In this Medium article, Duncan Sabien takes inspiration from international diplomacy to improve personal understanding. The idea is everyone has a unique personal culture consisting of all of one's default expectations about the social world around them. One's personal culture is not fully determined by one's identity or social group, as the author's personal culture differs from "other white, college-educated, non-religious, American-raised, upper-middle-class males" in some of the below ways:

  • What interactions between different classes of people are or are not okay (e.g. whether a high-school teacher can or can't give their students permission to refer to them by their first name).
  • What certain actions are widely interpreted to mean (e.g. "everybody knows" that if you plead the fifth, it's because you're guilty).
  • What obligations you have when discussing controversial topics (e.g. whether you have a responsibility to include historical context, or a responsibility to remain dispassionate and logical).
  • What sorts of idiosyncrasies are defections (e.g. whether it's okay to go to a party and be the only one who remains sober).
  • The "rules of engagement" for various levels of disagreement or antagonism (e.g. whether it's justified to engage in otherwise-disallowed behavior if it's in response to someone else doing it first).
  • The order and ranking of swear words and epithets; which curses are mild and which are unspeakable and unforgivable.
  • What things are sacred and what things may be mocked.
  • Whether or not birthdays and anniversaries are special.
  • When and how to decide between focusing on people's feelings and interpretations in a way that doesn't particularly care about the truth of the matter (which is often useful for healing and processing) versus focusing on cause and effect and objectively verifiable truth (which is often useful for a lot of other things).
  • What it's okay for an employer to ask of its employees, and whether or not society should put limits on what adults can freely agree to (e.g. questions about mandated minimum wage).
  • Which side of an argument or disagreement is the default, and which bears the burden of proof, and how that decision is made, and whether it's made implicitly or explicitly.
  • Whether or not cargo shorts are a valid thing to wear, and whether or not the question "are cargo shorts a valid thing to wear?" is a valid one to pose.

The author uses "culture" because the point of the piece is approaching interpersonal conflict "[n]ot by demanding that everyone follow their rules, and not by asserting any one culture’s superiority over another, but simply by acknowledging the fact that their culture meaningfully differs from everyone else’s." Whether or not this is a good idea, the word "culture" is usually defined as applying to a group rather than an individual (emphasis mine):

3. the conventional conducts and ideologies of a community; the system comprising of the accepted norms and values of a society.

However, a community that holds certain views on objective truth vs feelings, default burden of proof, sacredness, etc. can certainly be described as a culture: we have "callout culture" and "hookup culture" and "hacker culture" and so on.

So, is there a better word than "culture" for this concept; and if not, a short phrase?

Example sentences

I hope a word exists fitting at least one of these usages:

In my X, if I lend you a book, I should not have to ask for it back.

My X say(s) that if I lend you a book, I should not have to ask for it back.

Words that don't quite fit to me

"Umwelt" is only about one's sensory perception.

Changing the usage syntax slightly, these expectations would be "conventions" or "social mores" or "norms" if followed by more than one person.

"Values" or "value system" might work, but do not capture the idea of assigning meaning to an action like "pleading the fifth"

"Sensibilities" fits this other question but is not quite right here, as it refers to how one personally reacts to a stimulus or idea, which may or may not be social in nature.

"Ethics", "morals", and "virtues" are even less specific.

  • 4
    This reminds me of the word "idiolect" which is the way an individual speaks as opposed to "dialect" and "language" which are how communities speak. I looked up the word "idioculture" but that turns out to mean the culture of a very small group. – Jetpack Mar 22 '20 at 21:51
  • 2
    I would have said ethos -- as opposed to ethics -- except that examples in the linked article takes this all the way down to the level of habits and customs (though the list does not reflect this). – David K Mar 23 '20 at 12:04
  • "culture" is completely the wrong word. One person's behaviors, views, preferences, experiences and so on are not "culture'. They are the opposite of culture; culture is the shared content of a large number of people, usually in the same geographic location and period of time. – Kaz Mar 24 '20 at 19:17

13 Answers 13


In my book

It might not always fit what you're trying to express, but should do most of the times. (I would also like a better answer.)


In my book, if I lend you something, I should not have to ask for it back.

And to quote Google Definitions, that counts as a lie in my book.

  • 3
    Yeah, in the US the idiomatic expression is "in my book". – Hot Licks Mar 22 '20 at 22:25

Greybeard's answer mentions the word ‘standards’, and I think that may be a good answer in itself.

By my standards,…” you might say, or “According to my personal standards,…”

It's clear and likely to be universally understood.  It also highlights (which the question does not) that these issues loosely concern matters of personal morality — what is acceptable and what's not — unlike ‘culture’, which is why that's a bad fit.


In my world...’

Is the expression I use myself, for exactly this.

It denotes that ‘my world’ is indeed, personal.

It allows that another person’s ‘world’ might be very different and is also - personal.

And it lets me posit ‘a way of being’ or ‘a perspective’ in that ‘individual world’ which although it might be quite controversial or avant garde for the person I am talking to - becomes then ‘a possibility, choice, or optiom’ - rather than being ‘a threat’ or ‘offensive’, allowing me to suggest a new idea or a new way of being gently and without treading on anybody’s toes.

I am an intuitive healer, I delve into very deep areas of my clients’ ‘personal culture’ all the time, relating to sub-conscious belief systems (which are, in my world, what define people’s ‘personal worlds’) and this little invention of mine, helps me a lot!


  • 7
    I would use "in my worldview", or "in my view of the world" - with very similar reasoning. – Vicky Mar 22 '20 at 17:25
  • 2
    I you should add "worldview" as an answer. – Jetpack Mar 22 '20 at 21:47
  • 2
    When hearing "In my world..." I'd most likely interpret it not as something personal, but as referring to the subset of the world that you live in, i.e. the shared understanding of the circle of people with whom you communicate, the subculture around you - contrasting it to either the wider society or something that the other person has said, but still referring to the shared, nonpersonal culture of "my [part of the] world", referring to the world that you live in that's perhaps not shared with the other person, but shared with some others."My worldview", on the other hand, does seem personal. – Peteris Mar 23 '20 at 10:03

Framework works quite well:

framework noun

1 a : a basic conceptional structure (as of ideas)
         // the framework of the U.S. Constitution
         // These influences threaten the very framework of our society.

   b : a skeletal, openwork, or structural frame An iron framework surrounds the sculpture.


3 : the larger branches of a tree that determine its shape

Source: Merriam-Webster

Following the sense at 2, we find:

frame of reference noun phrase

1 : an arbitrary set of axes with reference to which the position or motion of something is described or physical laws are formulated

2 : a set of ideas, conditions, or assumptions that determine how something will be approached, perceived, or understood
         // a Marxian frame of reference

Source: Merriam-Webster

So we can say that a framework is a set of ideas, conditions, or assumptions that determine how something will be approached, perceived, or understood.

Indeed, with his talk of frames and constitutions (which are framed by founders), the author hints at it in several places:

You and I would found different churches, write different constitutions, build different schools and startups . . .

And there’s something particularly attractive (to me) about the frame of "this is already true in my culture."

The frame creates a boundary right from the start—this is my culture, not everyone’s culture . . .

For instance, the founding fathers of America were certainly aware of the flaws in the concept of religious freedom . . .

In this sense, we are each framers of our own personal constitutions that we construct to define, protect, and defend our sense of self and the world as we experience it. So:

In my framework, if I lend you a book, I should not have to ask for it back.

My framework says that if I lend you a book, I should not have to ask for it back.


Sometimes, in the middle of a conversation—especially if things are heated or tense or confusing—they’ll pause, and they’ll say something like:

“I’m sorry, but—look. In my culture…”

There is a difficulty with the word “culture” in that expression because it is being intentionally misused. The true meaning of the expression has to be deduced. The speaker being passive-aggressive. And this is the whole point of the article that you link to. The writer of the article is objecting to the misuse of the word “culture” in this context, and the article starts with

One of my colleagues has a neat little trick.

The person who said “I’m sorry, but—look. In my culture…” is using a form of equivocation[1] – a fallacious point in rhetoric, logic, and argument - that amounts to misuse of the noun "culture".

A culture is set of memes and behavioural norms in a traditional and very broad setting (usually, but not always, racial, religious, or national.)[2]

I would dispute that it is possible to have a personal “culture”. – People have personal standards, but these are usually subjective and arbitrary and have little or no justification and do not rise above “habit” or “opinion”.

It is important to note that in current Western culture (correct use of the word) it is impolite to criticise the culture of others, and the expression “I’m sorry, but—look. In my culture…” therefore is a ploy (and uses the misuse as justification of what they now claim) to prevent a counter argument because the expression states, without justification, that the speaker has a valid and personal “culture.” Which, without question, must be respected and recognised as valid.

A correct counter-argument might be “What is your culture and who has defined it?”

There is no word with a similar meaning that can be used in its place because what they are really saying is >“I’m sorry, but—look. In my opinion…” but it is intended to carry the meaning of “You are wrong and abnormal because what I say (will say) is correct and you cannot criticise it.


[1] 2.a. The use of words or expressions that are susceptible of a double signification, with a view to mislead; esp. the expression of a virtual falsehood in the form of a proposition which (in order to satisfy the speaker's conscience) is verbally true.

[2] Culture: 7.a. Chiefly as a count noun. The distinctive ideas, customs, social behaviour, products, or way of life of a particular nation, society, people, or period. Hence: a society or group characterized by such customs, etc.

1860 A. Gurowski Slavery in Hist. i. 7 This Egyptian or Chamitic civilization..preceded by many centuries the Shemitic or Aryan cultures.

1991 Aloha Feb. 64/3 Also included are fascinating tidbits about Hawai'i's unique culture and history.

  • 2
    I disagree that the author objects to this use of the word "culture" or characterizes it as harmful equivocation. He says 'And there’s something particularly attractive (to me) about the frame of “this is already true in my culture.” [...] “This is how it works for the people of Duncanland” is simultaneously more true and less confrontational than “but we all know we should X” or “obviously things would be better if Y” or “I can’t believe you would Z!'. Then he spends the entire second half describing his own personal "culture". – lirtosiast Mar 22 '20 at 9:54
  • I have re-read the piece. You are probably correct. I thought he was being ironic but, surprisingly, he is accepting passive-aggression as a positive. I would then comment that "personal culture" is, by definition, an oxymoron. "Personal culture" - in my personal culture - falls into the category of "weasel words." dictionary.com/browse/weasel--words?s=t – Greybeard Mar 22 '20 at 10:38

It's not perfect, but you might consider modus operandi, or MO. It describes the set of things someone tends to do. Sounds like you're actually looking for the set of things someone tends to think rather than do so you might try to import some more Latin into English and do something like modus cogitandi.


How about Habitus.

Mauss defined habitus as those aspects of culture that are anchored in the body or daily practices of individuals, groups, societies, and nations. It includes the totality of learned habits, bodily skills, styles, tastes, and other non-discursive knowledges that might be said to "go without saying" for a specific group (Bourdieu 1990:66-67)—in that way it can be said to operate beneath the level of rational ideology.


I'd usually just say

If you ask me, there's some problems with that.


An individual's moral standards and expectations are their personal philosophy.

It's hard to find a dictionary entry defining personal philosophy but it is a well-used phrase for defining the sum of an individual's beliefs (whether they are consciously aware of those beliefs or not).

Some citations:

A personal philosophy is simply the most basic beliefs, concepts and attitudes of an individual.

A personal philosophy is your thoughts, beliefs, concepts, and attitudes about everything.

  • Unfortunately, that's a common abuse of the word "philosophy" perpetrated by anti-intellectuals. That's why it's hard to find a dictionary entry for it. – Kaz Mar 24 '20 at 19:30

out·look /ˈoutˌlo͝ok/


  1. a person's point of view or general attitude to life.

All the listed attributes of the individual are different. They consist of various kinds of values that can be broadly grouped into categories such as etiquette, ethics and esthetics.

I would refer to the appropriate one in context.

"I'm a believer in the etiquette that if one lends someone a book, he or she should not have to ask for it back."

IIn this context, '[w]hether or not cargo shorts are a valid thing to wear, and whether or not the question "are cargo shorts a valid thing to wear?" is a valid one to pose' isn't relevant, so we don't need a word that includes it. For that one, we might say:

"According to my personal taste, not in any way connected to the culture of which I am a denizen, and in which the sin of cargo shorts is widely condonded, cargo shorts are out of the question."

One's collection of various positions on a wide range of questions ranging from social, to ethical, to esthetic, might be called "one's standards" or "one's norms".

"According to my (personal) norms, one returns a book without asking."

"Sporting a pair of cargo shorts runs afoul of my personal norms."


If you're looking for a single word, "mindset" ("a mental attitude or inclination") might do.

  • Please supply a reference for the source of your definition. Please take the tour and when you have a moment, read-up in the help center about how we work. Welcome to English Language and Usage. – Bitter dreggs. Mar 24 '20 at 22:31

Personally I would probably say "In/from my point of view, if I loan you a book I shouldn't have to ask for it back." It's not particularly concise but it's very common usage. In my point of view is a common expression that is often used to express a personal outlook or philosophy rather than an actual visual viewpoint.

A more concise way of saying this is just saying "To me" as in...

To me, a borrowed book should returned without having to ask for it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.