"MUSC Nurses Change Lives"
From The Desk of Dean Stuart
"The Biology of Difference"
By Dean Gail Stuart, PhD, RN, FAAN
I have been doing some interesting reading about culture differences and biology. Although culture is usually thought of as the collection of knowledge and traditions that are transmitted outside of biology, evidence is emerging that shows how biology and culture are intertwined. This literature suggests that who we are is rooted in our biological commonality that involves both our view of ourselves and our connections with others.
It is fascinating when you think that culture is fundamental to understanding human behavior. Even more compelling is the notion that biology provides the most important evidence against the divisive categories that humans have used to evaluate others.
We now know that culture causes behavior by causing changes in our biology. Culture operates through biological mechanisms - brains and hormones - although the causal pathways by which it acts are far less than clear. We know precious little about exactly how genes, culture and the external environment play upon the brain to produce our behavior. But we do know that without a human brain, you can’t acquire human culture.
So what are the implications of this emerging science? I think that the first message is that, when all is said and done, humans, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or cultural heritage, are more alike than different - very comforting indeed. The second message is that our human responses are formed by not only by our biology, but also by our social interactions, our environmental conditions, and our self-imposed set of personal beliefs, which hopefully can be modified by new information and new experiences.
If I translate this into daily life I begin to understand that our human biology should unite us culturally rather than divide us. Even more to the point, it compels us to celebrate the nuances of behavior in the same way that we relish the gradations of color in a beautiful painting. The human pallet, blending culture and biology, can truly be a thing of beauty!