Culture Makes the Difference

Below is Whisper #21 from my latest book, 48 WHISPERS, which is a collection of photographs and personal meditations created across a decade of travel to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the surrounding northern plains. 

There is no one single nation or tribe that has cornered the market on great people. Great people are abundant and equally dispersed throughout the world. So, what does make the difference? Why do some communities thrive while others struggle to survive?

The answer is culture. The culture of a community either disperses power or collects it into the bureaucratic center where the few hold sway over the many. Even a cursory look at history reinforces this pattern.

In the final days of World War II, American and British troops raced west across Germany as Russian troops pushed east. All understood that a divide would be created where the Allies met and that the fate of millions would hinge upon the resting point of an arbitrary line. West Germany, democratic and free, would go on to become one of the strongest economic engines in the world, while East Germany would fall into the autocratic orbit of the USSR, holding itself together with barbed wire and machine guns until it collapsed under its own monolithic weight.

So what was the fundamental difference between the two Germanys? Well, it wasn’t that all the “best” Germans randomly ended up on the west side of the line. The entire country, both East and West, was filled with amazing humans. It was the governing culture that made the difference. West Germany would champion the individual human spirit while East Germany would conspire to thwart it.

Culture makes the difference. Great people are everywhere.