To one degree or another, we are all affected by the culture of the gentile world around us. As Torah Jews and all the more so as chassidim, we need to be aware of this in advance, and constantly remind ourselves of this fact, so that we can take precautionary measures against unknowingly imbibing values that are inconsistent with Torah through our contact with the world. In Chassidic parlance, the views of the outside world are referred to as hanachos ha’olam, “worldly attitudes.”
Hanachos ha’olam are not only to be found in the heretical and immoral messages of modern secular culture, which are clearly forbidden. The world around us also inculcates us with relatively less coarse values and attitudes, which are still in conflict with Torah. Contact with the world makes these attitudes liable to insidiously creep into one’s psyche, so one must be vigilant against them.
One example of hanachos ha’olam is discussed in the Previous Rebbe’s Basi Legani discourse here:
... There are several practices that one follows simply because that is what society does [“veileh azoi tut velt”] and he treats these things as immutable law. ... One example is times for eating and sleeping: Society believes that these things must be fixed in their times, such that even when one needs to engage in business activities [that are very time-consuming, necessitating that he miss a meal, or stay up late], these times are usually not subject to change at all. In contrast, fixed times for Torah study and prayer are postponed, have no permanence, and are sometimes even cancelled altogether, G–d forbid. ...When a Jew conducts himself in a certain way with the sole intention of slavishly imitating the behavior of secular society, even if he does so in an area that involves no transgression or inappropriate behavior whatsoever, this demonstrates that he feels, consciously or subconsciously, that the norms of the outside world are superior to the values of Hashem in the Torah. Then although he is technically an observant Jew, his behavior reveals that his observance is primarily in deed, while his inner self, his mind and heart, are not truly concerned with what Hashem wants, but with “what will the world say.”
Of course, this is not to suggest that it is not healthy and constructive to fix times for eating and sleeping, or to follow various other practices that society expects. The behavior expected by society may well be proper for one to follow. After all, our sages say, “When you come to a place, follow the local custom” (Shemos Rabba 47:5, Bereshis Rabba 48:14).
However, even when it is appropriate to follow this behavior, one should not do so out of a conviction that the opinion and practices of society hold inherent value. Rather, one should regard this behavior, when necessary, as purely a means to an end, in order to more effectively serve Hashem, for “All your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven” (Avos 2:12).