I love culture!
For many people, culture is defined as fine food and fine music in a fine atmosphere. It really goes way beyond that. Culture is all about how we live, how we do things, and really, it’s about being. It’s really big and we tend to ignore big things when we can’t get our arms around them.
Let’s take it down to something simple, like the relationship between Johnny and Susie. Johnny and Susie were next door neighbors all their lives. They grew up together, went to school together and shared the same values of their community.
Let’s play like they marry each other. No surprise, everyone expected it. Generally speaking, there probably aren’t any big differences that will rise up and challenge their marital bliss—until it comes time to take the trash out. Now we have a disagreement, and it’s rooted in cultural differences. Really, it goes like this: Johnny expects Susie to take the trash out and Susie expects Johnny to do it. Johnny’s mom always took it out and Susie’s dad always took it out.
Culture is the thing that perpetuates “likeness” or the way we do things. We see our parents doing it, their parents did it and it moves from one generation to the next. The only thing that creates difference is when someone from “outside” the group manages to fit in and integrate some of their cultural differences. For whatever reason, Johnny’s mom always took out the trash and he grew up associating that with one of those things women do. Is Johnny lazy? He could be, or it could just be culture clash.
When we think of cultures clashing, we think of wars and possibly even ethnic cleansing. That’s the extreme end of it, but it could be a good thing when cultures clash if it’s managed appropriately. When people clash, look to see if there is a cultural difference. In the more homogenous relationship, it might be difficult to identify if it’s very subtle. In more heterogeneous relationships, the cultural issue is usually more apparent—and may require a calm negotiator to bring resolution.
Before we react, we need to determine whether the offending behavior is associated with cultural differences or understanding. Once we realize that, then we can deescalate the clash and bring understanding. When you need to develop working relationships with new cultures, it’s a good idea to discuss the fact that challenges may arise in communication because of cultural differences. Once everyone agrees there is not intent to offend and once everyone is willing to concede to one another when it’s appropriate, then some great things can happen.
There are lots of things that define culture. Learning to appreciate different cultural foods and music will go a long way towards creating bridges of understanding. Trying to learn a few words of another person’s native language goes a long way towards dropping walls and creating long-lasting relationships. That’s what makes for fine culture.