cartoon planet

Culture is another one of those buzzwords that can mean almost anything. In HR, it usually means the shared values, behavior, goals, and identity of the people that work at the company.

Having a great culture is considered an important part of having a great workplace. It also makes recruiting easier.

We like culture. Culture is good.


Until you notice that you have developed a group with a specific identity that either includes or excludes others based on that identity.  

There’s a cult in culture.

You can see it in sports fans. People beat each other up over the color they are wearing to the game. Well that, and they are usually drunk. But you get the idea.

When people start to identify with a culture, it sets up an us v. them dichotomy, which is both the basis for loyalty and the foundation for discrimination.

If you eliminate that dichotomy and try to make everyone “us,” then you also lose culture and identity. This is especially true if your culture is based on exclusivity and the idea that “we’re special.”

Yet, we all move in and out of different cultures all day long, from our family, to school, to work, to friends, to professional organizations, and back home. We also identify with larger cultures, like the schools we graduated from, the town and state we live in, and our country.  

I suppose we could start a Hooray for Earthlings movement, but everybody’s already in that group. The shared identity of living on a planet together isn’t that interesting. It might be if there were other planets to live on. So culture depends on boundaries and something to push against. Culture needs things both inside and outside its boundaries. 

We also identify strongly with the protected classes we are part of, especially gender, race, and religion. Our values, beliefs, and the essence of who we are is imbued with whether we are a woman, or black, or jewish. We treasure these cultural relationships, even when they are used against us.

It is our differences that make the world fascinating and wonderful, as well as threatening and scary.

So I don’t think that trying to create an all inclusive culture where everyone is a member is the answer. Inclusive culture is almost a contradiction in terms. And even if it was possible, it’s not very interesting. 

Including people, and inviting them in to an existing culture is a good thing. But within any work culture, there also has to be plenty of room for individuals, differences, and the ability to grow and change as the company and people grow and change.

We need to appreciate and encourage both our common ties and differences. 

I’m still working this out.  How do we solve the culture paradox?

The artwork above is by Ray Sumser whose comic art is both masterful and magical. You can see his work at

Read previous post:
A Brutal Simplicity of Thought

"How did two wheels emancipate women? When bicycles became available in the 1880’s, women did not have to rely on...