Cultural Identity

Before President Bush named John G. Roberts Jr. as his choice to replace Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, much of the speculation centered on members of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. The New Orleans court, once the federal government's vanguard on civil rights in the South, is now considered among the most conservative in the nation.

"A court is made up of more that just individual judges. It has a tone or a mood," Arthur D. Hellman, a University of Pittsburgh law professor, told Washington Post reporter Lois Romano before Bush had made his official announcement.

Courts are not the only organizations that have a mood, said Maynard Brusman, a management consultant and executive coach in San Francisco. Every workplace has a unique culture, which can evolve over time. For instance, a strong leader can sway the values of a workplace, he said. And people who join an organization can both change it and absorb some of its values.

It's a slow process, though, and the culture comes from more than just the individual people who work there now. Often it's the creators of a company who still have the biggest influence, even long after they're gone -- not so different from the Founding Fathers after all.

-- Mary Ellen Slayter