Heritage and Culture
Part of working as a 'culturally aware' counsellor is the ability to understand how heritage and culture form part of a person's self-knowledge and history.
The term heritage literately means 'something inherited from the past'. This is something most people can identify with because as children, we listen to stories and take part in customs and rituals passed down from our parents, caregivers or societal norms.
For some people, heritage may be connected with religious celebrations such as Ramadan, Christmas, Dwali or Hanukkah; for others it can be a strong connection to a place, geographical area or an event. Many people alive today may see their heritage rooted in World War 2, in religion, or in the UK societal class structure.
For some people, heritage can link into self-concept as we tend to be the sum total of our life experiences to date. Some find this a comfort, while for others experiences of the past can be frightening or disturbing, so much so that they develop a new lifestyle or culture.
To sum up, we all have a heritage. Not everyone will want to continue the rituals and practices of the past, which is where culture comes in.
A dictionary definition of culture is “the behaviours and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group”.
How heritage and culture link together
Perhaps a good example of this is my own family's celebration of Christmas day.
Our collective heritage dictates that we all get together on December the 25th for Christmas dinner; however our culture dictates that we go out to a restaurant and order a curry.
This has been our family's culture for the last 25 years, for our daughter who at the time of writing this is 29 years old. This event forms part of her heritage because as far as she is concerned, Christmas day is curry day and has been since age 4. The subtle difference is that she knows that other members of the family still sit down to a traditional turkey dinner, and so can she by changing her 'culture'.
To sum up, unlike heritage which has its roots in the past, culture is a living, breathing set of ideas, behaviours and ways of thinking which we can change or alter if we choose to do so.