To change a culture: Deeper than intellect

I feel the urge to change my society. I feel the urge to change the muslim world. I feel the urge to change the world around me. I know many of you feel that same urge to make it a better place.

The world around us is flawed. As it should be. If it was perfect it would be God. If it was close to perfect, it would be paradise. But it’s not. It’s just life on earth and life on earth is flawed. But it doesn’t mean we can’t make it better.

Intellectual change is not enough

Intellectual change is a good start, but it’s far from enough. When someone is convinced intellectually, they might change what they DO about it, but it can’t change their first thought. That instinctive response you get whenever you hear a topic. Example: “War” immediately brings to mind “bad”. “Eco-friendly” makes people think “good”.

It’s instinctive. It’s reflexive. It’s destructive.

It’s destructive?

Or it CAN be destructive. Imagine if the society you were in accepted corruption as the norm? Imagine if the instinctive response somebody had when he was caught was “I have enough money to fix this” and not “maybe it wasn’t so smart to rob a bank”.

When the majority of society has the same instinctive response, it becomes the culture. When everyone instinctively feels that women are inferior, or one race is lesser than another, then it sets the tone for every interaction in society.

On the upside, if everyone had the same instinctive response that was GOOD, then we immediately have a society and culture that is good. 3 questions that come with that:

  1. Who decides what is good?
  2. How do we create that instinct?
  3. Do we have the right to change society?

Who decides good?

Human morality is relative. It changes from day to day, from age to age. 2 thousand years ago slaves were normal. It was moral to have slaves. A thousand years ago it was moral for daughters to be buried upon birth. 60 years ago “Blacks” weren’t supposed to be in the same school as “Whites”. Human morality is relative.

Perhaps we need to look to a different source for morality? Say religion?

How do we create that deeper instinctive reaction?

It can’t just happen through intellectual discussions. It needs emotional upbringing. Nurture. In my case, I’d like society to be brought up in a situation where they taught Islam and could freely ask questions (and those questions were encouraged!) and there were people around them that had answers to those questions.

The idea is that who you are changes over time, but a lot of it is based on your childhood. When people grow up in an environment that accepts slavery as the norm, then 99% of them will have the instinctive reaction that slavery is alright.

Do we have the right to manipulate society?

Always. Whether you notice it or not, you always try to change and manipulate people and society. You may call it advice, you may call it a discussion/conversation, and you may even call it a question; but we always try to manipulate things so that they fit our view of how to make the world a better place.

Noble intentions? Yes. You want to make your friend happier, hence the advice. You wonder why they made such a stupid mistake, hence the conversation. And you ask leading questions, trying to make them understand what they’re doing wrong. And all the time, it’s because you think you know better than them.

Which I completely support.

I think everyone is free to influence others to become better people. It’s up to those people whether to accept that influence and judge it as good or bad advice.

So what are the steps of changing the inner response?

We can learn from how the eco movement managed to brainwash the world.

  1. Spread information and convince people intellectually.
  2. Let the “intellectually convinced” people educate their children and have the children grow in an environment where the new belief is the norm.
  3. The children are now “instinctively convinced”.
  4. Wait for the kids to grow up. Some will be famous/influential people. They will spread the belief to their supporters (who have also been brought up in this new environment).
  5. Movement becomes a new fashion trend.
  6. Everybody turns off their light one hour a year and feels good about it (while spending tons of electricity promoting Earth hour).

I’m sure this will happen with Islam too. I’m just not sure whether everyone will be convinced that Islam is good, or that everyone is convinced that it’s bad.

I guess we’ll see.

4 thoughts on “To change a culture: Deeper than intellect

  1. Lubna

    "In my case, I’d like society to be brought up in a situation where they taught Islam and could freely ask questions (and those questions were encouraged!) and there were people around them that had answers to those questions."


    I think there's a lot we need to do to change the Malay Muslim mindset, beginning with the way we disseminate knowledge ie our method of education. Our education system is a whole other grievance I won't even begin to raise here (whole other long story), but in specific reference to the way Islamic knowledge is being disseminated..well, it just leaves a lot to be desired.

    If it weren't for my parents, for the books they give me to read, for the speakers I have had the opportunity to listen to, I'd just feel like a fish out of water, a Muslim who doesn't belong in her own society because I'm not conservative or liberal enough. There has got be a reason why YMP events are always full to the brim. People want something more.

    My comment might not be entirely relevant to your post, but your particular thought on nurture struck a chord.

    1. Lutfi Post author

      The comments are to see what others think. Doesn't even have to remotely be anything about the post. Just about whatever thought pops up when reading it.

      You have to watch Sir Ken Robinson's TED videos on education in schools.

      I'm sure you'll like it (if you haven't watched it already).

      And I agree that people do want something more. In the same way that school education is left behind by the times, religious education is too. I don't mean the content; that's always golden. It's like you said, "the way Islamic knowledge is being disseminated … leaves a lot to be desired".

  2. Lubna

    I love TEDtalks, haven't seen this one though, thank you.

    “Kids aren’t frightened of being wrong…if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original…and by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity.”

    1. Lutfi Post author

      Awesome yes? One of my favourite TED videos.
      Yeah, that's the sad thing with kids. We systematically train their creativity out of them. While teaching I remember saying, "It's ok to give a wrong answer. In fact I expect it. If you knew the right answers you wouldn't have to come to my class."
      It was tough though. They'd already been trained into only answering if they knew what the textbooks said.

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