CULTURAL FACTORS

When long-established practices or behaviors are threatened, resistance to change is usually strong, often on the basis of traditional beliefs and values. The status quo is protected, and change is resisted. For example, the Mormons, on the basis of traditional religious beliefs, opposed laws threatening their polygamous marriages. Similarly, in India, where malnutrition is a problem of considerable magnitude, millions of cows sacred to Hindus not only are exempt from being slaughtered for food but also are allowed to roam through villages and farm lands, often causing extensive damage to crops. Eating beef runs counter to long-held religious beliefs, and as a result, it is unlikely that the raising of cattle for food will be acceptable in India. Other cultural factors also act often as obstacles to change. They include fatalism, ethnocentrism, notions of incompatibility, and superstition.

Fatalism Famed anthropologist Margaret Mead (1953:201) once stated, using the male- dominated language of her time,

In many parts of the world we find cultures adhering to the belief that man has no causal effect upon his future or the future of the land; God, not man, can improve man's lot . . . . It is difficult to persuade such people to use fertilizers, or to save the best seed for planting, since man is responsible only for the performance, and the divine for the success of the act.

Basically, fatalism entails a feeling of a lack of mastery over nature. People believe they had no control over their lives and that God or evil spirits cause everything that happens to them. Such a fatalistic outlook results in resistance to change, for change is seen as human- initiated rather than having a divine origin.

Ethnocentrism Some groups in society consider themselves “superior,” possessing the only “right” way of thinking about the world and of coping with the environment. Feelings of superiority about one’s group are likely to make people unreceptive to the ideas and methods used in other groups. As a result, ethnocentrism often constitutes a bulwark against change. For example, such feelings of superiority by whites have hindered integration efforts in housing, employment, and education, among many other areas, in the context of race relations (Schaefer, 2016).

Incompatibility Resistance to change is often due to the presence in the target group of material and systems that are, or considered to be, irreconcilable with the new proposal. When such incompatibility exists in a culture, change comes about with difficulty. An illustration is a marriage-age law once enacted in Israel in an attempt to induce changes in that nation’s immigrant population. The law set 17 as the minimum age for marriage with the exception of pregnancy, and it imposed a criminal sanction on anyone who married a girl below the age of 17 without permission of the district court. By setting the minimum age at 17, the law attempted to impose a rule of behavior that was incompatible with the customs and habits of some of the sections of the Jewish population of Israel that came from Arab and Asian countries, where marriage was usually contracted at a lower age. The act had only limited effect, and communities that formerly permitted marriage of females at an early age continued to do so (Dror, 1968).

Superstition Superstition is defined as an uncritical acceptance of a belief that is not substantiated by facts (Ambrose, 1998). At times, superstitions act as barriers to change.

For example, in one situation in Zimbabwe, nutrition-education efforts were hampered because many women would not eat eggs. According to widespread belief in Zimbabwe, eggs cause infertility, make babies bald, and cause women to be promiscuous. Similarly, in the Philippines, it is a widely accepted idea that squash and chicken eaten at the same time produce leprosy. In some places, women are not given milk during late pregnancy because of the belief that it produces a fetus too large for easy delivery, and in other places, a baby may not be given water for several months after birth because water’s “cold” quality will upset the infant’s heat equilibrium. In some parts of Ghana, children are not given meat or fish because it is believed that they cause intestinal worms (Foster, 1973:103-104). Where such superstitious beliefs prevail, change efforts through law or other agents will meet some resistance.

 
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