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The textbook we are reading is entitled, An Introduction to Intercultural Communication - Identities in a Global Community.


Intercultural Competence & Communication

Why do Eskimos have many categories for snow?  Logic would tell us it is because they experience SO VERY MUCH of it.  If that’s so, why then do Caucasians notice such minute differences in skin color?  Could it be because we are the most varied “race” when it comes to skin, eye and hair coloring?  These two explanations seem to contradict each other.

The greatest challenge, I would imagine, in intercultural communication is trying to maintain an open mind and a spirit of tolerance and understanding, to quickly and seamlessly adjust to surprises without drawing notice, all the while keeping in mind each variation so as not to forget the proper responses, to not lose face, AND STILL to not judge others because of their differences!  What this world needs is one really frightening alien invasion to stop us from thinking of humanity as anything other than one race of people… of course, then we’d have to start working on our interplanetary communications, instead!

Science and Technology are wondrously effective tools in the struggle against bias and segregation.  I was fascinated to learn that the "races" were biologically identical.  I wasn't taught that, but I am overjoyed to discover that my schooling in that regard is out of date.  The example of competing stimuli is evidence, in my mind, that ADD/ADHD is, in fact, a stepping stone to the next level of human evolution.  Although this “disorder” has caused me no amount of grief in classrooms and office places alike, it has also exposed me to details that “normal” people miss.  No matter how hard I would try to focus on the number of passes each basketball team made, my attention WOULD be distracted by the gorilla – whether I wanted it to, or not.  In fact, it would take exceptional concentration for me to ignore it.  This is why I tend to listen to music almost constantly – it helps amuse that over-active part of my brain, allowing the rest to focus on the task at hand.

The passages on intercultural competence really hit home for me.  Here is how I think I measure up:

• Personal Strength:
I have a pretty good concept of who I am, and I really have little or no problem disclosing it.  It’s my monitoring system that’s off.  I usually catch hints that I’m making someone uncomfortable just a tad too late to make amends – which can have a negative effect on my relaxation.  I blame my Scots-Irish heritage for this.  The Irish are generally too busy running their mouth to notice when they’ve insulted someone… and the Scots simply don’t care.  If I didn’t have so much British DNA as counterbalance, I suppose I wouldn’t care, either.

• Communication Skills:
My messaging skills are a little warped.  Perhaps it is because I was taught to be so critical of “them,” regardless of who “they” may be, but now that my mind has been broadened and my heart opened to other cultures and lifestyles, it is still difficult for me to communicate with others without our differences nagging to be noticed and spoken.  I do not speak them, but I may stutter in my attempt to disregard them.  It’s infuriating!

• Psychological Adjustment & Cultural Awareness:
I am consistently seeking to learn more about cultures foreign to me and I endeavor to act accordingly when I meet someone of another culture.  Still, sometimes the SUBcultures sneak up on me and throw a monkey-wrench into my adjustment.  For example, for over two years I worked at the University of Houston as part of a Vice Presidential support staff that was predominantly African American and Hispanic.  My co-workers were immediately hostile towards me and remained so for the entirety of my employment.  They accepted other minority staff members who joined the team, but were again belligerent to my maternity-leave replacement, who was also Anglo.  Upon moving to Austin, I again found myself working closely with a largely Hispanic and African American team, but this time, I was instantly welcomed and treated as part of the family.  Could it be that the minority populations of Houston are generally more defensive than they are in Austin?  This would have been valuable information to have when I first moved to Houston – it might have convinced me to come to Austin much sooner!

I’m one of those who prefer NOT to be labeled “White.”  I elect to be called Caucasian or Anglo.  I grew up being referred to as Anglo almost exclusively.  My family is predominantly of Anglo-Saxon descent, so the label fits me well.  I have hard time understanding why the majority of Native Americans would prefer to go by American Indian, however.  Their people did not originate in India or, as Columbus incorrectly assumed, in the Indies.  Why would they want to be called “Indians?”

I have been curious about Eastern cultures since I was first introduced to Japanese Animation.  Confucius’ teachings sound very much like The Golden Rule, and his “Role of Intermediaries” sounds very much like modern day Family Law – what a stretch!  .I like the Confucian idea of respecting the relationship built by communication, rather than focusing on the source of the communication.  I also rather like the Eastern views on mixing business with pleasure, as opposed to keeping it separate here.  I think the Western way may actually be leading our culture more toward a class system than away from it.  The Western ideal suppresses communication, which only leads to misunderstanding and eventual disaster.

I’m envious of the practice of guanxi.  Here in America, you can only truly trust someone if money or possessions are involved.  How much have they got to lose if they betray your trust?  I would prefer to function in a society based more on emotional currency than gold.  The definition of “shibui” makes me think of the French phrase, adopted as-is into English, “je ne sais quoi” (I don’t know what).  The best English translation I can think of is, “that certain something.”

I especially appreciate the Eastern correlation between Yin and femininity.  Dark, cool, moist… I can see how these characteristics correlate with being female in one way or another.  I had to chuckle at the notion that women are “dark.”  What is it they say… “hell hath no fury,” etc.  And speaking of women… Mu Lan was real?  She’s not just a figment of some feminist-friendly Disney executive?  I’m amazed!  I’d like to learn more about this incredible woman.

Maybe I ought to move to the Far East.  I tend to agree with the Buddhists and Hindus that language is inadequate, at best, and untrustworthy, at worst.  Truth is difficult, if not impossible, to communicate.  There are times when the only way to express what you really feel is with a grin, a tear, a sigh, a sob.  I do not subscribe to the belief that words give experience meaning.  Some experiences are lessened with every word – why else would psycho-analysis be so popular?  Where else would we get the phrase, “there are no words to describe?”

In my opinion, Western Autonomy is still going strong, but Justice is weakening, Responsibility is in serious condition and, outside of government programs and private charities, Care is on life support.    African ethics at work in America are best described as, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  Sometimes, I think I NEED a village to help raise my children!

My parents raised me with values along the lines of the middle-class, despite the fact that my father was raised working-class – perhaps that was because his family wasn’t too many generations removed from the upper class.  Working-class values were important in my upbringing, too, but mostly in being considerate of others.  My schools, however, focused more on the working-class values.  I wonder if that’s why I’ve always felt stuck somewhere in between.  Could that explain why my ambition and my drive do not match up well enough to equal success?  What does this say about the way Americans educate their children?

I’d consider English to be a very high-context language, regardless of dialect.  English adopts words from other languages with lightening speed, then tweaks and polishes, making them her own.  Even the word “Confucius” is anglicized, but how often is its full origin explained?  Every country that speaks English has its own particular vocabulary – in some English-speaking countries, the dialect can change dramatically in only a few short miles (such as Texas and Louisiana).  With movies filmed in Ireland, Scotland or Northern England, I generally have to watch them twice in order to understand the language, which is technically my own mother tongue.  Of course, it could be that the English we learn in school, that which is used by lawyers and politicians, is different from colloquial English.  Perhaps on paper, English is low-context, but in practice, it becomes more of a higher-context language.

As a personal example:  My husband and I met at work.  I manned the front desk of a local law firm and he delivered important documents to and from clients.  One day, he answered a call to pick up a delivery.  I was very busy at my computer and didn’t have time to look up and greet him.  He leaned over the desk and quite seriously uttered, “What do you want?”  Without batting an eyelash, I automatically responded in a very deadpan tone, “Never ask that question.”  He gasped!  My eyes shot up at his shocked and delighted expression!  He was pointing at me and obviously trying to say something, but it wouldn’t come out.  I said simply, “Babylon 5?”  He nodded vigorously.  With that, we discovered that we were both BIG fans of a little-known Sci-Fi television series.  To this day, we often communicate volumes with very few words – all of which are quotes from various Sci-Fi and Fantasy stories.  The casual listener has no idea what we are saying!

Much of the Geek culture is like that.  In fact, if you tried to listen to a group of Gamers have a conversation, you’d think they were speaking gibberish!  Geeks and nerds have been “othered” for many years.  I wonder when and where that practice began?  What is the origin of poking fun at those who respect intelligence, pursue knowledge and cultivate imagination?

Are opinions truly affected by public sentiment?  Or is it merely the communication of those opinions that is affected?  Perhaps people respond to racial slurs with more racism because they feel freer to express what they truly think?  When in earshot of anti-racist sentiments, perhaps they censor themselves so as not to look ignorant or surly.  Then again, my own attitudes toward Hispanics changed dramatically once I moved away from South Texas and stopped hearing other Anglos gripe and complain about “Mes’cans.”  In fact, the longer I’ve been away, the more respect and admiration I have for the Hispanic people and their culture.  Time and distance have made me see how much of the Hispanic culture is, in fact, my own by way of being raised around it.

April 2017

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