councilman, I believed that good government is the result of good management of our social obligations for the good of all the citizens of the community, not just the one's who elected me. What I discovered is that government cannot address the needs of both the individual and the majority equally or with the same degree of fairness. Any decision I made, no matter how I balanced the pros and cons, and what is best for all, one group always benefited at the expense of another. What one group or individual considers good, harms another individual or group. Thus, the only reasonable solution is to address the majority with some considerations made to fit the needs of the minority. However, those that elected me had expectations of pushing their agenda.

    To say the U.S. is a democracy is a fallacy. What we are is a Republic with democratic principles. In a sense a utopia. A government run by an elite group chosen by the people within constraints controlled by those who fund the political campaigns. The problem we now face is that we are too self-centered. We all want that purer community based on our individual or group perspective rather than a perspective of what is fair and just as a society of mixed beliefs and values.

    According to Howard Paxton's landmark study "The Anatomy of Fascism" the one of the signs of fascism is "The primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior in every right, both universal and personal, and subordination of the individual to it. Subordinate all kinds of civil rights and free speech to the patriotic identity." and, "The belief that the group is victimized, which justifies any action without legal or moral limits against the groups perceived enemies, both internal and external."
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    Nov 15 2013: Some would have us honour the rich, arguing that their wealth creates jobs. In fact, the rich are indebted to us, the producers and consumers, because we develop, produce, distribute, maintain and buy back the goods and services which we provide and which sustains their wealth. Without our continued cooperation in our dual roles of producer-consumer, there would be no more wealth for anybody. That we continue to do the 'heavy lifting', without receiving a more equitable share of the proceeds, is perplexing.
    • Nov 15 2013: Don,

      How about if we shift from 'them or us' to 'them AND us'?

      As you stated "Without our continued cooperation in our dual roles... there would be no more wealth for anybody".

      Observing the dynamics at play where everyone is out to take stuff from others (the reach take from the poor and the poor take from the rich) cooperation is a bit more of a challenge. It would be simpler for each to see others as partners in the adventure and focus on what ought to happen. With that in mind what would you rather everyone be 'rich' or 'poor'? Well that last question could be opened: what would you rather everyone be? For me the answer is quite evident, AND it included being rich, happy, joyful, healthy, fulfilled, and everything divine. Do note that the notion follows the 'AND' construct that integrates the individual and the group and the environment, and everyone (of course the good are free unless they change and the bad are bound unless they change ... freedom is honored and respected for one can choose the way to be and depending on that choice how one will be )...

      In the playground there are more nice kids than bullies, still sometimes the bullies get the control over the nice kids and rules to play by especially when some look the other way rather than intervene into what is taking place... It is everyone's business what happens in the playground and it's now time for shared cooperation to rule.
  • Nov 15 2013: Enculturation in the U.S. is a matter of which group you want to be associated with. Such as the main stream moderates or the minority of liberal, conservative and religious extremists? The minority rural population occupies the dominant portion of the land, vs. the urban population that occupies a small portion of the land. Because of this our U.S. Senate representation favors the rural minority over the urban majority. Thus, a minority of Senators can stalemate the entire Congress. While these populations share some commonality, they are also vastly different. So which, if any, is the American culture? In some mostly rural areas of the country immigration greatly affected the local culture by isolating one specific culture to a given area. While mostly urban areas represent a mixture of cultures. Current U.S. politics seems to represent a growing need by a minority for a purer community, a utopia, based on principles of their own choosing that they now want to force on the majority of the population by using government to control the masses while they demand less government intrusion in their own lives. Isn't this also a form of enculturation?
    • Nov 15 2013: George,

      Two comments :
      1- polarization gives the illusion of differences and options when actually its basically the same stand
      2- The issue of minority vs majority shifts the focus to who's principles determine the principles to uphold

      Even a single voice, when right, ought suffice to determine the principles to uphold.

      BTW I perceive that your statement basically addressing a principle while apparently to me unknowingly engaging in a bit of Doublespeak. To clarify this I consider you put forth a bit of grievance towards "...a growing need by a minority for a purer community..." rather than put forth a championing statement that advocates supports for such minority. I also hold that you would rather stand in defense of the right to choose by individuals than obediently following dictatorial orders. If indeed it was a bit of a grievance then I see that you have a grievance towards freedom enforcing itself upon society while demanding lees intrusion upon its way.

      I too perceive a growing need by a minority for a purer community, a utopia, based on freedom and other principles that individuals choose to embrace (or are forced to embrace), in other words each will do what ought to be done .... be done by choice, be done by force, be done by 'something else'. What happens happens, one chooses to recognize, acknowledge and deal with it effectively or some other way.

      In a humorous sort of way... always choose the highway
      your way or the highway ... choose the highway
      my way or the highway... choose the highway
      God's way or the highway... choose the highway
      (of course God's way or the highway happens to be the same thing so if one chooses the highway one in fact chooses God's way)
  • Nov 14 2013: Whether or not enculturation is a positive or negative ultimately depends on whether it is decided that the individual or the society is more important when it comes to making decisions. Human nature causes us to connect with those similar to us, making it advantageous for cultural norms to exist, as they provide us an indirect and speedy way to recognize similarities between us and others, thus establishing trust and allowing a sharing of ideas. Ultimately ideas are what all individuals crave the most, whether they be ideas for survival, reproduction, or finding pleasure. It follows that enculturation is a positive, as it promotes this trust and sharing of ideas. However, there must remain a degree of fluidity and acceptance on both the culture and the one adapting to it to overcome what is called the 'letter of the law' and rather focus on the 'spirit of the law,' with the law being the cultural norms and the spirit of it being the establishment of trust.
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    Nov 13 2013: The highway could be the 'getting high' way, the 'Highway 61 Revisited' by Bob Dylan, or simply 'The Long and Winding Road ' of the Beatles

    Highway 61 Revisited Bob Dylan

    The Beatles - The Long And Winding Road-HQ

    ...and, of course, we can all be played, so we must...

    George Harrison: Beware Of Darkness
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    Nov 13 2013: Is 'developing a sense of individuality and freedom to express opinions' really all that it's cracked up to be?

    Yes, within certain parameters, and there we have it - parameters. We learn them early on at home and in school, and also in the streets and on the play-ground. You've got to pay to play. My way or the highway.

    And after all, we spend our lives trying to be like, or better than, the Joneses. Just another yard-stick, just another yard. Do you really want your neighbour naked on Main Street?

    We're not sure where we've come from; we're not sure where we'll end; why sweat the school-uniform (unless it's wool)?
    • Nov 13 2013: Don,

      Does the highway refer to a higher way?
      Does one have to pay to play or can one get payed for playing?

      Some learned not to get into other peoples business especially them bullies if someone had to pay them bullies well it was their business not our business unless of course the bullies demanded we pay. It used to be that the playing field was large enough to stay clear of them mean ones. Its now becoming everyones business what others are doing and we better figure out how to play nice and ensure others play nice...
  • Nov 10 2013: I am interested to hear more! The Mars Hill Audio Report about chemist turned philosopher Michael Polanyi first got me thinking about the failure of rationalism and the pendulum swing to the opposite - relativism. I wonder how this might fit in with Polanyi's thought. Are you familiar with his theory of knowledge?
    • Nov 10 2013: Jimmy,

      Please elaborate on the theory of knowledge you pointed to...
      I thought that the opposite of relativism was absolutism
      and the opposite of the rationalism was empiricism
      both the relativist and the absolutist could be could be rationalists or empiricists
  • Nov 10 2013: Swar,

    I would look into the culture that the enculturation seeks to maintain to determine what kind of a thing the enculturation promotes within and amongst individuality and freedoms of expression.

    BTW if you where forced to question because of the enculturation you have, well that reflects to me a denial of the fundamental individual freedom that you hold ... You choose to question, why claim you where forced to do what you did rather than choose to do it? I also noticed how the structure of the question focuses on 'this-or-that'. A slight variation to open the question may yield abundantly additional considerations. Imagine you had chosen the structure : How does enculturation impact on an individual? Strictly defined 'rules' in society in terms of acceptable behavior and habits produces... Even what 'rules' and habits ought enculturation enforce to ensure individuality and freedom of expression lead to positive developments of the individual and the society ?
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    Nov 9 2013: If you are talking about the caste system it seems very negative from a western liberal perspective.
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      Nov 9 2013: Yet the caste system did provide stability and to be perfectly honest, the caste system seems to be more of a way in which socioeconomic stratification was explained before "modern" theories on economics and sociology were established.
    • Nov 13 2013: Westerners live in a caste system, it's just a wage based caste. People from different classes are treated differently. So to say that we don't have one is a lie, modern economics is nothing more then religion to cover up the caste based nature of western society.
  • Nov 9 2013: Yes, yes it does.
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    Nov 9 2013: Humans are cultural animals. We have very little biologically coded behaviors left. Enculturation is simply the act of transferring culture from one generation to the next. It is impossible not to experience enculturation, and if one were removed from enculturation, it would mean that such a person would be entirely unable to interact with any member of society. Such a person would have no language, and no knowledge of how to interact with others in any fashion for that matter. Note that this is different from indoctrination. Indoctrination discourages any form of free thought.
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      Nov 9 2013: I wonder how much of our culturally influenced behaviors still have biological drives or evolutionary causes.

      Fear of death. Sex drive. Hunger. Competitive hierarchies. Or enjoy ment of sport, boxing. Group dynamics. Loneliness. The pleasure from owning stuff and having expensive cars and clothes etc

      Sure we have reason but instinct seems pretty influential still.
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        Nov 10 2013: I like the following idea, although I don't remember where I heard it: "Culture is biology modulated by environment." I would probably add to that idea that cultural history also impacts how culture evolves. I think it might have been from a talk by Gad Saad. In any case, it's reasonable to say that we can always view an aspect of culture from an evolutionary perspective, and need to understand how our biology plays a role as a foundation.

        I meant to write this in reply to you, but I think I accidentally put it on the main thread the first time.
  • Nov 9 2013: We advocate people should keep critical thinking to deal anything around,not been tamed and been unconcious...I feel multi-culture is good for us to think things in wide.
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    Nov 8 2013: the importance of human-environmental relationships is being increasingly recognised across the social spectrum.
    notions of culture or trying to understand culture cannot be discarded completely.
    if we can learn in which ways, methods and analytical approaches can best be utilised to understand social issues including environmental, then we are able seek theses answers beyond our disciplinary boundaries.

    in most cases an acceptance comes with conformity...
    Enculturation is no different...

    having an opinion and the ability to express your individuality makes you
  • Nov 1 2013: Can you elaborate on this please?
  • Nov 1 2013: In the context of the uber-moder world, there is a discrepancy between the capacilities of the society, technology to understand at grand-level, to want to see, explore, live the world at "world"-level, and the time-finance-people around constraints.

    There is also a dicrepancy between the time it would take to see/live it all, or a bit of everything, and the efforts and manpower it takes to maintain, service, clean, build, manufacture, transport, and secure whatever it already exists in this world. Which explains why the push is still more for enculturation than for internationalism.
  • Oct 28 2013: I think it depends on the individual and what their goals are. For some, the definition of rules and responsibilities can be comforting, especially if it matches the goals. For others, it is a straight jacket which keeps them from their goals. No matter what you choose, you will have questions on what was right or could have been.
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    Oct 26 2013: like the child look to have an itself independant from his parents ,like a man need an independant itself from the society ,it depends the free will we have after all.
  • Oct 25 2013: Yes it would be interesting to hear a different view on this.

    I understand having rules to maintain peace and security in the society but the idea I mentioned earlier is only to prevent enculturation from suffocating a person and not harm his/her dignity and self-respect.
  • Oct 25 2013: Ideally, shouldn't culture be something that helps an individual and a community grow?

    I agree that there are some cultures that have strict penalties for not adhering to social norms but in such situations, it is very important to voice your opinion or disagreement before it threatens your individuality. It shouldn't reach a point where it harms your own self. It is not as easy as it sounds. It is difficult to disagree with a rule that has been set through years. So I believe this practice should start from the smallest unit of a society- a family.

    Teach your children the right to independant thinking. Be their friends and guides and allow them to be themselves. This will make them feel responsible for their own actions. Your relationship with them will also be stronger since there will be a strong sense of trust. When they feel confident to share their opinions with you, they will be more free and open. That is the kind of environment we need to be creative and to grow, as an individual and as a society.
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      Oct 25 2013: Within cultures that embrace and encourage individuality and expression of divergent views, what you describe is entirely the norm.

      It will be interesting if someone who considers his cultural milieu to be highly rule-bound or focused on the collective good shares a different point of view than the common one you articulate. I know some people believe that the level of focus some societies have on the individual is very unhealthy.