Intercultural Communication, Political Correctness


Culture

Culture is nothing if it is not communicated. The artifacts of communication constitute the whole of culture. The frozen body of an ancient man was found high in the Alps. He was not born alone. He did not die alone, although he was alone. Much can be learned and inferred about his cultural group from the artifacts of the find.

Spoken communication disappears, like the bodies of the people buried in the ash of the Vesuvius eruption; all that is left is their artifacts, the sculpted imprints in the hollows.

I define “culure” in terms of this diagram.

intercultutural-comm

The matrix displayed shows several of a very complex array of the many demographic elements that are present in every encounter between two human beings. In any group meeting, the complexity grows exponentially.

For example, take the the element of the syntax of language intersecting with education as just one variable in the interaction between two people. One person says, “He don’t…”, and the other person is in the habit of saying “He doesn’t…” Which of the two is more likely to notice the difference and make a “value” judgment on the basis of that observation? Both might notice the difference, but which one is more likely? What difference will it make to the success or failure of the encounter? What kind of accomodation is to be made? By one, the other, or both? That one small fact will be set down with a wealth of others occurring rapidly and simultaneously and have some cumulative effect that may overwhelm the ability to respond with awareness, except for some general affect.

“College boy” meets “hard hat”.

Take the performance of each of the two in each intersection shown in the matrix. Then count up the similarities and differences that will be dealt with in the interaction to yield the bottom line of the relationship. How much do the two people “share codes”? Which codes shared or not shared are critical to a furtherance or a hinderance of their meeting of the minds?

We supposedly live in a “melting-pot” society. And a democracy, where the “demos” is king. How broadened should our cultural experiences be? Shouldn’t we all be more “multi-cultural”? Shouldn’t we be expected to shift cultural gears easily wherever we go? Talking down to someone is a cultural put-down. This is where I come to the definition of “political correctness”.

Political Correctness

Political correctness is simply synonymous with “cultural astuteness”. Where and when did political correctness gain a bad connotation? Look at the source! People who had no experience, skill or education in cultural interaction.

In our society, we behave and speak with sensitivity toward the other person’s codes of communication. We realize we have made an error in saying “you people”. A stereotyping has taken place, and individuals usually do not like to be treated as a class of people rather than as individuals. Our history permitted, at one time, the use of “boy” to call upon certain people. But no longer. Yet it is still done by the culturally illiterate, marking them as politically incorrect (or worse).

The matrix I propose can be used by teachers and learners to analyze their intercultural communication skills.

Can you now appreciate how difficult intercultural relations can be, and are?

I speak of culture in terms of code sharing. Culture is communication, verbal communication,
nonverbal communication, and meta-communication, simply stated, simply defined, code-sharing. Now honor the complexity of the matrix! Be awed by it, humbled! Inhibit your too easy ascriptions of cause and effect in any communication encounter!

Stop pre-judging! Actively listen! Lower your too high thresholds of perception and tolerance!

Inter-cultural relations are present in nearly every human relationship, and some would add,. animal-human relationships (as in horse-whispering or bark-busting).

108 Comments

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    October 14, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Just visited your blog, and find the matrix to be an excellent visual for understanding intercultural communication. Living in a country different from my country of origin has opened up this whole subject – and its enormous complexity, but also has been a great opportunity to re-think my own cultural programming. You may want to visit my blog: Sharoux’s World at http://www.wordpress.com for a layman’s view about cultural codes.

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