? Select from industry journals, internet or periodicals a case in the hospitality/tourism industry that deals with an intercultural communication misunderstanding (such as customer relationship, employee, strategy development) and:
? Select three  chapters (3 out of 8) from Part II (included below) of the Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication book.
? Apply them to the case you selected (explain the chapter in your own words; most importantly, from different aspects, apply the case to this chapter; whether the theory if helpful for the case or not). (each chapter 4~5 pages, introduction & conclusion 1~2pages)
? This paper should be a minimum of 15 pages, minimum 8 references, typed, double space, one inch margins, and minimum of eight valid references. Follow APA [6th edition] guidelines.
Table of Contents
Science and Linguistics?Benjamin Lee Whorf 4
The Power of Hidden Differences?Edward T. Hall 4
Culture Is Communication 4
When We Talked but Didn?t Know That We Talked 4
Revolution 1: The Evolution of Language 4
Revolution 2: The Discovery of Language as Language (Metalanguages) 4
Revolution 3: Recording Speech 4
Revolution 4: Recorded Language as a Tool 4
Revolution 5: Words Are Used to Craft Ideas 4
Revolution 6: The Discovery of the Unconscious 4
The Discovery of Culture 4
Monochronic and Polychronic Time 4
Personal Space 4
Communication as Information 4
Unconscious Culture 4
Culture?A Perceptual Approach?Marshall R. Singer 4
Implications for Intercultural Communication 4
Overcoming the Golden Rule?Sympathy and Empathy?Milton J. Bennett 4
Similarity and Single-Reality 4
The Melting Pot and Ethnocentrism 4
Advantages and Disadvantages of Sympathy 4
The Assumption of Difference and Multiple-Reality 4
Developing Empathy 4
Step One: Assuming Difference 4
Step Two: Knowing Self 4
Step Three: Suspending Self 4
Step Four: Allowing Guided Imagination 4
Step Five: Allowing Empathic Experience 4
Step Six: Reestablishing Self 4
Toward the Platinum Rule 4
Stumbling Blocks in Intercultural Communication?LaRay M. Barna 4
Assumption of Similarities 4
Language Differences 4
Nonverbal Misinterpretations 4
Preconceptions and Stereotypes 4
Tendency to Evaluate 4
High Anxiety 4
Cultural Assumptions and Value?Edward C. Stewart, Jack Danielian, and Robert J. Foster 4
Social Relationships 4
Perception of the World 4
Perception of Self and the Individual 4
Generalized Cultural Forms 4
Communication in a Global Village?Dean Barnlund 4
Sources of Meaning 4
Interpersonal Encounters 4
The Collective Unconscious 4
Beyond Cultural Identity?Reflections on Multiculturalism?Peter S. Adler 4
A New Kind of Person 4
The Concept of Cultural Identity: A Psychocultural Framework 4
The Multicultural Identity 4
Stresses and Tensions 4
Conclusions and Summary 4
Science and Linguistics?Benjamin Lee Whorf
Benjamin Lee Whorf was a key figure in translating cultural relativism into linguistic relativism. Along with his mentor, Edward Sapir, Whorf defined the link between worldview and communication?a connection that is famously known as the Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis. The hypothesis that one?s worldview might be influenced by language (and vice versa) was a radical idea in the 1940s, and it engendered merciless attacks by positivists in psychology and linguistics. For many years, linguistic relativism was dismissed as ?linguistic determinism?the easily disproved notion that language is the cause of perception.? In fact, Whorf never made such a claim. Instead, he said that we have habits of perception that are guided by language. This constructivist notion is now considered mainstream in intercultural communication, and the Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis is regaining favor in linguistics and other fields. The article ?Science and Linguistics? is Whorf?s classic statement of linguistic relativity.
Every normal person in the world, past infancy in years, can and does talk. By virtue of that fact, every person?civilized or uncivilized?carries through life certain na?ve but deeply rooted ideas about talking and its relation to thinking. Because of their firm connection with speech habits that have become unconscious and automatic, these notions tend to be rather intolerant of opposition. They are by no means entirely personal and haphazard; their basis is definitely systematic, so that we are justified in calling them a system of natural logic?a term that seems to me preferable to the term common sense, often used for the same thing.
According to natural logic, the fact that every person has talked fluently since infancy makes individuals their own authority on the process by which they formulate and communicate. They have merely to consult a common substratum of logic or reason which all people are supposed to possess. Natural logic says that talking is merely an incidental process concerned strictly with communication, not with the formulation of ideas. Talking, or the use of language, is supposed only to ?express? what is essentially already formulated nonlinguistically. Formulation is an independent process, called thought or thinking, and is supposed to be largely indifferent to the nature of particular languages. Languages have grammars, which are assumed to be merely norms of conventional and social correctness, but the use of language is supposed to be guided not so much by them as by correct, rational, or intelligent thinking.
Thought, in this view, does not depend on grammar but on laws of logic or reason which are supposed to be the same for all observers of the universe?to represent a rationale in the universe that can be ?found? independently by all intelligent observers, whether they speak Chinese or Choctaw. In our own culture, the formulations of mathematics and of formal logic have acquired the reputation of dealing with this order of things: that is, with the realm and laws of pure thought. Natural logic holds that different languages are essentially parallel methods for expressing this one-and-the-same rationale of thought and, hence, differ really in but minor ways which may seem important only because they are seen at close range.
The familiar saying that the exception proves the rule contains a good deal of wisdom, though from the standpoint of formal logic it became an absurdity as soon as prove no longer meant ?put on trial.? The old saw began to be profound psychology from the time it ceased to have standing in logic. What it might well suggest to us today is that, if a rule has absolutely no exceptions, it is not recognized as a rule or as anything else; it is then part of the background of experience of which we tend to remain unconscious. Never having experienced anything in contrast to it, we cannot isolate it and formulate it as a rule until we so enlarge our experience and expand our base of reference that we encounter an interruption of its regularity. The situation is somewhat analogous to that of not missing the water until the well runs dry, or not realizing that we need air until we are choking.
For instance, if a race of people had the physiological defect of being able to see only the color blue, they would hardly be able to formulate the rule that they saw only blue. The term blue would convey no meaning to them, their language would lack color terms, and their words denoting their various sensations of blue would answer to, and translate, our words light, dark, white, black, and so on, not our word blue. In order to formulate the rule or norm of seeing only blue, they would need exceptional moments in which they saw other colors. The phenomenon of gravitation forms a rule without exceptions; needless to say, the untutored person is utterly unaware of any law of gravitation, for it would never enter his or her head to conceive of a universe in which bodies behaved otherwise than they do at the earth?s surface. Like the color blue with our hypothetical race, the law of gravitation is a part of the untutored individual?s background, not something he or she isolates from that background. The law could not be formulated until bodies that always fell were seen in terms of a wider astronomical world in which bodies moved in orbits or went this way and that.
Similarly, whenever we turn our heads, the image of the scene passes across our retinas exactly as it would if the scene turned around us. But this effect is background, and we do not recognize it; we do not see a room turn around us but are conscious only of having turned our heads in a stationary room. If we observe critically while turning the head or eyes quickly, we shall see no motion, it is true, yet a blurring of the scene between two clear views. Normally we are quite unconscious of this continual blurring but seem to be looking about in an unblurred world. Whenever we walk past a tree or house, its image on the retina changes just as if the tree or house were turning on an axis; yet we do not see trees or houses turn as we travel about at ordinary speeds. Sometimes ill-fitting glasses will reveal queer movements in the scene as we look about, but normally we do not see the relative motion of the environment when we move; our psychic makeup is somehow adjusted to disregard whole realms of phenomena that are so all-pervasive as to be irrelevant to our daily lives and needs.
Natural logic contains two fallacies. First, it does not see that the phenomena of a language are to its own speakers largely of a background character and so are outside the critical consciousness and control of the speaker who is expounding natural logic. Hence, when people, as natural logicians, are talking about reason, logic, and the laws of correct thinking, they are likely to be simply marching in step with purely grammatical facts that have somewhat of a background character in their own language or family of languages but are by no means universal in all languages and in no sense a common substratum of reason. Second, natural logic confuses agreement about subject matter, attained through use of language, with knowledge of the linguistic process by which agreement is attained: that is, with the province of the despised (and to its notion superfluous) grammarian. Two fluent speakers, of English let us say, quickly reach a point of assent about the subject matter of their speech; they agree about what their language refers to. One of them, A, can give directions that will be carried out by the other, B, to A?s complete satisfaction. Because they thus understand each other so perfectly, A and B, as natural logicians, suppose they must of course know how it is all done. They think, for example, that it is simply a matter of choosing words to express thoughts. If you ask A to explain how he got B?s agreement so readily, he will simply repeat to you, with more or less elaboration or abbreviation, what he said to B. He has no notion of the process involved. The amazingly complex system of linguistic patterns and classifications, which A and B must have in common before they can adjust to each other at all, is all background to A and B.
These background phenomena are the province of grammarians?or of linguists, to give them a more modern name as scientists. The word linguist in common (and especially newspaper) parlance means something entirely different, namely, a person who can quickly attain agreement about subject matter with different people speaking a number of different languages. Such a person is better termed a polyglot or a multilingual. Scientific linguists have long understood that ability to speak a language fluently does not necessarily confer a linguistic knowledge of it, that is, an understanding of its background phenomena and its systematic processes and structure, any more than ability to play a good game of billiards confers or requires any knowledge of the laws of mechanics that operate upon the billiard table.
The situation here is not unlike that in any other field of science. All real scientists have their eyes primarily on background phenomena that cut very little ice, as such, in our daily lives; yet their studies have a way of bringing out a close relation between these unsuspected realms of fact and such decidedly foreground activities as transporting goods, preparing food, treating the sick, or growing potatoes, which in time may become very much modified, simply because of pure scientific investigation in no way concerned with these brute matters themselves. Linguistics presents a quite similar case; the background phenomena with which it deals are involved in all our foreground activities of talking and of reaching agreement, in all reasoning and arguing of cases, in all law, arbitration, conciliation, contracts, treaties, public opinion, weighing of scientific theories, formulation of scientific results. Whenever agreement or assent is arrived at in human affairs, and whether or not mathematics or other specialized symbolisms are made part of the procedure, this agreement is reached by linguistic processes, or else it is not reached.
As we have seen, an overt knowledge of the linguistic processes by which agreement is attained is not necessary to reaching some sort of agreement, but it is certainly no bar thereto; the more complicated and difficult the matter, the more such knowledge is a distinct aid, until the point may be reached?I suspect the modern world has about arrived at it?when the knowledge becomes not only an aid but a necessity. The situation may be likened to that of navigation. Every boat that sails is in the lap of planetary forces; yet a child can pilot his or her small craft around a harbor without benefit of geography, astronomy, mathematics, or international politics. To the captain of an ocean liner, however, some knowledge of all these subjects is essential.
When linguists became able to examine critically and scientifically a large number of languages of widely different patterns, their base of reference was expanded; they experienced an interruption of phenomena hitherto held universal, and a whole new order of significances came into their ken. It was found that the background linguistic system (in other words, the grammar) of each language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is itself the shaper of ideas, the program and guide for people?s mental activity, for their analysis of impressions, for their synthesis of their mental stock in trade. Formulation of ideas is not an independent process, strictly rational in the old sense, but is part of a particular grammar and differs, from slightly to greatly, among different grammars. We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscopic flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds?and this means largely by the linguistic systems in our minds. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way?an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language. The agreement is, of course, an implicit and unstated one, but its terms are absolutely obligatory; we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees.
This fact is very significant for modern science, for it means that no individuals are free to describe nature with absolute impartiality but are constrained to certain modes of interpretation even while they think themselves most free. The person most nearly free in such respects would be a linguist familiar with very many widely different linguistic systems. As yet no linguist is in any such position. We are thus introduced to a new principle of relativity, which holds that all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar, or can in some way be calibrated.
This rather startling conclusion is not so apparent if we compare only our modern European languages, with perhaps Latin and Greek thrown in for good measure. Among these tongues there is a unanimity of major pattern which at first seems to bear out natural logic. But this unanimity exists only because these tongues are all Indo-European dialects cut to the same basic plan, being historically transmitted from what was long ago one speech community; because the modern dialects have long shared in building up a common culture; and because much of this culture, on the more intellectual side, is derived from the linguistic backgrounds of Latin and Greek. Thus this group of languages satisfies the special case of the clause beginning ?unless? in the statement of the linguistic relativity principle at the end of the preceding paragraph. From this condition follows the unanimity of description of the world in the community of modern scientists. But it must be emphasized that ?all modern Indo-European-speaking observers? is not the same thing as ?all observers.? That modern Chinese or Turkish scientists describe the world in the same terms as Western scientists means, of course, only that they have taken over bodily the entire Western system of rationalizations, not that they have corroborated that system from their native posts of observation.
When Semitic, Chinese, Tibetan, or African languages are contrasted with our own, the divergence in analysis of the world becomes more apparent; and, when we bring in the native languages of the Americas, where speech communities for many millenniums have gone their ways independently of each other and of the Old World, the fact that languages dissect nature in many different ways becomes patent. The relativity of all conceptual systems, ours included, and their dependence upon language stand revealed. That American Indians speaking only their native tongues are never called upon to act as scientific observers is in no wise to the point. To exclude the evidence which their languages offer as to what the human mind can do is like expecting botanists to study nothing but food plants and hothouse roses and then tell us what the plant world is like!
Let us consider a few examples. In English we divide most of our words into two classes which have different grammatical and logical properties. Class 1 we call nouns, for example, house, man; class 2, verbs, for instance, hit, run. Many words of one class can act secondarily as of the other class, for example, ?a hit,? ?a run,? or ?to man (the boat),? but on the primary level, the division between the classes is absolute. Our language thus gives us a bipolar division of nature. But nature herself is not thus polarized.
If it be said that strike, turn, and run are verbs because they denote temporary or short-lasting events, that is, actions, why then is fist a noun? It also is a temporary event. Why are lightning, spark, wave, eddy, pulsation, flame, storm, phase, cycle, spasm, noise, and emotion nouns? They are temporary events. If man and house are nouns because they are long-lasting and stable events, that is, things, what then are keep, adhere, extend, project, continue, persist, grow, dwell, and so on doing among the verbs? If it be objected that possess and adhere are verbs because they are stable relationships rather than stable percepts, why then should equilibrium, pressure, current, peace, group, nation, society, tribe, sister, or any kinship term be among the nouns? It will be found that an ?event? to us means ?what our language classes as a verb? or something analogized therefrom. And it will be found that it is not possible to define event, thing, object, relationship, and so on from nature, but that to define them always involves a circuitous return to the grammatical categories of the definer?s language.
In the Hopi language, lightning, wave, flame, meteor, puff of smoke, and pulsation are verbs?events of necessarily brief duration cannot be anything but verbs. Cloud and storm are at about the lower limit of duration for nouns. Hopi, you see, actually has a classification of events (or linguistic isolates) by duration type, something strange to our modes of thought. On the other hand, in Nootka, a language of Vancouver Island, all words seem to us to be verbs, but really there are no classes 1 and 2; we have, as it were, a monistic view of nature that gives us only one class of word for all kinds of events. ?A house occurs? or ?it houses? is the way of saying house, exactly like ?a flame occurs? or ?it burns.? These terms seem to us like verbs because they are inflected for durational and temporal nuances, so that the suffixes of the word for house event make it mean ?long-lasting house,? ?temporary house,? ?future house,? ?house that used to be,? ?what started out to be a house,? and so on.
Hopi has one noun that covers every thing or being that flies, with the exception of birds, whose class is denoted by another noun. The former noun may be said to denote the class (FC-B)?flying class minus bird. The Hopi actually call insect, airplane, and aviator all by the same word and feel no difficulty about it. The situation, of course, decides any possible confusion among very disparate members of a broad linguistic class, such as this class (FC-B). This class seems to us too large and inclusive, but so would our class snow to an Eskimo. We have the same word for falling snow, snow on the ground, snow packed hard like ice, slushy snow, wind-driven flying snow?whatever the situation may be. To an Eskimo, this all-inclusive word would be almost unthinkable; he would say that falling snow, slushy snow, and so on are sensuously and operationally different, different things to contend with; he uses different words for them and for other kinds of snow. The Aztecs go even further than we in the opposite direction, with cold, ice, and snow all represented by the same basic word with different terminations;ice is the noun form; cold, the adjectival form; and for snow, ?ice mist.?
What surprises most is to find that various grand generalizations of the Western world such as time, velocity, and matter are not essential to the construction of a consistent picture of the universe. The psychic experiences that we class under these headings are, of course, not destroyed; rather, categories derived from other kinds of experiences take over the rulership of the cosmology and seem to function just as well. Hopi may be called a timeless language. It recognizes psychological time, which is much like Bergson?s ?duration,? but this ?time? is quite unlike the mathematical time, T, used by our physicists. Among the peculiar properties of Hopi time are that it varies with each observer, does not permit of simultaneity, and has zero dimensions (i.e., it cannot be given a number greater than one). The Hopi do not say ?I stayed five days,? but ?I left on the fifth day.? A word referring to this kind of time, like the word day, can have no plural. The puzzle picture (Figure 3, page 162) will give mental exercise to anyone who would like to figure out how the Hopi verb gets along without tenses. Actually, the only practical use of our tenses, in one-verb sentences, is to distinguish among five typical situations, which are symbolized in the picture. The timeless Hopi verb does not distinguish between the present, past, and future of the event itself but must always indicate what type of validity the speaker intends the statement to have: (a) report of an event (situations 1, 2, 3 in the picture); (b) expectation of an event (situation 4); (c) generalization or law about events (situation 5). Situation 1, where the speaker and listener are in contact with the same objective field, is divided by our language into the two conditions, la and 1b, which it calls present and past, respectively. This division is unnecessary for a language which assures one that the statement is a report.
One significant contribution to science from the linguistic point of view may be the greater development of our sense of perspective. We shall no longer be able to see a few recent dialects of the Indo-European family, and the rationalizing techniques elaborated from their patterns, as the apex of the evolution of the human mind, nor their present wide spread as due to any survival from fitness or to anything but a few events of history?events that could be called fortunate only from the parochial point of view of the favored parties. They, and our own thought processes with them, can no longer be envisioned as spanning the gamut of reason and knowledge but only as one constellation in a galactic expanse. A fair realization of the incredible degree of diversity of linguistic system that ranges over the globe leaves one with an inescapable feeling that the human spirit is inconceivably old; that the few thousand years of history covered by our written records are no more than the thickness of a pencil mark on the scale that measures our past experience on this planet; that the events of these recent millenniums spell nothing in an evolutionary sense, that the race has taken no sudden spurt, achieved no commanding synthesis during recent millenniums, but has only played a little with a few of the linguistic formulations and views of nature bequeathed from an inexpressibly longer past. Yet neither this feeling nor the sense of precarious dependence of all we know upon linguistic tools which themselves are largely unknown need be discouraging to science but should, rather, foster that humility which accompanies the true scientific spirit, and thus forbid that arrogance of the mind which hinders real scientific curiosity and detachment.
The Power of Hidden Differences?Edward T. Hall
Edward T. Hall is generally credited as the father of intercultural communication. His early work in translating relativist anthropology into practical cross-cultural tools continues to be the template for practitioners in the intercultural field. In his 1959 seminal book, The Silent Language, Hall established the idea of tacit culture as a major factor in communication, and he devised a method of etic categories such as high context/low context that allowed comparisons among cultures for the purpose of adapting communication. Like Whorf and Sapir, Hall was heavily criticized by his peers in anthropology for abandoning culture-specific ethnography as the sole guide for cross-cultural adjustment. Nevertheless, he persisted in defining a method of cultural comparison that has now become the core of intercultural theory, research, and training. Written later than his original seminal works, ?The Power of Hidden Differences? conveys the profound thinking about language, culture, and consciousness that underlay Hall?s contribution to the field.
Culture Is Communication
The galaxies of the universe are controlled by the same laws. This is not true of the cultural worlds created by humans, each of which operates according to its own internal dynamic, its own principles, and its own laws?written and unwritten. Even time and space are unique to each culture. There are, however, some common threads that run through all cultures, for we all share the same basic roots.
In essence, any culture is primarily a system for creating, sending, storing, and processing information. Communication underlies everything. Although we tend to regard language as the main channel of communication, there is general agreement among experts in semiotics that anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of the information we receive is not only communicated nonverbally but occurs outside our awareness.
It is the conflict between the two worlds of verbal and nonverbal culture that does much to explain Bateson?s theory of the double bind, Sullivan?s theory of disassociation, much of Jung?stheory, why Zen (which enhances the acquired) is so difficult for Westerners (who glorify the learned), and why Native Americans like the Tewa of New Mexico (in whose language the words for learning and breathing are the same) have so much trouble making the shift in school from acquisition to learning. One would have to search far and wide to find a facet of life exempt from the pervasive influence of this fundamental difference.
Far removed from the philosophers? lofty ideas, the tacit-acquired side of culture includes a broad range of practices and solutions to problems with roots in the common clay of the sharedexperiences of ordinary people. In spite of this distancing from the academic, I have observed repeatedly that if people fail to attend to these basic, unstated rules of behavior and communication, it is impossible to make the culture work.
?Making the system work? requires attention to everything people do to survive, advance in the world, and gain satisfaction from life. Failure can often be attributed to one of the following:
Leaving out crucial steps because one hasn?t truly mastered the system.
Unconsciously applying one?s own rules to another system, which never works.
Deliberately rejecting the rules?written or unwritten?and trying to force one?s own rules on another system.
Changes and/or breakdowns of the system in times of political upheaval, economic collapse, war, and revolution.
Cultural communications are deeper and more complex than spoken or written messages. The essence of cross-cultural communication has more to do with releasing responses than with sending messages. And it is more important to release the right response than to send the ?right message.?
We humans are guided by two forms of information, accessed in two distinctly different ways: type A?manifest culture?which is learned from words and numbers, and type B?tacit-acquired culture?which is not verbal but is highly situational and operates according to rules which are not in awareness, not learned in the usual sense but acquired in the process of growing up or simply being in different environments. In humans, tacit-acquired culture is made up of hundreds and possibly thousands of microevents comprising the corpus of the daily cycle of activity, the spaces we occupy, and the way we relate to others, in other words, the bulk of experiences of everyday life. This tacit, taken-for-granted aspect of culture, a natural part of life, is the foundation on which my research of the past forty-five years rests.
My work with acquired culture grew out of the study of transactions at cultural interfaces. The study of an interface between two systems is different from the study of either system alone. For my purposes, working at the interface has proved fruitful because contrasting and conflicting patterns are revealed. It tells as much about tacit-acquired culture as it does about manifest culture, and it is frequently the only way I know of gathering valid cultural data on the out-of-awareness, virtually automatic, tacit-acquired side of life.
Einstein said that time is what a clock says and that anything can be a clock: the rotation of the earth, the moon, and other rhythms. It is still possible to use Einstein?s definition, as long as it is kept in mind that each culture has its own clocks.
The world of communication is divided into three parts: words, material things, and behavior. Words are the medium of business, politics, diplomacy. Material things are usually indicators of status and power. Behavior provides feedback on how others feel and includes techniques for avoiding confrontation.
Gregory Bateson, ?The Message: This Is Play,? in Croup Processes: Transactions of the Second Conference (New York, Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation Publications, 1956); Gregory Bateson, ?Minimal Requirements for a Theory of Schizophrenia,? in AMA Archives General Psychiatry 2, (I960): 477?91.
Harry Stack Sullivan, Conceptions of Modern Psychiatry, 2d ed. (Washington, DC: The William Alanson White Psychiatric Foundation, 1947).
Carl G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, rev. ed. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1973).
Erich Fromm, Daisetz T. Suzuki, et al., Zen Buddhism and Psychoanalysis (New York: Harper & Brothers, I960); Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery, translated by Richard Francis Carrington Hull (New York: Vintage Books, 1971).
Interfaces can be interpersonal, intrapersonal, intercultural.
When We Talked but Didn?t Know That We Talked
There is always a time when people are doing something without being aware of what they are doing. In fact, the practice of analytic psychiatry is built around this process. Yet, despite the hundreds of thousands of hours devoted by psychoanalysts and anthropologists to the study of change from levels of awareness to awareness of the fact that awareness has changed, little is known about what happens from the inside when great cultural changes occur, such as when human beings first became aware that language and talking were something special.Each time this state of awareness is reached, along with it comes a greater appreciation of the self and of the possibilities for the future. This combination seems to be sufficient to motivate people to unusual efforts to solve the massive problems which lie ahead.
Because a great deal is now known about language and so much is taken for granted, it is difficult to imagine what it would be like to stand on the edge of the recognition of language as a system that evolved over many thousands of years. What is even more difficult to imagine are the consequences of this new knowledge and the new analytic and communication skills that are seen only in their incipient form. At times like these everything begins to change. The parts shift around, as does the spotlight of emphasis, which points away from matters which were once thought to be important and toward emergent forms. It is a bit like what occurs in the transition from childhood to young adulthood but on a much grander scale. The world opens up and with it, new responsibilities. It is quite apparent to me that the world is currently in the midst of one of these big shifts in awareness! I believe there is something to be gained if we know more about the processes unfolding around us.
To gain perspective on what is going on, I must review a tiny fraction of our past when similar boundaries were being crossed. My purpose is to provide a feeling for the process of discovery as new awareness unfolds in a succession of revolutions in the way we in the West view the world.
A different set of revolutions in awareness unfolded in other parts of the world. In Japan and China, for example, the world is not sacred as it is with us, with the result that there is an entirely different mind-set.
Revolution 1: The Evolution of Language
The first of the great revolutions occurred when our ancestors were physiologically and neurologically able to talk, which was about 100,000 years ago. With the beginnings of language established, the base for the distinction between learned information (type A) and acquiredinformation (type B) was laid down. Up until that time most of what was known in order to survive was obtained through the process of acquisition. Acquisition occurs without awareness and there is no way it can be stopped except by eliminating all sensory input. Young mammals acquire a mastery of the environments into which they are born, and human children, in addition, acquire language as well as the unstated paradigms of their culture on their own. This is true even for deaf children. If these two steps do not occur, the remaining learning process, which is in words, cannot proceed. Acquisition is not restricted to the early part of life but continues throughout life.
See Philip Lieberman?s detailed and original work, The Biology and Evolution of Language (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984); Philip Ueberman, ?On Human Speech, Syntax, and Language,? HumanEvolution 3, nos. 1?2 (1988): 3?18.
Revolution 2: The Discovery of Language as Language (Metalanguages)
My own reconstruction is that after about 90,000 years, during which time language and culture evolved from their primitive state to that of highly complex systems of communication on many levels, some rather bright but not too well adjusted types who were different and who liked to look at things and ask questions, realized that there was something unusual about talking. It was a complete, working system which was discovered, like a jewel lying in the sand of a spring, but it had been there all the time. Talking wasn?t like anything else that human beings did. In fact, talking was something quite remarkable. Until that time, talking had been taken for granted as a natural part of life but not particularly special, not worthy of examination or study with a potential far beyond the process itself. It was a tool that could be used. If our ancestors were anything like their more sophisticated?but not necessarily more intelligent?descendants, they asked questions like ?Why study this ?noise made by the mouth thing? that happens between people?? As we shall see under ?Revolution 5: Words Are Used to Craft Ideas,? when this sort of question is asked, strange things happen, such as the crafting of new languages. Indeed, to cope with this insight it was necessary to invent a new language, a metalanguage?a language for talking about language, including a vocabulary to distinguish between linguistic events such as words and symbols. All this took a long time?four to seven thousand years?which is not nearly as long as the time that transpired between fully developed speech and prespeech.
Revolution 3: Recording Speech
It was no time at all before the third revolution occurred. There had to be ways of keeping track of all the complexities of language, because otherwise these wise people would have spent too much effort plowing the same ground over and over again. Writing systems were evolved. And what a revolution that was! From that time on, anything was possible. The word transcended time and space.
Revolution 4: Recorded Language as a Tool
In the context of the Greco-Roman past of the West, Solon (the seventh century B.C. Athenian) was an unusually insightful law giver. Realizing that the cases which people brought to him fell into categories and that the decisions he made were far from random events, he began classifying his decisions as a way of helping others. The law at that time was like English common law, rooted in the soil of the acquired culture of the times. Solon was the first anthropologist. In fact, all of the world?s ?law givers? from past to present can be viewed as practicing anthropologists.
Revolution 5: Words Are Used to Craft Ideas
Today I am suggesting the outrageous idea that, instead of expanding our horizons, the Greek philosophers?beginning with the elaboration of Socrates and Plato?s word-centered paradigm?may have actually built a wall cutting us off from an important part of our selves. In the process, they created an unbridgeable gap between the cultural unconscious (type B) and the manifest culture of words (type A). In so doing, they set in motion the processes attacking the very foundations of identity.
Plato, believing that the result of the dialectic and its logic represented the ultimate and only reality, distinguished between what ordinary people did?events, behaviors, and ways of thinking which seemed an automatic part of life?which he called doxa, and the rigid rules of the logic of the dialectic. Only the ideas in philosophers? heads, expressed in ?properly constructed? statements, were thought to be relevant to guiding the citizens. This belief set in motion a process ending with the concept that only well-crafted ideas expressed in words are real, whereas people and what they do were dismissed as hardly worth noticing.
This split has been with us ever since, even in anthropology, a science which is, with rare exceptions, based on what we have been told in words and much less on what people did and took for granted. Only in the descriptive linguistics of Edward Sapir and later in the field of sociolinguistics do we find a direct examination of cultural data without reference to preconceived ideas or hypotheses. Alfred Korzybski, of course, made a valiant effort with his studies in general semantics. He made the point that there is an unbridgeable gap separating the word or symbol and the event, and that the map is not the terrain.
Isidor F. Stone, The Trial of Socrates (Boston: Little Brown, 1988).
Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics, 3d ed. (Lakeville, CT: International Non-Aristotelian Library Publishing, 1948).
Revolution 6: The Discovery of the Unconscious
Freud, Jung, Sullivan, and the others are so recent and well known that there is no need to elaborate further on either the content or the structure of the new world they opened up, a world which is still unfolding before our very eyes.
The Discovery of Culture
Like the discovery of the unconscious, the discovery of culture is recent. First described by Louis H. Morgan in 1877 and by Ed-ward B. Tylerin 1881, the concept of culture has only recently begun to be known beyond a small group of practitioners. Culture is the medium evolved by the human species, the one which characterizes the human specieswhile at the same time differentiating one social group from another. While the distinction between overt and manifest culture was popular in the 1930s, the interpretation of the entirety of culture as a system of communication did not appear in print as a systematic theory of culture until 1953.The differentiation between learned and acquired culture is even more recent. I have developed the examination of various facets of acquired culture under the conceptual heading of Nonverbal Communication in some thirteen books.
Up to this point I have reviewed our species? discovery of its extensions?not the material extensions but primarily the extensions of the central nervous system?centered around the process of communication in words and writing, as records of what is going on in the head. I wish to turn now to those nonverbal expressions of culture of which humanity has only recently become aware?the other 80 percent to 90 percent of our communicative acts. These acts are the ones responsible for the greatest distortions in understanding between peoples?distortions traceable to the fact that significant, meaningful acts are read asprojections of one?s own culture rather than as expressions of anotherculture.
If there is a message I want to convey, it is that humans must also take into account the existence of ?out-of-awareness? features of communication. When interacting with each other, it should never be assumed that we ever achieve full awareness of all the implications of any communication. This is because there are not only context factors that are seldom, if ever, pinned down, but there are additional sources of distortions?cultural and psychological?in meaning as people interact with one another.
Unfortunately, the job of achieving understanding and insight into other people?s mental processes is much more difficult and the situation more serious than our political leaders care to admit. What makes the current world situation doubly dangerous is the failure on the part of our leaders to take into account the deeper levels of cultural differences and their effect on the way in which different people see the world.
Culture hides much more than it reveals and, strangely enough, what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants. Years of study have convinced me that the ultimate purpose of the study of culture is not so much the understanding of foreign cultures as much as the light that study sheds on our own. There is a feature of culture which, until recently, was unknown and, as a consequence, unanalyzed. I refer to the tacit frames of reference, the rules for living which vary from culture to culture and which can be traced to acquired culture.
It is axiomatic that dissonance in interpersonal and intercultural relations is inevitably traced to perturbations in the perceptual-communicative process in one or both of the tacit or explicit levels of culture. I first became aware of this dimension of culture while working for the Department of State during a trip through Latin America and the Middle East. Mixing it up with my compatriots in a wide variety of situations, I became aware that instead of a simple artifact for planning and scheduling activities, time was being read as a kind of language. Furthermore it was assumed that this language of time was universal and had the same significance to South Americans as it did to North Americans. The most critical, observable situations centered around waiting times in offices when appointments had been made. Even ambassadors would be kept waiting. It appeared that status, the importance of the business, and even insults were all being communicated by the length of the waiting time. It was quite evident that not only were the Latin American diplomats not as prompt as the North Americans expected them to be, but that their entire system of time was different from our own. Further research revealed that the different time systems permeated or influenced virtually every facet of life (a characteristic which was also discovered in their handling of space). What I learned in South America followed patterns I found later in other cultures in other parts of the world. While it is not practical to give a comprehensive view at this time, the two basic types of time are relevant to this discussion.
Edward B. Tyler, Primitive Culture (New York: Brentano, 1924).
Edward T. Hall, The Analysis of Culture (Washington, DC: American Council of Learned Societies, 1953); Edward T. Hall, The Hidden Dimension (1966; reprint, New York: Anchor/ Doubleday, 1982); Edward T. Hall, Beyond Culture (1976; reprint, New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1981); Edward T. Hall, The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time(New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1983); Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language (1959; reprint, New York: Anchor/ Doubleday, 1981).
?Extensions? are just that. When an organism uses something outside of itself to supplement what it once did only with the body, it is extending itself. Examples are a spider?s web, a bird?s nest, a knife (extending the teeth), a telephone (extending hearing), languages (extending certain aspects of thinking), institutions, and cultures. Once an organism evolves by extension, the rate of its evolution increases. Rather than being separable, humans and their extensions constitute one interrelated system. The difficulties with man?s extensions arise when the extensions are identified with the processes that have been extended and become rigid. For example, when written language is considered primary and spoken language an ?adulterated version,? the second generation extension (written language) has been confused with what is in reality the primary extension?speaking. In this case, what was once a tool?writing?has supplanted the very function it was supposed to assist?speaking.
Time as expressed by culture is such a vast complex of activities and interpretations of behavior that one or two examples cannot possibly communicate what time as a cultural system is all about. My book The Dance of Life is a brief introduction.
Monochronic and Polychronic Time
There are many kinds of time systems in the world, but I call the two basic time systems monochronic and polychronic time. Monochronic time means paying attention to and doing only one thing at a time. Polychronic time means being involved with many things at once. Like oil and water, the two systems do not mix.
In monochronic cultures, beginning in England with the industrial revolution, time is linear?comparable to a road extending from the past into the future. Monochronic time is divided quite naturally into segments; it is scheduled and compartmentalized, making it possible for a person to concentrate on one thing at a time. In a monochronic system, the schedule takes priority above all else and is treated as sacred and unalterable.
In monochronic cultures, time is perceived as being almost tangible:people talk about it as though it were money, as something that can be ?spent,? ?saved,? ?wasted,? and ?lost.? It is also used as a classification system for ordering life and setting priorities: ?I don?t have time to see him.? Because monochronic time concentrates on one thing at a time, people who are governed by it don?t like to be interrupted. Monochronic time seals people off from one another and, as a result, intensifies some relationships while shortchanging others. Time becomes a room which some people are allowed to enter, while others are excluded.
Space is closely related to time in some cases and quite different in others. As is the case with time, space falls into a wide variety of slots. Today I will deal with one?personal space.
Personal space as used by North Americans is a sort of mobile territory. Each person has around him or her an invisible bubble of space which expands and contracts depending on a number of things: the relationship to the people nearby, the person?s emotional state or cultural background, and the activity being performed. Few people are allowed to penetrate this bit of mobile territory and then only for short periods of time. Changes in the bubble brought about by cramped quarters or crowding cause people to feel uncomfortable or aggressive. In northern Europe the bubbles are quite large, and people keep their distance. In southern France, Italy, Greece, and Spain the bubbles get smaller and smaller so that distance perceived as intimate in the north overlaps normal conversational distance in the south. This means that Mediterranean Europeans get too close to Germans, Scandinavians, English, and those Americans of northern European ancestry. In northern Europe one does not touch others. Even the brushing of the overcoat sleeve elicits an apology.
At an even more abstract level than time and space is the effect of context on meaning. Context is a slippery but highly significant subject which has confounded social scientists and linguists for years. Rather than take the traditional road to situationally determined context, I chose another route, based on observations of interpersonal transaction across a wide variety of cultural interfaces that took account of how information was handled. The result was a scale with high-context communication at one end and low-context at the other.
A high-context (HC) communication or message is one in which most of the information is already in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message. A low-context (LC) communication is just the opposite, that is, the mass of the information is vested in the explicit code. A high-context example is twins who have grown up together and can communicate more economically (HC) than two lawyers in a courtroom during a trial (LC), or a mathematician programming a computer (LC), or two politicians drafting legislation (LC), or two administrators writing a regulation (LC). In general, high-context transactions are more on the feeling, intimate side while the low-context ones are much less personal and oriented toward the left brain. It is also relevant that shifts from high-to low-context signal the cooling of a relationship, while a move up the scale signals increased familiarity and usually warming, for example, forms of address from ?Professor? or ?Doctor? to using first names.
The context generalization, drawn as it is from observations of behavior, has proved to be quickly recognizable as a pattern in a wide range of cultures. Germans and North Europeans in general can be said to operate lower on the context scale than the Japanese or the Tewa of New Mexico, for example.
I should mention that while the ideas expressed here are relatively simple, differences of the sort I have described are far from trivial and can be found in such everyday situations as the differences between words and numbers. An unusually perceptive friend who is bicultural?North American and Latino?solved major conflicts between the New York headquarters of a corporation and its South American subsidiaries. He sorted out these two channels so that when New York wanted information from the field, the numbers people got numbers and those who wanted words got their information in words. Until then, people weren?t getting what they needed.
Communication as Information
I would now like to explore further the point about communication as information. Information provides the basic patterns for the organization of life. This may mean that life is information and vice versa. In cells we know disorganization as cancer. But what happens when people can?t reach each other? We call it ?getting through? to someone. When we realize that a communicative impasse has been reached, it is a signal that we are at the end of the line, that the only remaining options are force, withdrawal, banishment, or abandonment. In fact, a communications impasse is one of the chief causes of war. Yet war, regardless of who ?wins,? has never been an answer. While there are plenty of failures to learn from, I think more can be learned from successin overcoming blocks in communication.
Consider the situation of Helen Keller who, because she was both blind and deaf, lacked the generous quantity of acquired knowledge available even to the Deaf; as a result she often behaved like a frustrated, infuriated animal until her teacher, using language as the instrument, found a way to give order to her energy. A colleague of mine, William C. Stokoe, spent years analyzing the communication system of the Deaf. And it wasn?t until he was able to produce the first American Sign Language (ASL) dictionary that the Deaf movement took off, leading to the demonstration that Deaf behavior, instead of being chaotic, was a well-organized culture built around its own system of communication. Until Stokoe?s breakthrough, Deaf culture was synonymous with the rest of the unknown, tacit sides of culture.
The world is in a situation somewhat similar to that of Helen Keller?s when she first made that dramatic connection between water and the word water, which provided her the clue she needed to integrate a language that was there waiting for her.
Deaf is capitalized by those hearing-impaired people who recognize themselves as members of a cultural group.
William C. Stokoe, ?Sign Language Structure: An Outline of Visual Communication Systems of the American Deaf,? Studies in Linguistics,Occasional Papers 8 (Buffalo, NY: University of Buffalo, I960); William C. Stokoe, Dorothy Casterline, and Carl Croneberg, A Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles (Washington, DC: Gallaudet College Press, 1965).
Though there has been a massive amount of research on A type culture?word culture?it is the B type?unconscious culture?that we need to know more about. There is a growing awareness that we are just at the point where humans were when they first became conscious of language. While we do not as yet have a system of notations on which to build a dictionary for the acquired, nonverbal side of culture, there is already a solid beginning.
Little in this world is more frustrating, exasperating, or maddening than confrontations in those situations where one is dependent on others. I am thinking of recognition, advancement, economic survival, skills of any sort, understanding, insights into self, love, and all relations with other human beings. The situation is analogous to that of a middle-aged neophyte confronting for the first time our demanding word-processing software without a guide or tutor. But in real-life situations of relations with other people, the complexity is infinitely greater. The problem is always how to get the other person, or the culture, or the machine to produce for you?to release the desired responses. Consider these situations: making a friend with a foreigner or with someone of the opposite sex, getting a job or an advancement, negotiating an agreement, settling a dispute, selling a product at home or abroad. The ?silent language? of equal opportunity involves much more than legalese.
Throughout my life, I have been struck by the disparity between A and B types of reality. And because the A type is explicit and highly visible while B is not, I devoted my energies to describing and explaining B. Having observed that it is hard to understand something you have not experienced and since few people have had my experiences, I have come to the realization that there are some things to be said about A which I had, until recently, minimized in my thinking.
In addition to such relatively small differences separating word people from numbers people, as mentioned above, there are the more pervasive ways in which information is processed, stored, and retrieved. For example, those who grew up under the aegis of Western culture live in two worlds: one acquired, the other learned. One is tacit with automatic responses, and the other is explicit and quite technical. One is a synthesis, and the other is linear. One is a whole, the other is fragmented and compartmentalized so that the left hand really does not know what the right hand is doing (and this is a metaphor to be taken quite seriously). One comprises real-life events that are disparaged, the other is largely invented, yet is extolled and treated as real.
What are needed now are bi- and tri-cultural translators?not that there aren?t a lot that are not being used?for every significant interface in the world today. In addition to the translators we need knowledge and skills for their selection and use. At this time, what I have referred to as acquired culture?though it is vividly real for those who have been brought up in different cultures?is not seen as culture at all by most people in the world. In fact, it is often perceived only as an aggravating personality trait. An American black woman I once interviewed in Beirut said, ?I used to be married to one of these fellows and we had a lot of trouble. I thought it was him. But over here they?re all that way.?
Recognition of the acquired side of culture places a heavy burden on each and every one of us. It means relinquishing the special part of ourselves which gives us permission to put other people down. It means extending ourselves to include others in the same envelope of awareness. It means recognizing others as simply different, but not inferior. And most of all, it means being accepting as well asnonjudgmental.
None of this is easy because it is an individual matter, one which cannot be legislated. People may not be like us and we may not be like them. But in these very differences lies the future success of the world. I say this because world problems have ballooned to the point where they are unmanageable by any single group. Each person in each group has been endowed with skills?many of them unique?enabling them to cope with the special problems they have faced in the past. As a species, we have evolved ourselves and achieved multiple talents in the process. We need to be able to evolve ways that allow us to make use of them all. But in order to do so it will be necessary to come to grips with the reality of acquired culture and the associated fact of nonverbal communication.Unfortunately, we have yet to realize that our most prized possessions are the differences differentiating the people of this earth from each other.
Although the word is bandied about, the people of this earth are now in the early stages of discovering that there is a hidden language of identity?the identity of our true selves, selves which have lain hidden under a cloak of words. It is possible to look ahead and see an age in which the peoples of the world will soon develop new tools for reaching each other?s minds and psyches. It is important to remember, however, that insight and understanding are not synonymous with wisdom. Wisdom, while here for some, is unfortunately still over the horizon for most of us.
Nevertheless, it is my conviction that the human world, much like the earth itself, even though desecrated, is still a treasure trove of hidden resources. The surface of discovery has only been barely scratched. I say this because the peoples of the world have endowed me with great riches, taught me much about myself, expanded my horizons, and presented me with a world and a self that had sufficient gnostic reality to make a believer of me. I have the knowledge that the worlds of other people are real, that life itself?although confusing at times?is lawful, and that below or behind surface impressions there is order. Furthermore, there are many others like myself, most of whom have grown up in more than one culture. Most of us remain lonely until we meet someone else who also knows that other people are real and not the paper cutouts that those who do not know make them out to be. This kind of loneliness is impossible to describe but is experienced as a kind of hunger?a hunger for the lost part of the self longing to be reunited.
I will close now with an example of what it can mean to discover the hidden reality in one?s self and in others.
The sister of one of my French friends married an American mining engineer. The couple and their young son settled in a medium-sized Colorado mining town. Since the mother didn?t want her son to grow up without speaking her native tongue, she spoke to him only in French. One day he approached his mother with a serious expression on his face, wanting to know why it was that the two of them spoke differently from everyone else. She tried explaining to him that they were speaking French and that French was a language and that English was another language. All of this was to no avail. The whole notion of language treated in a vacuum, as it were, was too illusive, too abstract, unreal. Then his mother, being an intelligent woman, understood the problem and at the first opportunity took her son to Montreal. In a flash, he and his mother, whom he had experienced as alien and separated from all others by a process he did not understand, were now members of a new community?speakers of the French language. Everything fell into place and what had been a puzzle was now a door opening to a new world.
My point is that type A?word culture?and type B?unconscious culture?are both languages and that type B is a language of the past, the present, and the future that, like the boy who was led through the door to new understanding, is part of culture and of ourselves as well.
I have developed a notation system for proxemics (human spatial relations), but that is not enough. More is needed in all the other systems of culture.
The rules for the use of translators are the same as those for interpreters, but even more rigorous. The individual who employs either must concentrate on his or her counterpart, choosing an individual who has the greatest likelihood of being able to establish and maintain rapport with the least amount of distortion (noise). See Edward T. Hall, West of the Thirties-. Discoveries among the Navajo and Hopi (New York: Double-day, 1994).
Culture?A Perceptual Approach?Marshall R. Singer
In ?Culture: A Perceptual Approach,? Marshall Singer establishes a theme in intercultural communication that continues to be at the cutting edge of the field. Singer extended the established idea of cultural relativism into the realm of personal experience and made a crucial link between the group and individual levels of analysis. Originally published in one of the first compendia of intercultural theory, this article became the basis for two subsequent texts?one with the same title and a revised edition, Perception and Identity in Intercultural Communication. Although these books were well received at their publication, they are not routinely referenced and their theme of perceptual relativity has not yet become standard in the field. I believe this is because Singer was taking a particularly constructivist stance in his work, which is difficult to appreciate from the perspective of mainstream relativism.
The Perceptual Model
It is a basic premise of this article that people behave as they do because of the ways in which they perceive the external world. By perception I mean here the process by which an individual selects, evaluates, and organizes stimuli from the external environment.
While individuals and the groups they constitute can only act or react on the basis of their perceptions, the important point is that the ?same? stimuli are often perceived differently by different individuals and groups. Whether or not an objective ?reality? exists apart from a person?s perception of that reality need not concern us here. In terms of human behavior, however, there exists (for people) only subjective reality?that is, the universe as individuals perceive it. The question then becomes: how do people form their perceptions of the external world and how do those perceptions affect their behavior?
We would argue (rather simplistically here, because it is not the main purpose of the article) that humans are inescapably social animals. Particularly in their earliest years, but throughout their entire lives as well, people must exist in relationship with other human beings. Each of the humans with whom we come into contact brings to that relationship his or her own perceptual view of the universe. More important, perhaps, each of the groups in which we have been raised will have conditioned us to view the world from its perspective. Will I regurgitate or salivate at the thought of eating the flesh of a cow or of a kitten? It will depend on how thoroughly I have internalized the attitudes and values which I have been taught by my groups. Not only the languages I speak and the way in which I think, but even what I see, hear, taste, touch, and smell are conditioned by the cultures in which I have been raised.
Benjamin Lee Whorf, the noted linguist, has written, ?We are thus introduced to a new principle of relativity, which holds that all observers are not led by the same physical evidence to the same picture of the universe, unless their linguistic backgrounds are similar, or can in some way be calibrated.? I would go a step further and substitute the word perceptual for the wordlinguistic. I would argue that every culture has its own language or code, to be sure, but that a language is the manifestation?verbal or otherwise?of the perceptions which the group holds. Language, once established, further constrains the individual to perceive in certain ways, but I would insist that language is merely one of the ways in which groups maintain and reinforce similarity of perception.
Specifically my model is based on the following set of premises, some of which are quite generally accepted; some of which are, at this stage, only hypotheses; and others of which are merely definitional. As the model is refined and further developed, some of these will undoubtedly be dropped, others will probably be rephrased, and still others may be added. While I believe that the approach is more important than the specific components, I present them here in order to make my model as explicit as is possible.
1. Individual patterns of behavior are based on individual perceptions of the external world, which are largely learned.
2. Because of biological and experiential differences, no two individuals can perceive the external world exactly identically.
3. The greater the biological and experiential differences between individuals, the greater is the disparity in perceptions likely to be. Conversely, the more similar the biological and experiential background, the more similarly are individuals likely to perceive.
4. Aperceptual group may be defined as a number of individuals who perceive some aspects of the external world more or less similarly.
5. A number of people who perceive some aspects of the external world more or less similarly and recognize (communicate) that they share this similarity of perception may be termed anidentity group.
6. The higher the degree of similarity of perception that exists among a number of individuals, other things being equal, (a) the easier is communication among them likely to be, (b) the more communication among them is likely to occur, and (c) the more likely it is that this similarity of perception will be recognized?that an identity group will form.
7. Ease of communication will allow for constant increase in degree of similarity of perception (through feedback mechanisms), which in turn allows for still further ease of communication. Thus, there tends to be a constant reinforcement of group identity.
8. The greater the number and the degree of intensity of perceptual groups that individuals share?the more overlapping of important perceptual groups that exists among a number of individuals?the more likely they are to have a high degree of group identity.
9. A pattern of perceptions, values, attitudes, and behaviors that is accepted and expected by an identity group is called aculture. Since by definition each identity group has its own pattern of behavioral norms, each group may be said to have its own culture.
10. Since communication tends to be easiest among individuals who identify most closely with each other and most difficult among individuals who perceive more or less dissimilarly, this tends to reinforce and exacerbate awareness of group differences. Any ?we? (identity group) comes into much sharper focus when juxtaposed against ?they? (a different identity group).
11. An individual must inevitably be a member of a myriad of different perceptual and identity groups simultaneously, by definition. However, one shares a higher degree of similarity of perception, and a higher degree of group identity, with some groups than with others. Consciously or otherwise, one?s rank orders one?s various group identities.
12. Because environmental and biological facts are ever changing, perceptions, attitudes, and values are ever changing. Consequently, the rank-ordering of group identities is ever changing, and new perceptual groups are constantly being formed, while existing groups are constantly in a state of flux.
We know from the study of genetics that no two individuals are physiologically completely identical. Certainly if the skin on the tips of the fingers is different for each individual, then each person?s sense of touch must be presumed to be individual and unique. Yet, far more important for the way people view the universe are the still unanswered questions of physical variations in other sensory receptors. What about the configuration of cones and rods in the retina of the eye, or taste buds on the tongue, or fibers in the ear, or any of the other physical receptors of external stimuli? If no two individuals have identical receptors of stimuli, then it must follow, on the basis of physiological evidence alone, that no two individuals perceive the external world completely identically. Yet biological differences probably account for only the smallest fraction of the perceptual distinctions made by people.
Far more important in determining an individual?s perceptions of the external world are the factors involved in the incorporation, organization, and processing of sensory data. Genetically, we inherit from our parents those physical characteristics that distinguish us as their offspring. Admittedly there is a good deal of individual variation biologically and environmentally, but there is also a good deal of similarity. Given two white parents, the overwhelming probability is that the offspring will be white. Given two English-speaking parents, the overwhelming probability is that the offspring will speak English. The difference is that biological identity is?within a given range of probability?fixed, while environmental identity is not. The daughter of two white parents will always remain white no matter what happens to her after birth, but the daughter of two English-speaking parents may never speak English if immediately after birth she is raised by a totally non-English-speaking group. Thus, while biological inheritance is relatively immutable, environmental inheritance is ever changing. Nevertheless, while there is theoretically an almost infinite number of possibilities for environmental conditioning, the number of environmental factors to which most individuals are exposed is amazingly limited. While there may be a whole world to explore, the overwhelming majority of individuals who inhabit this planet never stray more than a few miles from their place of birth. Indeed each of us is a member of a finite, and comparatively small, number of different identity groups.
If, for biological and environmental reasons, it is not possible for any two individuals to perceive the universe 100 percent similarly, neither is it possible?for the same reasons?for them to share absolutely no similarity of perception. Hence I am postulating here a continuum of similarity of perception among individuals. At one end we can approach?but never reach?zero; at the other we can approach?but never reach?100 percent. Actually, degree of similarity of perception can probably best be measured not as a point of a continuum but rather as a range of points. Thus, for example, two Catholics?one from a third-generation wealthy Boston family, and the other from an illiterate and impoverished small village in the Congo?may share, as Catholics, no more than perhaps a 10 to 15 percent similarity of perception. Yet I would argue that to the degree that they share an identity (recognize a similarity of perception) as Catholics, they are a part of the broad identity group called ?Catholics.? Teachers, considered as a group, may share an average range of 20 to 25 percent similarity of perception. If I narrow the group to include only college teachers, the range of similarity of perception may increase to from 40 to 50 percent. If I further specify that the group consists of only Catholic, male, heterosexual college teachers of quantum physics, with Ph.D.s from M.I.T. between the ages of thirty-five and forty, the range of similarity of perception might well increase to perhaps 75 to 80 percent. Notice that while I have decreased the number of people who can be included in the group, I have increased the number of group identities which the members of this group share. By doing so I have greatly increased the likelihood of their sharing still greater similarities of perception in the future. It is no wonder that the smaller the group, the greater the group cohesion is likely to be.
By communication I mean here that one individual, or a group of individuals, more or less understands another?s message. Since no two individuals perceive 100 percent identically, it follows that no individual will perceive another?s message 100 percent as the sender intended it to be understood. When one couples this with what Claude E. Shannon and Warren Weaver have said about the ever-present distortion in the communication process, it is easy to recognize the potentially high degree of noncommunication inherent in the process. Fortunately, it is not imperative to the functioning of groups that communication be perceived 100 percent accurately. Fortunately, too, there are corrective devices inherent in almost any communication system. One such device is the ?feedback mechanism,? which may allow for continuous testing of accuracy of perception. Another is redundancy. Most verbal languages are themselves more than one half redundant. Thus, if part of the message is lost either due to differing perceptions or to distortions within the system, enough of the message usually gets through to convey the general meaning intended. At least in face-to-face communication and to some extent in television and movies, there is repetition of the same message over a number of channels. Thus, both audio and visual channels may simultaneously convey and reinforce the same message. Regardless of the type of media available in any society, however, face-to-face communication will remain the most effective form of communication.
But verbal communication comprises only a portion?and it may perhaps be the smallest portion?of the communication that goes on in any society. Far more important are the silent, nonverbal communications which we only half consciously or unconsciously transmit and receive. Perhaps a million persons intersect at the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street in New York City each day, and yet the nonverbal communication process is so accurate that without a word being spoken they filter past each other in orderly fashion, only rarely touching. A glance, a shrug, time and spatial communication, indeed an endless number of nonverbal cues which are often too subtle even to be conscious, may communicate far more than words. There is mounting evidence that within any given group nonverbal communication may account for the overwhelming majority of the communication which occurs. It is precisely because we communicate and perceive so well within our own groups that we feel so comfortable there. We can communicate effectively with a minimum of effort and frustration because the patterns of behavior of the members of our own groups are so predictable to us that a minimum of effort is required for effective functioning.
It is exactly such shared, often unarticulated and sometimes unarticulable, patterns of perception, communication, and behavior which are referred to as ?a culture.? But group identities do not necessarily recognize the integrity of national boundaries. In the hypothetical case of the college teachers of quantum physics cited above, no mention was made of nationality. To be sure, if I were to stipulate that they all be Americans, the percentage of their shared similarity of perception would probably rise still higher. But the fact is that there is a considerably higher degree of similarity of perception among college teachers of quantum physics?regardless of nationality?than there could possibly be between them and, let?s say, uneducated sharecroppers or perhaps barbers in the same society. It is for this reason that I consider each group as having its own culture, rather than attempting to consider only each society as having its own culture, and then being forced to consider deviations from the societal norms as ?subcultural.? This is not to say that societal cultures do not exist. On the contrary, to the degree that an entire society shares and communicates certain similarities of perception and behavior it must be considered as an identity group?and thus, of course, to have a common culture of its own. There is no question that there are American, French, Japanese, and other cultures.
But, I would argue, there is greater analytical and operational utility in considering each society as the aggregate of the identity (cultural) groups which exist within it. From there one may proceed to compare and analyze whole societies to determine which identity groups are present in each and
1. how the presence or absence of certain groups in a given society affects that entire society;
2. what other clusters of groups may always, often, rarely, or never be found in societies containing certain groups;
3. what the differences and similarities are between the same groups in different societies?why they are different, how they relate to the whole society, and how the whole society is related to them; and
4. which differences and similarities exist between different groups in the same society.
While I believe that the implications of this formulation of the problem to the study of the process of social change are indeed significant, they fall outside the scope of this article.
The perceptual model presented here, as well as several applications of that model, was subsequently developed in considerably more detail by the author and was later published in a number of different places, most significantly in my book, Intercultural Communication: A Perceptual Approach (Engle-wood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1987). The original version of this article appeared in Vidya, no. 3 (Spring 1969) and was later reproduced in Readings in Intercultural Communication, vol. 1, edited by David S. Hoopes (Pittsburgh: Intercultural Communications Network, 1975), 6?20.
Thus, our use of the term perception includes ?memory? (in the cybernetic sense) and ?cognition? in the interpretative sense.
In our list of propositions presented below, we define each group as having its own culture.
From Collected Papers on Metalinguistics, quoted by Franklin Fearing in ?An Examination of the Conceptions of Benjamin Whorf in the Light of Theories on Perception and Cognition,? inLanguage in Culture, edited by Harry Hoijer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954), 48.
Here we are using language in the broadest sense. This may include the jargon or symbols used by social scientists or mathematicians, for example, to express the concepts peculiar to their group.
These premises draw rather heavily on the extensive literature produced by cultural anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, communications theorists, and linguists. In particular the model is strongly influenced by the notion of perceptual constancies. See Franklin P. Kilpatrick, ed., Explorations in Transactional Psychology (New York: New York University Press, 1961).
As used here perception includes attitudes and values.
While the terms more and less are vaguely quantitative, they are clearly inadequate for a precise science of social action. Unfortunately, they are often the best that the social scientist can produce, given the current state of our knowledge. A good deal of serious research being done by psychologists today, however, indicates that they are finding ways of measuring perceptions more and more precisely. For some suggestive approaches to this problem, see Bernard Berelson and Gary Steiner, Human Behavior: An Inventory of Scientific Findings(New York: Harcourt Brace and World, 1964).
The converse of this is also true.
Where there is little or no communication among individuals, there tends to be a decrease in similarity of perception, which in turn tends to make further communication difficult (see premise 10).
In most societies the family enjoys the highest degree of group identity. Among the reasons that this is so is the fact that the family tends to combine a great many different perceptual groups simultaneously. Thus, with rare exception, all adult members of the family speak the same language, are from the same place of residence, are of the same religious persuasion, have approximately the same educational level, are of the same socioeconomic class, are very likely to be employed in the same occupational grouping, and so on at incredible length. In other words, the family enjoys one of the highest possible degrees of group identity precisely because the members of that group are also concurrently members of so many other perceptual groups. Indeed, family identity as the superordinate identification for the individual tends to break down precisely in those more mobile societies (particularly in urban, industrial areas) where the family combines fewer similarities of perception.
For a further discussion of this approach, see below.
It often happens that individuals and/or groups exist, having internalized elements of several differing or even conflicting value systems simultaneously. Individuals and groups are able to survive and function under these conditions primarily because (a) they are able to identify in differing degrees?and at differing levels of consciousness?with each of the value systems which they identify, and (b) because most group identities which are simultaneously held only rarely come into direct conscious conflict. When two equally held value systems do come into conflict, a high degree of personal and/or group anxiety (conscious or otherwise) may result. The individual and/or group often seeks some third identity which can accommodate, neutralize, rationalize, and/or synthesize these conflicting value systems. For some individuals and/or groups it could produce an inability to act. For still others, it might mean rather erratic behavior, alternately overstressing one value system at the expense of the other. In any one of these cases, however, it would probably be diagnosed as ambivalence.
Small, isolated, and relatively undifferentiated societies may often seem to be almost totally unchanging and unchangeable just because there is a high degree of shared perceptions among most of the members of those societies. It is precisely because there is a high degree of reinforcement of similarity of perception that it is so difficult to introduce change into those societies.
Any figures used in our examples are completely hypothetical and are included merely to illustrate a concept. They are not based on any known research.
See Claude E. Shannon and Warren Weaver, The Mathematical Theory of Communication (Champagne-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1949).
For a dramatic demonstration of the necessity of feedback for even partial similarity of perception between sender and receiver, see Harold Levitt, Managerial Psychology, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), chapter 9.
See Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language (1959; reprint, New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1981).
By the 1990s we have come to recognize this and now call it ?cultural diversity.?
For example, the family, students, businessmen, industrial workers, bureaucrats, the military, the clergy, and so forth in different societies.
To some degree this aspect of the problem has been discussed in the author?s ?Group Perception and Social Change in Ceylon,? International Journal of? Comparative Sociology 7, no. 1 (March 1967).
Implications for Intercultural Communication
Implicit in the perceptual model outlined above is the proposition that an individual is in fact functioning somewhat ?interculturally? whenever he or she communicates with another individual. The fewer group identities one shares (and the less intensely held the identities which exist) with the individuals with whom one must communicate, the more ?intercultural? is the communication. We are dealing here with a continuum and not with dichotomies. The important point to note, however, is that some intranational communications can be far more intercultural than other international communications.
Workers in various antipoverty programs have sometimes been chagrined and shocked to find their well-intentioned plans utterly rejected by the very people whom they were intended to help. What they have often overlooked?and what any experienced social worker knows?is the fact that the urban, middle-class, well-educated professional probably has a totally different set of perceptions (and hence values, attitudes, and modes of behavior) from his or her inner-city or rural, lower-class, uneducated client. Merely because the professional sees merit in a particular proposal in no way ensures that clients will view the proposal in the same way. Indeed, it would be nearly miraculous if they did. It is precisely because of this that the demand has grown for greater participation of clients in the planning of proposals intended for their benefit. To some degree this may alleviate the problem. But until the cause of the problem is recognized clearly, it is doubtful that significant progress will be made. Until one of the groups concerned (and it can only be the professional group) recognizes that its perceptions differ markedly from those of the other?and recognizes that different is not the same as bad?and makes a concerted attempt to understand the other?s perceptions, the incidence of friction and frustration is likely to continue. What is more, now that African American, Hispanic, and other ethnic identity groups in the United States are actively defending the validity of their identities, the Anglo population has begun to sense an urgency for understanding these perceptions.
International intercultural operations are often more complicated and more difficult than domestic intercultural operations?not necessarily because the individuals involved share fewer perceptions, but rather because it is often extremely difficult to adjust levels of expectation of communication in unfamiliar environments. Within our own society there are a multitude of familiar, silent, and/or subtle cues that tell us at which levels of sophistication we may communicate. When a male physicist talks to his male barber in the United States, he knows that he is expected to discuss baseball and the weather. He also knows that it would be futile for him to attempt to discuss quantum physics. Thus, he adjusts his communication expectations accordingly and leaves the barbershop a little wiser about the league standing of the home team and perhaps a little apprehensive about the impending winter. But he certainly has no feeling of frustration at not having been able to discuss physics. He knows with whom he may discuss baseball and with whom he may discuss physics. In a foreign environment, on the other hand, it is difficult?particularly for the newcomer?to assess at which level one may communicate. The same American male physicist operating outside of his own country may be pleasantly surprised to find that his foreign counterpart not only speaks English, but appears to have the same problems, aspirations, and values as he himself has. He therefore expects to be readily understood, even when discussing the most complicated intellectual problems. If he later finds that he was not completely understood, he may feel hurt, cheated, and frustrated. Because of the outward appearance of similarity based on common perceptions which the two share as quantum physicists, the American may not have taken into account the fact that there are a myriad of other group identities?and consequently many other patterns of perception and behavior?which they do not have in common.
But there is another reason for the increased difficulty of international intercultural operations. While two individuals in the same society may be a cultural world away from each other educationally, physically they may reside in the same city, in the same mass culture. If I were to eat in my barber?s house in the United States, I would know approximately what to expect and how to behave?the food and utensils would be familiar. When I left the barber?s house I would drive down familiar streets, with familiar faces, places, and smells, to the security and comfort of my own home. On the other hand, in the home of another professor in, say, Bombay, I will not only have to remember the specifics of not eating strange foods with my left hand (and any other specific intercultural data that I may have acquired) but I must also be prepared for the totally unexpected. It is simply not possible to teach someone from one ethnic culture the perhaps hundreds of millions of discrete ?bits? of information one would have to know to truly understand another ethnic culture. Yet it is precisely because we do not know what it is about another culture that we do not know that our anxiety level must perforce be high. Further, as soon as I leave the home of my counterpart in Bombay, I must wander through strange streets, with strange faces, places, and smells. All the silent little cues which would come to me subliminally in the United States would be missing. In Bombay it would be necessary for me to expend an enormous amount of energy merely making explicit all of those myriad little cues which, in my own culture, can remain implicit and subconscious. But, obviously, the lack of reception of silent cues is not all that complicates international intercultural operations. The matter of adjusting to unfamiliar food, climate, and other physical differences can be a very real problem. Further, there is the additional real burden of functioning in a society in which one may be totally or partially unfamiliar with the spoken or written language.
There is one additional factor which tends to make international intercultural operations more emotionally taxing than most domestic cross-cultural operations. While I have argued that, analytically, all communications are to some degree intercultural, within our own society contact with significantly different groups can be kept to a minimum. At home we tend to spend most of our leisure time, at least, surrounded by individuals who perceive more or less as we do. Even if our work is of a nature which forces us to deal with people significantly different from ourselves during the day, in the evening we can retreat to the comfort and ease of our groups. Internationally, this is not always possible.Aside from possible contact with fellow compatriots (the connotation of the term landsmann is significant here) when working or living in a foreign environment, one can expect no relief from the strain of uncertainty?either until the task is accomplished and one returns home or until one has lived in that environment long enough to increase one?s own range of similarity of perception with those around one, to the point where, if not everything, at least most things need no longer be made conscious and explicit.
In sum, while some communications within the same society can be more intercultural than some international communications, international intercultural communication tends to be significantly more difficult because we tend to share a higher degree of similarity of perception with more groups in our own society than we do in a foreign environment.
There is one additional concept I would like to introduce here. Every communication relationship has a power component attached to it. We might as well recognize that and deal with it openly and consciously. Until now very few communication specialists have been prepared to deal with the power aspect of the communication process. On the other hand, most political scientists have failed to recognize the importance of cultural differences in the situations they study. It is one of my most deeply held convictions that the study of intercultural communication informs the study of political behavior. It is also my contention that any study of communication relationships that ignores the power aspect of those relationships is one that misses a very important element of all communication.
To conclude, I am arguing here that a pattern of learned, group-related perceptions?including both verbal and nonverbal language, attitudes, values, belief systems, and behaviors?that is accepted and expected by an identity group is called a culture. Since, by definition, each identity group has its own pattern of perceptions and behavioral norms and its own language or code (understood most clearly by members of that group), each identity group may be said to have its own culture.
Further, I am arguing that no two people can perceive 100 percent identically and that the groups with which we either have been, or are, associated for most of our lives determine what and how we perceive. Each of the groups with which we identify (either consciously or unconsciously) teaches us its own definitions of good and bad, beautiful and ugly, right and wrong. We may come to deviate from the norms of some of the groups with which we identify?that is, to identify less with them than with some other groups?but to the extent that we do identify with any particular group, to that degree we are likely to accept that group?s attitudes, values, beliefs, and so forth. Further, the more group identities we share with others, the greater similarity of perception we are likely to share; the fewer group identities we share, the less similarly we are likely to perceive. The more group identities we share with someone, the less intercultural (and hence easier and probably more accurate) the communication is likely to be. The fewer group identities we share, the more intercultural (and hence the more difficult and probably more inaccurate) the communication is likely to be. But all is not bleak. It is possible to learn about other cultures and in so doing we begin to share more similar perceptions, and we begin to communicate more effectively. We just have to make a greater effort.
The extreme contrast is used here merely for illustrative purposes. Although perhaps in differing degrees, the same holds true for clients from other groups as well.
It does help to explain, however, the prevalence of the American, German, British, and other foreign ghettos and clubs one finds abroad.
This paragraph did not appear in the original article published in 1967. It is taken from my later book Intercultural Communication: A Perceptual Approach.
Overcoming the Golden Rule?Sympathy and Empathy?Milton J. Bennett
Milton J. Bennett (the author of this book and editor of the Readings section) used the idea of cultural self-awareness as the starting point for defining how we go about understanding people from different cultures. In his 1979 article, ?Overcoming the Golden Rule: Sympathy and Empathy,? Bennett originated the contrast of the assumption of similarity and the assumption of difference and coined the term ?platinum rule.? The assumption of similarity leads to sympathy?the attempt to understand others by placing one?s self in their positions. This and the Golden Rule?treat others as you would like to be treated?assume that one?s own feelings in a real or imagined situation are a good guide to how others feel. While often well-meant, the assumption of similarity is a kind of ethnocentrism. In contrast, the assumption of difference leads to empathy?the attempt to understand others by participating in their different experience of the world. This is the core of constructivist intercultural communication.
Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. . .
Many of the world?s great religions include a dictum similar to the Golden Rule. So it is not surprising that the Rule embodies a basic truth: all of us are equally human, not just our family or compatriots. Yet we humans still flaunt the Rule in both the paroxysms of genocide and the everyday destructiveness of prejudice and bigotry. Why is the wisdom of the Golden Rule so elusive? One reason may be that we commonly apply the Rule in a way that actually obstructs our path toward intercultural understanding.
The Golden Rule is typically used as a kind of template for behavior. If I am unsure of how to treat you, I simply imagine how I myself would like to be treated, and then act in accordance. The positive value of this form of the Rule is virtually axiomatic in U.S. American culture, and so its underlying assumption frequently goes unstated: other people want to be treated as I do. And under this assumption lies another, more pernicious belief: all people are basically the same, and thus they really should want the same treatment (whether they admit it or not) as I would.
Simply stated, the Golden Rule in this form does not work because people are actually different from one another. Not only are they individually different, but they are systematically different in terms of national culture, ethnic group, socioeconomic status, age, gender, sexual orientation, political allegiance, educational background, and profession, to name but a few possibilities. Associated with these differences in people are differences in values?values which cannot easily be generalized to all people from those of any given group.
That people are different may appear obvious to readers of this article, but it is simply not a widely held notion among people in general?including those who are well-educated. Many teachers and trainers of intercultural communication find that while most people acknowledge superficial behavioral differences in dress, custom, language, and so on, it takes but a scratch of this surface to encounter a basic belief in the essential similarity of all people. The statement indicative of this belief is, ?Once you get used to their different (dress, manners, style), they?re just like us!? Attempts to point out more fundamental value differences may even be met by hostility?an indication of how central the assumption of similarity is to our worldview.
In addition to denying difference, the Golden Rule is also a poor guide for effective communication. Assuming that others are like ourselves when we talk to them is tantamount to talking to ourselves. We fail to recognize the crucial differences to which our communication must be accommodated, and our efforts to understand and be understood are subverted by a facade of uniformity.
This effort to expose the bias of the Golden Rule will take us into some philosophical assumptions, some concepts of social organization, and some communication techniques, or strategies. On the philosophical level, we will consider first the assumption of similarity and its relationship to theories of single-reality. This philosophical orientation will be seen to manifest in the social concepts of the melting pot andethnocentrism. The communication strategy associated with these ideas is sympathy. Contrasting on the philosophical level will be theassumption of difference and its relationship to theories of multiple-reality. Communication based on the assumption of difference isempathy. Finally, we will consider some ways in which empathy might be developed and implemented toward the goal of intercultural communication.
Similarity and Single-Reality
The strongest statement of the assumption of similarity holds that all human beings are basically the same. In this view, physiological, personality, and even cultural differences which might be observed are mainly superficial. Underlying these permutations is a basic ?human nature? that transcends time, cultural boundaries, and individual predilection. The assumption of similarity is not just a passive perspective?it also defines what will be actively sought. Thus, the observer notes and imputes importance to human similarities while ignoring or downgrading the importance of human differences.
The assumption of similarity is represented in philosophy by bothidealists and empiricists. Idealists hold that the universe (including human beings) has a permanent, ideal form. Human beings may discover their true nature by perceiving this form and adapting themselves to it. The current resurgence of mysticism and fundamentalist religion is, in many ways, a reawakening of this Platonic idealism. Most mystics and charismatics teach that there is a true, transcendent reality which, when it is perceived, illuminates the seeker with the knowledge that this single-reality exists within each individual. In this view, differences among people are ephemeral phenomena of the lower planes of existence, superficial in relation to the essential unity of higher planes.
Empiricists take a different route to the assumption of similarity. There is no transcendent reality; there is only the observable world of matter and energy. While this observable reality would seem to be inherently diverse, there is a catch. The catch is that only that which is observed is diverse. The observers (people) are necessarily similar in their ability to observe the same thing, given similar circumstances. This is the essence of scientific replicability. If a phenomenon cannot be observed by many people, it is simply assumed not to exist. Of course, this necessitates the belief that all people, properly trained, can and do see the same real phenomena.
Most other forms of the assumption of similarity can be seen to derive from these two philosophical positions. For instance, evangelical religions such as many forms of Christianity and Is-lam take the idealist stance that there is one truth, and that all people should have a similar knowledge of it. The growing field of ethnobiology argues from an empirical base that people are similar one to another in their adherence to some basic primate behavior. Transformational linguistics suggests that people are essentially similar in basic language ?competence??an example of the Platonic ideal form. And, of course, social sciences such as psychology and sociology base their empirical observations on the statistical similarity of a normative population.
The theories mentioned above are only a few examples of a general category which can be called ?single-reality? theory. The basic assumption inherent in this category is that there is one way that things really are. In this view, reality is not invented by our observational categories; it is discovered through either philosophical/religious (idealist) insight or through objective (empiricist) observation. An indicator of the idealist approach to single-reality is some form of the statement, ?If only we develop sufficient (wisdom, faith, knowledge, discipline, insight), we will know the true nature of the universe.? An indicator of the empiricist approach is the statement, ?We don?t know it all yet, but with sufficient (experiments, categorization, instrumentation, explanation) we will figure out how things really work.?
The Golden Rule depends on single-reality theory to fuel its underlying assumption of similarity. If there were not a single, discoverable reality, we could never be sure whether the similarity we observed was ?really? the case, or whether it was merely a function of our point of view. If similarity were only a matter of perspective, then we might have to consider that other people had different points of view, which might lead them to observe entirely different kinds of similarity (or difference) between themselves and us. In this case, the Golden Rule wouldn?t work at all, and we would be thrust into a much more complex, relativistic world. So we preserve the comfortable assumptions of the Golden Rule and the single reality it represents.
Bertrand Russell, Human Knowledge, Its Scope and Limits (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1948).
The Melting Pot and Ethnocentrism
The ramifications of preserving the Golden Rule are not restricted to the abstractions of philosophy. There are several social consequences of single-reality theory and the assumption of similarity. Two of these consequences of interest to intercultural communication are ?the melting pot? and ?ethnocentrism.? The melting-pot concept is a source of major concern to minorities in this country who might wish to maintain an ethnic identity different to some extent from the mainstream culture. The termmelting pot was coined by Israel Zangwill in a play by that title written in 1921.
America is God?s Crucible, the great Melting Pot
where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming?
Here you stand good folk . . . with your fifty
languages and histories . . . But you won?t be long
like that brothers, for these are the fires of God
you come to?these are the fires of God.
Unenlightened as it might sound today, the idea of the melting pot is actually a relatively liberal holdover from the colonial period of American history. In those days and up until World War I, many thought that the fusion of ethnic differences in America would lead to a great civilization of supermen. But as a stronger mainstream culture developed, the original melting-pot idea transformed into the ideal of assimilation and Americanization.
Americanization is a specific case of cultural assimilation in general. The Americanizing melting pot did not merely amalgamate difference; itmolded it into the prevailing American cultural pattern. So, although the end result of both kinds of melting was similarity, the original melting pot at least suggested a unique product. The more recent use of the concept seems clearly based on single-reality theory, where mainstream American culture is the one true frame of reference.
We hear today widespread disavowal of the melting pot in favor of some form of ?cultural pluralism.? A good part of this disavowal, when it comes from mainstreamers, may be insubstantially rhetorical. In most cases, it is simply not evident that there has occurred the philosophical shift away from a single-reality assumption that would necessarily underlie a strong commitment to pluralism. Such a commitment demands the kind of multiple-reality assumption discussed in a later section of this article. The best that can be hoped for under the single-reality theory is a kind of tolerance for ?second-best? cultural patterns. This stance obviously does not address the severe negative value judgments that characterize so much interethnic and intercultural communication.
Related to the idea of an Americanizing melting pot is the concept of ethnocentrism. This tendency to see our own culture as the center of the universe?that is, as the true reality?affects all intercultural communication, including interethnic relations. In fact, ethnocentrism is the most appropriate label for the single-reality assumption of similarity in a cultural context. This can be seen clearly in Richard E. Porter and Larry A. Samovar?s definition of the concept:
A major source of cultural variance in attitudes isethnocentrism, which is a tendency to view people unconsciously by using our own group and our own customs as the standard for all judgments . . . The greater their similarity to us, the nearer to us we place them; the greater the dissimilarity, [the] farther away they are . . . We tend to see our own groups, our own country, our own culture as the best, as the most moral. This view also demands our first loyalty and produces a frame of reference that denies the existence of any other frame of reference. It is an absolute position that prohibits any other position from being appropriate for another culture.
From the above description, it is understandable why Jon A. Blubaugh and Dorothy L. Pennington state that ?ethnocentrism seems to be at the root of racism.?
In a parallel development to the rhetorical call for cultural pluralism, we hear today a cry for ?intercultural understanding.? Again, this cry is meaningless if it is not accompanied by a shift away from that essential ingredient of ethnocentrism, the assumption of similarity. Unless we can accept that other groups of people are truly different?that is, they are operating successfully according to different values and principles of reality?then we cannot exhibit the sensitivity nor accord the respect to those differences that will make intercultural communication and understanding possible.
The continued existence of melting-pot ideas and ethnocentrism is facilitated by their inherent connection to the Golden Rule. We really want to use our own values as the basis for our behavior toward others. It is easier (we don?t need to imagine different values), and it somehow seems so moral. When we find, no matter how much we try to ignore it, that many other people don?t respond to this treatment, we face a choice. Either we must alter our behavior (and underlying assumptions), or we must alter the unresponsive people. Supported by the ethnocentric conviction that those other people are somehow wrong or ignorant, we choose the latter course. Perhaps, we hope, after they are educationally melted into the proper configuration, they will respond as they should to our Golden Rule behavior.
Of course, some people seem impervious to the fires of God. For them, we have a different rule, which can be labeled the ?Lead Rule.? The Lead Rule dictates ?Do unto others as they deserve having done unto them.? If people are unresponsive to our well-motivated Golden Rule behavior, and if they will not be helped to become similar, then we may assume that they are ?mad or bad.?If we assume they are mad, we may extend our educational efforts into therapy. A prime indicator of the Lead Rule being employed therapeutically is the statement, ?We?re only doing this for your own good.? If we assume they are bad, we may try to punish them. If they do not respond to punishment, then we may be compelled to employ the full force of the Lead Rule, which is to kill them.
Israel Zangwill, The Melting Pot: Drama in Four Acts (New York: Macmillan, 1921), 33.
Brewton Berry, Race and Ethnic Relations (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965).
Richard E. Porter and Larry A. Samovar, ?Communicating Interculturally,? in Intercultural Communication: A Reader, 2d ed., edited by Larry A. Samovar and Richard E. Porter (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1976), 10.
Jon A. Blubaugh and Dorothy L. Pennington, Crossing Differences . . . Interracial Communication (Columbus, OH: Merrill, 1976), 92.
Paul Watzlawick, Janet H. Beavin, and Don D. Jackson, Pragmatics of Human Communication (New York: Norton, 1967), 213.
So far, we have been considering general behavior and its underlying philosophical assumptions. In situations of actual face-to-face interaction, these general behavioral tendencies take the form of specific communication techniques, or strategies. The strategy which is most closely allied with the Golden Rule and its attendant assumptions issympathy.
Although the term sympathy is used variably, it will be used here to mean ?the imaginative placing of ourselves in another person?s position.? It should be understood by this definition that we are not taking the role of another person or imagining how the other person thinks or feels, but rather we are referencing how we ourselves might think or feel in similar circumstances. For instance, if I tell you that my aunt has recently died, you might sympathize by imagining how you would feel (or have felt) about your aunt dying. This definition is not restricted to cases of socially defined sorrow, however. It would also be sympathy if I tell you that I just inherited a million dollars, and you respond by imagining how you would feel as a millionaire.
In a following section, this definition of sympathy will be contrasted to the notion of empathy. For the time being, suffice it to say that empathy concerns how we might imagine the thoughts and feelings of other people from their own perspectives. This distinction is fairly consistent with Lauren G. Wisp? in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences: ?In empathy, one attends to the feelings of another; insympathy one attends to the suffering of another, but the feelings are one?s own.? Note, however, that here sympathy is not restricted to cases of suffering. The difference between sympathy and empathy is not defined by either the degree or the subject of concern; it is defined by whose perspective is being assumed.
Probably the easiest way to think of sympathy is as projection. Following the assumption of similarity, we merely assume that the other person is like ourselves and therefore impute to him or her our own thoughts and feelings. In its least sophisticated form, sympathy projects both the self and the circumstances of the sympathizer onto the perceived situation. Imagine, for example, that a middle-class suburbanite is interacting with a poor person living in the inner city. Pure projection might lead the suburbanite to suggest that the poor person get a job and shop carefully for inexpensive groceries?an assumption that the suburban circumstances of job opportunity, competitive prices, and transportation are all available to the inner-city dweller, as well as the motivation assumed by the suburbanite herself. Projecting only self, the suburbanite might imagine how she herself would feel in the poor person?s circumstances?perhaps frustrated, and certainly anxious to take the first opportunity to escape into a ?better? environment. (Note that this might not be at all how the poor person feels.)
It is apparently possible to increase the sophistication of sympathy quickly. I once asked a group of (assumedly) upper-middle-class white high school students what they would do for recreation if they had grown up in a ghetto. Quickly, several students replied with such projective responses as ?go bowling,? or ?go swimming,? or ?drive around.? I suggested that they might have neither the facilities nor the money to do those things. There was a silence, and then one boy spoke up with a clearly more sophisticated sympathetic suggestion: ?jog!?
The general category of projective sympathy can be divided into two major ways of responding sympathetically to another person: referencing our own memory, here referred to as reminiscent sympathy; and referencing our own imagination of self in different circumstances, here termed imaginative sympathy. Of these two, reminiscent sympathy is probably the most common.
With the technique of reminiscent sympathy, we search our past experience for circumstances that seem similar to those observed as connected to the other person?s experience. For instance, if you report to me that you have a drinking problem, I might try to remember some time when I felt compelled to drink. Assuming that I find such a circumstance in my own life, I would then try to reconstruct my feelings at that time and attempt to use them as a guide for further conversation or counsel. An indicator of the reminiscent sympathy technique is the statement, ?I know just how you feel?I was there myself.? Note that my feelings about drinking may be totally dissimilar to yours, but the desire to assume similarity is strong.
The apparent unassailability of the reminiscent sympathy technique is part of the reason why reformed alcoholics, former prisoners, cured schizophrenics, and other ?experienced? people are so frequently considered credible counselors in their respective areas of experience. A parallel to this belief in minority relations is the assumption that only a Latino American, Native American, or African American can speak credibly to the problems encountered by his or her respective ethnic group. This credibility is frequently not undeserved and many such ?survivors? are apparently extremely effective in their work. However, caution should be exercised in assuming that exposure to certain circumstances is a sufficient qualification for political, educational, or counseling expertise in the area. Having experienced a toothache does not make one a dentist.
There is also a danger that a strong experience, although potentially a valuable tool, can limit our consideration of different reactions to the same circumstances. For instance, some feminists seem to assume that all women do (or should) have the same reaction to being female in this culture. The failure to recognize different reactions is most likely when reminiscent sympathy is the only technique of understanding employed. When it is, the Golden Rule takes a kind of retroactive form, reading, ?Do unto others as you would have liked to have had done unto you in similar circumstances.?
Imaginative sympathy involves the referencing of our imagination of ourselves in different circumstances. This is probably a more sophisticated process than is the use of memory, but it involves a similar referencing of self rather than the other person. An example of imaginative sympathy might involve your informing me of your recent miraculous escape from an automobile accident. Having never had a serious automobile accident to remember, I might search for an appropriate response by imagining how I would feel in that circumstance. But no matter how I imagine I might feel, my response bears no necessary relationship to how you actually do feel. Nevertheless, as usual, it is likely that the Golden Rule will permit me the assumption of similarity necessary to think I understand your feelings. In these cases, the Rule reads ?Do unto others as you imagine you would like to have done unto you in similar circumstances.?
Fund appeals for humanitarian causes commonly attempt to elicit an imaginative sympathy reaction from readers. For instance, a recent issue of the New Yorker magazine displayed a fund appeal topped by a picture of a young Asian girl dressed in a dirty but frilly dress, her hair disheveled but beribboned, and her face set in a plaintive but cute expression. The large-type caption under the picture reads ?Tina has never had a Teddy Bear.? I suspect that the creators of this appeal are assuming that most readers of the New Yorker had teddy bears in their childhood. Further assuming that these teddy bears are remembered fondly by the readers, the fund appealers ask the readers to imagine what it would be like not to have had a teddy bear. The discomfort occasioned by this imagining of a deprived self will then, it is hoped, motivate some check-writing behavior.
I don?t really think there is anything wrong with this kind of sympathetic altruism. It is certainly well-motivated, and it probably doesn?t do much harm. However, sympathetic altruism may not be addressing the real needs of those whom we want to help. We should at least ask, ?But does Tina want a teddy bear??
While a Peace Corps volunteer in Truk (Chuuk), Micronesia, I happened to be near the receiving end of several gestures of sympathetic altruism. One particularly amusing example was the annual Navy airdrop of Christmas presents. It was a great show: a giant airplane swooping low over the island and disgorging a bombardment of cosmetics, candy, and plastic toys. While the Navy?s image was undoubtedly a factor in this action, it still was a pleasant enough thing to do. How much better it would have been, however, if the plane had dropped cloth, ballpoint pens, and perfume?the really valuable gifts from the Trukese point of view.
I?m afraid I was a part of another sympathetic gesture toward the Trukese. My training group decided that creating a water system for the island would be a great help to our hosts. Our hosts themselves seemed more inclined toward a school building, but since the island already had one school building and since we incidentally already had the plastic pipe, we pushed the water project. The island leaders finally gave a reluctant go-ahead and we began work, secure in the knowledge that the project?s great sanitation and convenience benefits would soon become apparent. The Trukese men helped us with what I only later could recognize as a bemused and tolerant attitude.
The following events occurred in the next year: even after warnings, several plastic pipes were melted shut during field burning; the island children took to swimming and urinating in the water tanks; inter-village quarrels were punctuated by late-night machete raids on the pipes; the island women continued to lug their wash up the mountain to a stream, where they could socialize as before; and arguments occurred over who had the right to turn the water on and off. Finally, the water system died a merciful death and a school building project was begun. It was a wonderful lesson in the unplanned consequences of sympathetic altruism.
Milton J. Bennett, ?Empathic Perception: The Operation of Self-Awareness in Human Perception? (master?s thesis, San Francisco State University, 1972), 66.
Lauren G. Wisp?, ?Sympathy and Empathy,? in International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 15, edited by David L. Sills (New York: Macmillan, 1968), 441?47.
Charles Hampden-Turner, Sane Asylum (San Francisco: San Francisco Book Company, 1976).
Advantages and Disadvantages of Sympathy
So far, we have seen a rather bleak picture of the sympathetic strategy. In this final consideration of sympathy, I will suggest some possible advantages of sympathy as well as summarize its disadvantages.
Advantages of using a sympathetic communication strategy include the following:
1. Sympathy is easy. Most of us are distressed to some extent by unfamiliarity, and we prefer to identify phenomena with preexisting categories. With people, the most familiar frame of reference is ourselves, and so we prefer to generalize from ourselves to others?the basic process of assuming similarity. Depending on the situation, we may use reminiscent or imaginative sympathy techniques to enable this kind of generalization.
2. Sympathy is credible. Credibility is a major factor in the success of reminiscent sympathy. Because the assumption of similarity is widespread, many people really believe that similar circumstances yield similar experience. We are then likely to give credence to those who have ?been through it.? While experience may indeed give a person many valuable insights, much of the effectiveness of an experienced person may derive from the attribution of credibility itself. Given this credibility, we may even modify our own feelings to correspond with those of the experienced person.
3. Sympathy is often accurate. The accuracy of sympathetic understanding is not a function of its process. Rather, it derives from our tendency to surround ourselves with truly similar people. Attraction to similarity is a pervasive phenomenon. Insofar as we interact mainly with truly similar people, our sympathetic generalizations yield relatively accurate assumptions about those carefully selected others. In these situations of similarity, accuracy should be greatest for imaginative sympathy because it can take into account minor differences in circumstance. Reminiscent sympathy should give second-best results because of its greater rigidity, but its greater credibility may equalize its effectiveness. As sympathy becomes increasingly less sophisticated, it yields accurate assumptions only in nearly identical situations with extremely similar people.
4. Sympathy may be comforting. Sometimes people are comforted by knowing that another person has encountered similar circumstances, even if his or her experience of the circumstances was different. This advantage of reminiscent sympathy seems most apparent in the case of illness, where the unique experience of a particular illness may be perceived as secondary in importance to the mere fact of the sympathizer having had the same disease. In addition, a sympathetic approach may be comfortable for people who would prefer not to disclose their actual, possibly different, feelings or thoughts about certain circumstances.
The disadvantages of a sympathetic communication strategy can be summarized as follows:
1. Sympathy is insensitive to difference. Despite our best efforts to interact only with truly similar people, we are frequently thrown into communication situations where others probably think and feel differently. These situations include at least communication with people from different national cultures, ethnic groups, socioeconomic status, age groups, genders, sexual orientation, political persuasion, educational background, and profession. In these and other situations, sympathetic understanding is likely to be inaccurate at best, and probably will impede effective communication.
2. In the face of difference, sympathy is patronizing.Generalizing exclusively from our own frame of reference carries with it all the connotations of ethnocentrism. One of these connotations is that our own experience is the best standard with which to measure the world. People with different views of the world may feel that their thoughts and feelings are being devalued. It is not unusual for bothpersons in a sympathetic communication to feel patronized, each by the other.
3. In the face of difference, sympathy breeds defensiveness.When we feel our different views of the world are ignored or devalued by others, we may take on a defensive posture to protect what we think is a successful organization of phenomena. Sympathetic strategies cannot help but ignore or devalue difference, since they are based on a strong assumption of similarity. Communication is hindered by defensiveness, and sympathy appears to be a major factor contributing to that defensiveness.
4. Sympathy helps perpetuate the assumption of similarity.Sympathy not only implements the Golden Rule; it also perpetuates it. Our choice of communication strategy and our assumptions about the nature of people are interactive. While sometimes we may choose a strategy that is adapted to a given reality, we may more often manipulate our assumptions about reality so that a given strategy continues to work. Insofar as we choose sympathy and the Golden Rule, we will tend to ignore difference in favor of seeing the similarity necessary to our strategy.
We have now seen how the everyday use of the Golden Rule derives from an assumption of essential similarity among human beings?an assumption that is consistent with single-reality theory. The communication strategy that implements the Golden Rule is sympathy, which involves some form of generalizing thoughts and feelings from our own frame of reference. Although sympathy may yield acceptable understanding of others in situations of actual similarity, it appears to have many disadvantages in situations where human difference is encountered.
The point which might best be derived from the preceding discussion is not that the Golden Rule and its attendant assumptions and strategies never work. In its most abstract form, the Rule might limit some of the cruelties of dehumanization. But the effectiveness of similarity-based approaches is severely limited by the existence of human diversity. Specific Golden Rule strategies don?t work outside of an environment carefully controlled for actual similarity, and the world is decreasingly favorable to that circumstance.
Donn Byrne, ?Interpersonal Attraction and Attitude Similarity,? Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (May 1961): 62.
Dean Barnlund, ?Communication: The Context of Change,? inPerspectives on Communication, edited by Carl E. Larson and Frank E. X. Dance (Madison, WI: Helix Press, 1968), 24?40.
The Assumption of Difference and Multiple-Reality
In contrast to the assumption that all people are basically similar, we could assume that each human being is essentially unique. A closer look at the apparent homogeneity of human beings reveals an underlying heterogeneity of almost unimaginable scope. It becomes clear that the categories we use for assuming universal similarity are broad generalizations that can only be made at a distance?a distance preserved by abstractions such as the Golden Rule.
If we reject the Golden Rule in favor of seeking difference, an astonishing diversity of human characteristics rapidly becomes apparent. Not only are these differences obvious in language and culture, but they are also observable on the physiological level. People differ in their fingerprints, brain-wave patterns, voice patterns, blood composition, and genetic codes. While the need to eat might appear absolute from a distance, a closer look reveals some people who do not eat for long periods without ill effect. We also find people who can exist in a normally fatal oxygen-deficient atmosphere, and others who are able to start and stop their heartbeat at will. Even those basic categories of similarity?male and female?are only generalizations. Physiological sexual characteristics are actually distributed along a continuum ranging from completely male to completely female. Medical doctors, who are aware of these differences, know better than to treat one person?s dysfunction in exactly the same way as another?s.
Bracketed by language and cultural differences on one side and physiological differences on the other, people also differ individually in their psychological patterns. The process whereby individuals create unique views of the world has been explored by the psychologist George A. Kelly. In his personal-construct theory, he states the fundamental postulate that ?A person?s processes are psychologically channelized by the ways in which he anticipates events.? By this, he means that each of us is, by definition, an organizer of events, and that the particular organization which we develop constitutes our experience. This organization is considered by Kelly to be a process of construing, defined as ?placing an interpretation.? Events are anticipated by ?construing their replications.? Thus, in Kelly?s view, our experience is created by the way in which we construe events.
Kelly goes on to state that ?persons differ from each other in their construction of events.? By this he means simply that we can and do construe precisely the same events in different ways. Since experience is a function of this construing, it follows that experience is not inextricably connected to events.
Experience is made up of the successive construing of events. It is not constituted merely by the succession of events themselves. A person can be a witness to a tremendous parade of episodes and yet, if he fails to keep making something out of them . . . he gains little in the way of experience from having been around when they happened. It is not what happens around him that makes a man experienced; it is the successive construing and re-construing of what happens . . . that enriches the experience of his life.
Obviously, Kelly?s view of events and experience is directly opposed to that supposed by the assumption of similarity. It follows from his assumption of difference that the encountering of similar circumstances does not in any way guarantee that two people?s experience of those circumstances will be similar. And, of course, without the essential connection of circumstances and experience, the communication strategy of sympathy becomes worthless as a general technique for understanding others.
We have seen, however, that sympathy does seem to work in some situations of actual similarity. If we are as different as has been implied so far, how can these situations ever come about? Kelly addresses this question: ?To the extent that one person employs a construction of experience which is similar to that employed by another, his psychological processes are similar to those of the other person.? So, if constructions of experience can somehow be guided into similar paths, some level of actual similarity might occur.
The major guide for constructions of reality is culture. In Kelly?s view, we create culture by assuming similarity. When we observe that other people have encountered similar circumstances, we assume that they are similar to ourselves. In interaction, this assumption takes the form of expectations. Other people perceive these expectations and tend to behave in accordance with them. Thus, according to Kelly, ?Cultural similarity between persons [is] essentially a similarity in what they perceive is expected of them.? It is, then, the assumption of similarity which creates the actual similarity.
This circular process of culture would seem to result in widespread actual similarity if it were not for one important factor: different people and groups assume different kinds of similarity. Japanese people, for instance, may assume a significant level of similarity among themselves, but the nature of that similarity is radically different from that assumed by mainstream Americans among themselves. Specifically, Japanese may accurately assume that they are similar among themselves in ?family loyalty,? and Americans may accurately assume that they are similar among themselves in ?desire for individual freedom,? but neither assumption applies accurately to the other group. As noted earlier, this difference in the nature of intragroup similarity also appears to characterize ethnic groups, socioeconomic strata, professions, and so on. Each group, no matter how small, has its unique set of expectations (values) which maintains the group identity. And even within groups, each individual differs from every other individual in precise expectations about how events will be construed.
The assumption of difference is consistent with theories of multiple-reality. These theories contend, as does personal-construct theory, that reality is not a given, discoverable quantity. Rather, it is a variable, created quality. In philosophy, this view is represented by phenomenology and various neophenomenological systems which are presently exploring the philosophical implications of modern physics. The idea of primary importance in these theories is the relativity of frame of reference.
Relative frame of reference, although it has a rather precise meaning in physics, can be considered generally as the change in apparent reality that accompanies a change in observational perspective. This idea is fundamental to the assumption of difference as it affects human interaction. When we communicate, we are operating on the pragmatic level of apparent reality. The pitfall of sympathy is the assumption that reality appears the same to both participants in the situation. The alternative to this stance is to assume a relative frame of reference, where our view of reality may be apparent only to ourselves. As we will see, the placing of ourselves in a relative frame of reference is conducive to empathy.
Another philosophy that contributes to the assumption of difference is systems theory. Of particular interest is the quality of a system calledequifinality. This principle states that in any given system, we may achieve the same goal by starting at different points and by using different processes within the system. Kelly states the same idea for people: ?Two people can act alike even if they have been exposed to quite different phenomenal stimuli.?Both these equifinality ideas contrast with the similarity assumption that particular experience is necessarily connected to particular circumstances. If we consider society as a system and apply the principle of equifinality, we see that people exposed to different circumstances may have very similar experiences. Reversing this, people encountering similar circumstances may have different experiences.
The practical implication of equifinality is that there are many ways of skinning a cat. Although such aphorisms normally state the obvious, it is surprising how often we seem to neglect this simple statement of relativity. When we encourage others to take a particular trip because it is exciting or to see a certain movie because it is meaningful, we have failed to recognize that those activities may not elicit the same feelings at all in other people. Further, we may also ignore the fact that feelings of excitement and meaningfulness may be engendered in others by quite different activities. Apparently, it is one thing to quote the aphorism and quite another to really believe that bowling and yachting may be experienced similarly.
In the social sciences, proponents of multiple-reality theories include Gregory Bateson, Paul Watzlawick, and Ronald David Laing.These and other theorists agree that the reality we experience is a variable matter of perception and communication. Perception itself is highly variable, particularly in cross-cultural situations, and the rules of communication seem even more mutable. Considering these changing factors, we might wonder that anyone ever understands anyone else at all. That we do sometimes understand each other seems to be largely a function of overcoming the Golden Rule, which denies these differences in perception and communication altogether.
Public Broadcasting System, ?The Mind of Man,? from the seriesRealities (16 November 1970).
Elmer E. Green, Alyce M. Green, and E. Dale Waters, ?Voluntary Control of Internal States: Psychological and Physiological,? Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, no. 1 (1970).
Michael Hendrickson, personal interview, Department of Pathology, Stanford Medical School, Palo Alto, CA (1978).
George A. Kelly, A Theory of Personality: The Psychology of Personal Constructs (New York: Norton, 1963), 46.
Stephen W. Littlejohn, Theories of Human Communication(Columbus, OH: Merrill, 1978).
Kelly, Theory of Personality, 91.
Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (New York: Ballantine Books, 1972).
Paul Watzlawick, How Real Is Real? (New York: Random House, 1976).
Ronald David Laing, The Politics of Experience (New York: Ballantine Books, 1966), 55.
Milton J. Bennett, ?Forming/Feeling Process: Communication of Boundaries and Perception of Patterns? (Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1977).
Jan B. Deregowski, ?Difficulties in Pictorial Depth Perception in Africa,? The British Journal of Psychology, no. 59 (August 1968): 195?204.
Watzlawick et al., Pragmatics of Human Communication.
The communication strategy most appropriate to multiple-reality and the assumption of difference is empathy. Like sympathy, this term is also used variably. In everyday usage, it is often defined as standing in another person?s shoes, as intense sympathy, as sensitivity to happiness rather than to sadness, and as a direct synonym for sympathy. In the literature, empathy has been defined as objective motor mimicry; as the understanding of people who have no emotional significance to us;and as ?a state in which an observer reacts emotionally because he perceives another experiencing or about to experience an emotion.?Here I will use the definition ?the imaginative intellectual and emotional participation in another person?s experience.? This definition is most consistent with the treatments of empathy by Carl R. Rogers and by Robert L. Katz.
As sympathy was defined as ?the imaginative placing of ourselves in another person?s position,? empathy can be defined in terms of two important contrasts in focus. In empathy, we ?participate? rather than ?place,? and we are concerned with ?experience? and ?perspective? rather than ?position.? Placing ourselves in another person?s position assumes, as we have seen, essential similarity of experience with the other, making it sufficient to merely change places with him or her. In contrast, participation in another?s experience does not assume essential similarity. The other?s experience might be quite alien, even if his or her position is similar. Thus, we need to do more than merely change places or stand in the other person?s shoes. We need to get inside the head and heart of the other, to participate in his or her experience as if we were really the other person. This process may be referred to as ?perspective taking.?
My wife and I have discovered some differences between sympathy and empathy in our own cross-gender communication. One minor example is our experience dealing with each other during slight illnesses. When I am sick, I like to be left absolutely alone (in autonomous suffering). When my wife is sick, she likes to be grandly attended to (in relational nurturance). When we were first married, I would express my sympathy for her being sick by leaving her absolutely alone. And she, of course, would sympathize by asking me how I felt every ten minutes or so. After some years of wonderment at how cantankerous we both were when sick, we found that we had different expectations about how sick people should be treated. Now we try to empathize rather than sympathize. By imagining the other person?s experience of being sick, we treat each other differently than we would like to be treated ourselves. We have, at least in this area, overcome the Golden Rule.
In interethnic communication, an empathy strategy might solve many misunderstandings that derive exclusively from a misplaced assumption of similarity. Perhaps addressing these face-to-face misunderstandings will eventually influence the larger social manifestations of the Golden Rule. One such everyday case noted by Thomas Kochman concerns black/white male fighting patterns. He observes that, contrary to some stereotypes, whites usually throw the first punch in schoolyard-type fights between blacks and whites. Apparently, when certain words are used by the black, the white imagines how he himself would feel using those words. He discovers through this sympathy that he would be about ready to strike physically. So, with this assumption of imminent violence, the white strikes first. The black may be surprised at this attack, since he was ?just talking??still a long verbal development away from an actual fight. If both people in this situation empathized rather than sympathized, they might realize that they had different experiences of the same verbal circumstances.
A favorite example of intercultural empathy is the news picture of Henry Kissinger, then U.S. secretary of state, holding hands side by side with the then-president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat. Kissinger was obviously behaving in a way appropriate to Sadat?s experience of male hand holding, rather than reacting to what probably is his own, culturally conditioned experience of that event.
In the above cases, empathy describes a shift in perspective away from our own to an acknowledgment of the other person?s different experience. This shift in perspective is often accompanied by a willingness to participate in the other person?s experience, at least to the extent of behaving in ways appropriate to that experience. And, in all cases, the empathic strategy is the opposite of that called for by the Golden Rule. If people really are different, and if we want to understand, respect, and enjoy those differences, then clearly we must begin by overcoming the Golden Rule.
Sigmund Freud, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego,translated by James Strachey (London: International Psychoanalytical Press, 1921).
Ezra Stotland, Kenneth E. Mathews Jr., Stanley E. Sherman, Robert O. Hansson, and Barbara Z. Richardson, Empathy, Fantasy and Helping(London: Sage Publications, 1978), 12.
Bennett, Empathic Perception.
Carl R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961); Carl R. Rogers, ?The Interpersonal Relationship: The Core of Guidance,? Harvard Educational Review (1962): 32.
Robert L. Katz, Empathy, Its Nature and Uses (London: Free Press of Glencoe, 1963).
Thomas Kochman, ?Cognitive Orientations, Communicative Styles and Cultural Meaning,? paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research, Montebello, Quebec, 1976.
So pervasive is the Golden Rule that only a concerted effort can topple its influence on our communication. The following model for the development of empathy represents a coordinated attack on the assumption of similarity and a procedure for replacing sympathy with empathy. The six steps of this procedure are a guide to the sequential development of empathic skills. The order in which the steps are undertaken is important. Each step is a necessary condition to the next; there are possible pitfalls of neglecting the prior step or of failing to move on properly. Taken completely and in order, however, this procedure reflects a workable approach to understanding difference.
Step One: Assuming Difference
This assumption is the one that has already been discussed?the assumption of difference and its attendant theory of multiple-reality. When this assumption is lacking, there simply is no motivation to empathize. As we have seen, sympathy serves the similarity and one-reality assumptions very well. Without the assumption of difference, empathy is considered unnecessary, and it may even be disvalued as ?insincere.? In these cases, it appears that ?sincerity? is defined as ?being true to yourself.? This stance precludes imagining being different from our usual selves?a necessary condition for empathy to occur.
The imagination of the self as potentially alien is one of the most difficult aspects of multiple-reality thinking. But this approach is necessary to bridge the otherwise impossible separation of individuals implied by the assumption of difference. If we accept that we might be different, given different constructions and circumstances, then we are free to imagine our thoughts and feelings from that different perspective. Insofar as we can then align the imagined self-perspective with that of an actual other person, we are able to empathize.
Step Two: Knowing Self
Many of us, although eager to develop empathy, are afraid of ?losing ourselves.? This is, indeed, a danger in empathy if we are not properly prepared. The preparation called for is to know ourselves sufficiently well so that an easy reestablishment of individual identity is possible. If we are aware of our own cultural and individual values, assumptions, and beliefs?that is, how we define our identities?then we need not fear losing those selves. We cannot lose something that can be re-created at will. The prerequisite of self-knowledge does not eliminate the possibility of change in ourselves as a result of empathizing. It merely makes such change a chosen option rather than an uncontrollable loss.
This step may also be applied effectively to ?natural empathizers? who sometimes report being uncomfortable with their inability to notempathize. These people are sometimes assailed by the unsought experience of feelings apparently belonging to other people. A common example of this kind of natural empathy is the experience of extreme nervousness when confronted by a nervous person. Natural empathizers cannot help ?picking up? the emotional states of others in their vicinity. The key to avoiding this uncontrolled empathy is self-knowledge, because it allows us to restrict our experience to a well-defined self when necessary. An emphasis on self-knowledge should not, however, degenerate into self-celebration. The elevation of self to reverential status is not only humorless, it also impedes the suspension of self necessary for the next step.
Step Three: Suspending Self
In this step, the identity that was clarified in Step Two is temporarily set aside. This is, of course, easier said than done. One way of thinking about this procedure is to imagine that the self, or identity, is an arbitrary boundary that we draw between ourselves and the rest of the world, including other people. The suspension of self is the temporary expansion of this boundary?the elimination of separation between self and environment.
It is possible here to see the necessary sequence of the steps. Suspension of the self-boundary is facilitated by knowing where the boundary is (self-knowledge), but only if one first has a self-referenced assumption of multiple-reality (assuming difference). If, for instance, the multiple-reality assumption is missing, then self-knowledge tends to impede suspension of boundaries, becoming instead egocentrism.
The focus of this step is not on suspending the ?content? of identity (assumptions, values, behavior sets, and so on). Rather, it is on the ability to modify and expand boundaries. The emphasis on content in Step Two was merely a device to clarify the boundary. Once clarified, suspension of self is a matter of expanding that boundary so as to ?lose? the self defined by it.
Step Four: Allowing Guided Imagination
When the self-boundary is extended, the normal distinction between internal and external (subjective and objective) is obliterated. Our awareness is free to wander among ?outside? phenomena, including other people, much as we normally wander within our ?inside? experience. In the extended state, we can move our attention into the experience of normally external events rather than turning our attentiononto those events, as we usually do. This shifting of awareness into phenomena not normally associated with self can be called ?imagination.?
For accurate interpersonal empathy to occur, we must allow our imagination to be guided into the experience of a specific other person. If we try to actively guide imagination, the process becomes more like thinking. Thinking is a self-activity, and thus it is inappropriate at this stage of empathy, where self is suspended. If we are successful inallowing our imagination to be captured by the other person, we are in the position to imaginatively participate in that person?s experience. The feeling of this shift in awareness is very similar to the imaginative participation in a play or a novel. It is the same kind of surrender to the drama before us?in this case, the human drama represented by the other person.
Another parallel to guided imagination is the operation of intuition in creative problem solving. Allowing intuition specific to a problem is a very similar process to that of allowing imagination specific to another person. In both cases, we are often struck with a sudden ?sense of the whole,? as if we were first outside the problem or person and then suddenly inside, looking out.
Step Five: Allowing Empathic Experience
When we have allowed our imagination to be guided inside the other person, we are in the position to experience that person as if that person were ourselves. While this experience is imaginative, its intensity and ?reality? are not necessarily less than that of our own normal experience. The intensity of empathic experience may even be greater, in a parallel to the sometimes larger-than-life intensity of drama.
The feeling of empathic experience is both familiar and alien. It is as if we were doing a normal activity like washing dishes, only on another planet. The familiar activity is that of experiencing, which we do constantly. The unfamiliar aspect is that the experience itself is not our own. We perceive a different set of feelings and thoughts about the world?a different construing?which seems to describe a place we have never seen. And indeed, this is true. With empathy, and only with empathy, we are privileged to live briefly in the least accessible land of all?another person?s experience.
Step Six: Reestablishing Self
Although finding our way into other people?s experience is important, it is equally necessary to remember the way back to our selves. In this culture, at least, the reestablishment of self is a necessary component of empathic communication. The failure to do so eventuates in a diffusion of identity, or ego-loss, that is not appropriate for much of our everyday interaction. The purpose of empathy is not life everlasting as one with the universe. Rather, interpersonal empathy allows the controlled and temporary suspension of identity for a particular purpose?the understanding of another person. When this purpose is achieved, the boundaries of self are best reinstituted. One exception to this, however, might be the maintenance of an intimate relationship in which we have committed to ?being one with? another person.
Identity is reestablished by first re-creating the sense of separateness between self and other that is the normal state in this culture. When this separation is regained, the content of our own worldview automatically reemerges, and a determination of which thoughts and feelings belong to whom can be made. It may even be useful to contrast our sympathetic reaction to the other person with our empathic understanding. From this contrast can emerge a clear recognition of the difference between ourselves and the other?a recognition that reinforces the necessity for empathy.
Toward the Platinum Rule
Although empathy can be used in any communication situation, we have been concerned in this article with its utility to the understanding of difference. As suggested by the ethnocentric connotations of sympathy mentioned earlier, the use of empathy might serve to create a more sensitive and respectful climate for interracial and intercultural communication.
Approaching people as if they are different from us allows us to generate an addition to the Golden Rule. It is the Platinum Rule, which could state, ?Do unto others as they themselves would have done unto them.? Through empathy, we at least can be aware of how others would like to be treated from their own perspectives. We may not want or be able to provide that treatment, but the very act of acknowledging the difference and attempting empathy is profoundly respectful and affirming of others. Of course, it is that respect for the equal (but different) humanity of others that was probably the original intent of the Golden Rule.
Bennett, Empathic Perception.
Stumbling Blocks in Intercultural Communication?LaRay M. Barna
LaRay Barna was an early practitioner of intercultural communication in the academic context. She pioneered the combining of intercultural education with the teaching of English as a Second Language, using techniques similar to those developed for the Intercultural Communication Workshop. Her article ?Stumbling Blocks in Intercultural Communication? is one of the first and still one of the best collections of observations about what impedes students and others from having more successful intercultural relations. Of particular note from a constructivist perspective, Barna places ?the assumption of similarity? as the most troublesome block, even more than language differences or evaluative stereotypes. In doing so, Barna recognizes that the primary barrier to effective intercultural communication is the ability to perceive the relevant cultural differences in the first place.
Why is it that contact with persons from other cultures is so often frustrating and fraught with misunderstanding? Good intentions, the use of what one considers to be a friendly approach, and even the possibility of mutual benefits don?t seem to be sufficient to ensure success?to many people?s surprise. A worse scenario is when rejection occurs just because the group to which a person belongs is ?different.? It?s appropriate at this time of major changes in the international scene to take a hard look at some of the reasons for the disappointing results of attempts at communication. New proximity and new types of relationships are presenting communication challenges that few people are ready to meet.
Assumption of Similarities
One answer to the question of why misunderstanding and/or rejection occurs is that many people naively assume there are sufficient similarities among peoples of the world to make communication easy. They expect that simply being human and having common requirements of food, shelter, security, and so on makes everyone alike. Unfortunately, they overlook the fact that the forms of adaptation to these common biological and social needs and the values, beliefs, and attitudes surrounding them are vastly different from culture to culture. The biological commonalities are not much help when it comes to communication, where we need to exchange ideas and information, find ways to live and work together, or just make the kind of impression we want to make.
Another reason many people are lured into thinking that ?people are people? is that it reduces the discomfort of dealing with difference, of not knowing. The thought that everyone is the same, deep down, is comforting. If someone acts or looks ?strange? (different from them), it is then possible to evaluate this as wrong and treat everyone ethnocentrically. The assumption of similarity does not often extend to the expectation of a common verbal language but it does interfere with caution in decoding nonverbal symbols, signs, and signals. No cross-cultural studies have proven the existence of a common nonverbal language except those in support of Darwin?s theory that facial expressions are universal.Paul Ekman found that ?the particular visible pattern on the face, the combination of muscles contracted for anger, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, happiness (and probably also for interest) is the same for all members of our species.?
This seems helpful until we realize that a person?s cultural upbringing determines whether or not the emotion will be displayed or suppressed as well as on which occasions and to what degree.The situations that bring about the emotional feeling also differ from culture to culture; for example, the death of a loved one may be a cause for joy, sorrow, or some other emotion, depending upon the accepted cultural belief. Since there seem to be no universals of ?human nature? that can be used as a basis for automatic understanding, we must treat each encounter as an individual case, searching for whatever perceptions and communication means are held in common and proceed from there. This is summarized by Vinh The Do:
If we realize that we are all culture bound and culturally modified, we will accept the fact that, being unlike, we do not really know what someone else ?is.? This is another way to view the ?people are people? idea. We now have to find a way to sort out the cultural modifiers in each separate encounter to find similarity.
Persons from the United States seem to hold this assumption of similarity more strongly than some other cultures do. The Japanese, for example, have the reverse belief that they are distinctively different from the rest of the world. This notion brings intercultural communication problems of its own. Expecting no similarities, they work hard to figure out the foreign stranger but do not expect foreigners to be able to understand them. This results in exclusionary attitudes and only passive efforts toward mutual understanding.
As Western trappings permeate more and more of the world, the illusion of similarity increases. A look-alike facade deceives representatives from contrasting cultures when each wears Western dress, speaks English, and uses similar greeting rituals. It is like assuming that New York City, Tokyo, and Tehran are all alike because each has the appearance of a modern city. But without being alert to possible underlying differences and the need to learn new rules for functioning, persons going from one city to the other will be in immediate trouble, even when taking on such simple roles as pedestrian or driver. Also, unless a foreigner expects subtle differences, it will take a long time of noninsulated living in a new culture (not in an enclave of his or her own kind) before he or she can adjust to new perceptual and nonevaluative thinking.
The confidence that comes with the myth of similarity is much stronger than with the assumption of differences, the latter requiring tentative assumptions and behaviors and a willingness to accept the anxiety of not knowing. Only with the assumption of differences, however, can reactions and interpretations be adjusted to fit what is happening. Without it one is likely to misread signs and symbols and judge the scene ethnocentrically.
The stumbling block of assumed similarity is a ?troublem,? as one English learner expressed it, not only for the foreigner but for the people in the host country (United States or any other) with whom the international visitor comes into contact. The native inhabitants are likely to be lulled into the expectation that since the foreign person is dressed appropriately and speaks some of the native language, he or she will also have similar nonverbal codes, thoughts, and feelings. In the United States nodding, smiling, and affirmative comments will probably be confidently interpreted by straightforward, friendly Americans as meaning that they have informed, helped, and pleased the newcomer. It is likely, however, that the foreigner actually understood very little of the verbal and nonverbal content and was merely indicating polite interest or trying not to embarrass himself or herself or the host by trying to verbalize questions. The conversation may even have confirmed a stereotype that Americans are insensitive and ethnocentric.
In instances like this, parties seldom compare impressions and correct misinterpretations. One place where opportunities for achieving insights do occur is in an intercultural classroom. Here, for example, U.S. students often complain that international student members of a discussion or project group seem uncooperative or uninterested. One person who had been thus judged offered the following explanation:
I was surrounded by Americans with whom I couldn?t follow their tempo of discussion half of the time. I have difficulty to listen and speak, but also with the way they handle the group. I felt uncomfortable because sometimes they believe their opinion strongly. I had been very serious about the whole subject but I was afraid I would say something wrong. I had the idea but not the words.
The classroom is also a good place to test whether one common nonverbal behavior, the smile, is actually the universal gesture people assume it to be. The following enlightening comments came from international students newly arrived in the United States:
Japanese student: On my way to and from school I have received a smile by non-acquaintance American girls several times. I have finally learned they have no interest for me; it means only a kind of greeting to a foreigner. If someone smiles at a stranger in Japan, especially [at] a girl, she can assume he is either a sexual maniac or an impolite person.
Korean student: An American visited me in my country for one week. His inference was that people in Korea are not very friendly because they didn?t smile or want to talk with foreign people. Most Korean people take time to get to be friendly with people. We never talk or smile at strangers.
Arab student: When I walked around the campus my first day, many people smiled at me. I was very embarrassed and rushed to the men?s room to see if I had made a mistake with my clothes. But I could find nothing for them to smile at. Now I am used to all the smiles.
Vietnamese student: The reason why certain foreigners may think that Americans are superficial?and they are, some Americans even recognize this?is that they talk and smile too much. For people who come from placid cultures where nonverbal language is more used, and where a silence, a smile, a glance have their own meaning, it is true that Americans speak a lot. The superficiality of Americans can also be detected in their relations with others. Their friendships are, most of the time, so ephemeral compared to the friendships we have at home. Americans make friends very easily and leave their friends almost as quickly, while in my country it takes a long time to find out a possible friend and then she becomes your friend?with a very strong sense of the term.
Statements from two U.S. students follow. The first comes from someone who has learned to look for differing perceptions and the second, unfortunately, reflects the stumbling block of assumed similarity.
U.S. student: I was waiting for my husband on a downtown corner when a man with a baby and two young children approached. Judging by small quirks of fashion [I guessed] he had not been in the U.S. long. I have a baby about the same age and in appreciation of his family and obvious involvement as a father I smiled at him. Immediately I realized I did the wrong thing as he stopped, looked me over from head to toe and said, ?Are you waiting for me? You meet me later?? Apparently I had acted as a prostitute would in his country.
U.S. student: In general it seems to me that foreign people are not necessarily snobs but are very unfriendly. Some class members have told me that you shouldn?t smile at others while passing them by on the street. To me I can?t stop smiling. It?s just natural to be smiling and friendly. I can see now why so many foreign people stick together. They are impossible to get to know. It?s like the Americans are big bad wolves. How do Americans break this barrier? I want friends from all over the world but how do you start to be friends without offending them or scaring them off?like sheep?
The discussion thus far threatens the popular expectation that increased contact with representatives of diverse cultures through travel, student exchange programs, joint business ventures, immigration, and so on will result in better understanding and friendship. Indeed, tests of that assumption have been disappointing.For example, research has found that Vietnamese immigrants who speak English well and have the best jobs suffer more from psychosomatic complaints and psychological disorders and are less optimistic about the future than their counterparts who remain in ethnic enclaves without attempts to adjust to their new homeland. One explanation given by the researcher is that these persons, unlike the less acculturated immigrants, ?spend considerable time in the mainstream of society, regularly facing the challenges and stresses of dealing with American attitudes.?
After twenty-four years of listening to conversations between international and U.S. students and professors and seeing the frustrations of both groups as they try to understand each other, I am inclined to agree with Charles Frankel, who says, ?Tensions exist within nations and between nations that never would have existed were these nations not in such intensive cultural communication with one another.? Recent world events have proven this to be true.
From a communicative perspective, it doesn?t have to be that way. Just as more opportunities now exist for cross-cultural contact, so does more information about how to meet this challenge. We now have access to more orientation and training programs around the world, more courses in intercultural communication in educational institutions, and more published material. Until people can squarely face the likelihood of meeting up with difference and misunderstanding, however, they will not be motivated to take advantage of these resources.
Many potential travelers who do try to prepare for out-of-country travel (for business conferences, government negotiations, study tours, or whatever) might gather information about the customs of the other country and a smattering of the language. Behaviors and attitudes of its people are sometimes researched, but necessarily from a secondhand source, such as a friend who has ?been there.? Experts realize that information gained in this fashion is general, seldom sufficient, and may or may not be applicable to the specific situation a traveler encounters or an area that he or she visits. Also, knowing exactly ?what to expect? often blinds the observer to all but that which confirms his or her image. Any contradictory evidence that does filter through the screens of preconception is likely to be treated as an exception and thus discounted.
A better approach is to begin by studying the history, political structure, art, literature, and language of the country as time permits. This provides a framework for on-site observations. It is even more important to develop an investigative, nonjudgmental attitude and a high tolerance for ambiguity?all of which require lowered defenses. Margaret Mead suggests sensitizing people to cross-cultural variables instead of developing behavior and attitude stereotypes. She reasons that there are individual differences in each encounter and that changes occur regularly in cultural patterns, making research information obsolete.
Edward C. Stewart and Milton J. Bennett also warn against providing lists of ?dos and don?ts? for travelers, mainly because behavior is ambiguous?the same action can have different meanings in different situations?and no one can be armed with prescriptions for every contingency. Instead they encourage people to learn to understand the assumptions and values on which their own behavior rests. This knowledge can then be compared with what is found in the other culture, and a ?third culture? can be adopted based on expanded cross-cultural understanding. The remainder of this article will examine some of the variables of the intercultural communication process itself and point out danger zones therein.
The first stumbling block has already been discussed at length?the hazard of assuming similarity instead of difference. A second danger will surprise no one?language difference. Vocabulary, syntax, idioms, slang, dialects, and so on all cause difficulty, but the person struggling with a different language is at least aware of being in trouble.
A greater language problem is the tenacity with which some people will cling to just one meaning of a word or phrase in the new language, regardless of connotation or context. The variations in possible meaning, especially when inflection and tone are varied, are so difficult to cope with that they are often waved aside. This complacency will stop a search for understanding. The nationwide misinterpretation of Khrushchev?s sentence ?We will bury you? is a classic example. Even ?yes? and ?no? cause trouble. When a nonnative speaker first hears the English phrase, ?Won?t you have some tea?? he or she listens to the literal meaning of the sentence and answers, ?No,? meaning that he or she wants some. The U.S. hostess, on the other hand, ignores the double negative because of common usage, and the guest gets no tea. Also, in some cultures it is polite to refuse the first or second offer of refreshment. Many foreign guests have gone hungry because they never got a third offer. This is another case of where ?no? means ?yes.?
There are other language problems, including the different styles of using language such as direct, indirect; expansive, succinct; argumentative, conciliatory; instrumental, harmonizing; and so on. These different styles can lead to wrong interpretations of intent and evaluations of insincerity, aggressiveness, deviousness, or arrogance, among others.
Learning the language, which most visitors to foreign countries consider their only barrier to understanding, is actually only the beginning. As Frankel says, ?To enter into a culture is to be able to hear, in Lionel Trilling?s phrase, its special ?hum and buzz of implication?.? This suggests the third stumbling block, nonverbal misinterpretations. People from different cultures inhabit different sensory realities. They see, hear, feel, and smell only that which has some meaning or importance for them. They abstract whatever fits into their personal world of recognition and then interpret it through the frame of reference of their own culture. An example follows:
An Oregon girl in an intercultural communication class asked a young man from Saudi Arabia how he would nonverbally signal that he liked her. His response was to smooth back his hair, which to her was just a common nervous gesture signifying nothing. She repeated her question three times. He smoothed his hair three times. Then, realizing that she was not recognizing this movement as his reply to her question, he automatically ducked his head and stuck out his tongue slightly in embarrassment. This behavior was noticed by the girl and she expressed astonishment that he would show liking for someone by sticking out his tongue.
The misinterpretation of observable nonverbal signs and symbols?such as gestures, postures, and other body movements?is a definite communication barrier. But it is possible to learn the meanings of these observable messages, usually in informal rather than formal ways. It is more difficult to understand the less obvious unspoken codes of the other cultures, such as the handling of time and spatial relationships and the subtle signs of respect of formality.
Preconceptions and Stereotypes
The fourth stumbling block is the presence of preconceptions and stereotypes. If the label ?inscrutable? has preceded the Japanese guests, their behaviors (including the constant and seemingly inappropriate smile) will probably be seen as such. The stereotype that Arabs are ?inflammable? may cause U.S. students to keep their distance or even alert authorities when an animated and noisy group from the Middle East gathers. A professor who expects everyone from Indonesia, Mexico, and many other countries to ?bargain? may unfairly interpret a hesitation or request from an international student as a move to manipulate preferential treatment.
Stereotypes help do what Ernest Becker says the anxiety-prone human race must do?reduce the threat of the unknown by making the world predictable. Indeed, this is one of the basic functions of culture: to lay out a predictable world in which the individual is firmly oriented. Stereotypes are overgeneralized, secondhand beliefs that provide conceptual bases from which we make sense out of what goes on around us, whether or not they are accurate or fit the circumstances. In a foreign land their use increases our feeling of security. Stereotypes are psychologically necessary to the degree that we cannot tolerate ambiguity or the sense of helplessness resulting from our inability to understand and interact with people and situations beyond our comprehension.
Stereotypes are stumbling blocks for communicators because they interfere with objective viewing of stimuli?the sensitive search for cues to guide the imagination toward the other person?s reality. They are not easy to overcome in ourselves or to correct in others, even with the presentation of evidence. Stereotypes persist because they are firmly established as myths or truisms by one?s own national culture and because they sometimes rationalize prejudices. They are also sustained and fed by the tendency to perceive selectively only those pieces of new information that correspond to the image held. For example, a visitor who is accustomed to privation and the values of self-denial and self-help cannot fail to experience American culture as materialistic and wasteful. The stereotype for the visitor becomes a reality.
Tendency to Evaluate
The fifth stumbling block and deterrent to understanding between persons of differing cultures or ethnic groups is the tendency to evaluate,to approve or disapprove, the statements and actions of the other person or group. Rather than try to comprehend thoughts and feelings from the worldview of the other, we assume our own culture or way of life is the most natural. This bias prevents the open-mindedness needed to examine attitudes and behaviors from the other?s point of view. A midday siesta changes from a ?lazy habit? to a ?pretty good idea? when someone listens long enough to realize the midday temperature in that country is 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
Fresh from a conference in Tokyo where Japanese professors had emphasized the preference of the people of Japan for simple natural settings of rocks, moss, and water and of muted greens and misty ethereal landscapes, I visited the Katsura Imperial Gardens in Kyoto. At the appointed time of the tour a young Japanese guide approached the group of twenty waiting Americans and remarked how fortunate it was that the day was cloudy. This brought hesitant smiles to the group, who were less than pleased at the prospect of a shower. The guide?s next statement was that the timing of the summer visit was particularly appropriate in that the azalea and rhododendron blossoms were gone and the trees had not yet turned to their brilliant fall colors. The group laughed loudly, now convinced that the young man had a fine sense of humor. I winced at his bewildered expression, realizing that had I come before attending the conference, I would have shared the group?s belief that he could not be serious.
The miscommunication caused by immediate evaluation is heightened when feelings and emotions are deeply involved; yet this is just the time when listening with understanding is most needed. As stated by Carolyn W. Sherif, Musafer Sherif, and Roger Neber-gall, ?A person?s commitment to his religion, politics, values of his family, and his stand on the virtue of his way of life are ingredients in his self-picture?intimately felt and cherished.? It takes both an awareness of this tendency to close our minds and the courage to risk changing our own perceptions and values to dare to comprehend why someone thinks and acts differently from us. Religious wars and negotiation deadlocks everywhere are examples of this.
On an interpersonal level there are innumerable illustrations of the tendency to evaluate which result in a breach in intercultural relationships. Two follow:
U.S. student: A Persian friend got offended because when we got in an argument with a third party, I didn?t take his side. He says back home you are supposed to take a friend?s or family?s side even when they are wrong. When you get home then you can attack the ?wrongdoer? but you are never supposed to go against a relative or friend to a stranger. This I found strange because even if it is my mother and I think she is wrong, I say so.
Korean student: When I call on my American friend he said through window, ?I am sorry. I have no time because of my study.? Then he shut the window. I couldn?t understand through my cultural background. House owner should have welcome visitor whether he likes or not and whether he is busy or not. Also the owner never speaks without opening his door.
The admonition to resist the tendency to immediately evaluate does not mean that one should not develop one?s own sense of right and wrong. The goal is to look and listen empathically rather than through the thick screen of value judgments that impede a fair and total understanding. Once comprehension is complete, it can be determined whether or not there is a clash in values or ideology. If so, some form of adjustment or conflict resolution can be put into place.
High anxiety or tension, also known as stress, is common in cross-cultural experiences due to the number of uncertainties present. The two words, anxiety and tension, are linked because one cannot be mentally anxious without also being physically tense. Moderate tension and positive attitudes prepare one to meet challenges with energy. Too much anxiety or tension requires some form of relief, which too often comes in the form of defenses, such as the skewing of perceptions, withdrawal, or hostility. That?s why it is considered a serious stumbling block. As stated by Young Y. Kim,
Stress, indeed, is considered to be inherent in intercultural encounters, disturbing the internal equilibrium of the individual system. Accordingly, to be interculturally competent means to be able to manage such stress, regain internal balance, and carry out the communication process in such a way that contributes to successful interaction outcomes.
High anxiety or tension, unlike the other five stumbling blocks (assumption of similarity, language, nonverbal misinterpretations, preconceptions and stereotypes, and the practice of immediate evaluation), is not only distinct but often underlies and compounds the other stumbling blocks. The use of stereotypes and evaluations are defense mechanisms in themselves, used to alleviate the stress of the unknown. If the person were tense or anxious to begin with, these mechanisms would be used even more. Falling prey to the aura of similarity is also a protection from the stress of recognizing and accommodating to differences. Different language and nonverbal patterns are difficult to use or interpret under the best of conditions. The distraction of trying to reduce the feeling of anxiety (sometimes called ?internal noise?) makes mistakes even more likely. Jack R. Gibb remarks,
Defense arousal prevents the listener from concentrating upon the message. Not only do defensive communicators send off multiple value, motive, and affect cues, but also defensive recipients distort what they receive. As a person becomes more and more defensive, he becomes less and less able to perceive accurately the motives, the values, and the emotions of the sender.
Anxious feelings usually permeate both parties in an intercultural dialogue. The host national is uncomfortable when talking with a foreigner because he or she cannot maintain the normal flow of verbal and nonverbal interaction. There are language and perception barriers; silences are too long or too short; proxemic and other norms may be violated. He or she is also threatened by the other?s unknown knowledge, experience, and evaluation?the visitor?s potential for scrutiny and rejection of the person and/or the country. The inevitable question, ?How do you like it here?? which the foreigner abhors, is a quest for reassurance or at least a ?feeler? that reduces the unknown. The reply is usually more polite than honest, but this is seldom realized.
The foreign members of dyads are even more threatened. They feel strange and vulnerable, helpless to cope with messages that swamp them. Their own normal reactions are inappropriate. Their self-esteem is often intolerably undermined unless they employ such defenses as withdrawal into their own reference group or into themselves, screen out or misperceive stimuli, use rationalization or overcompensation, or become aggressive or hostile. None of these defenses leads to effective communication.
Culture Shock. If a person remains in a foreign culture over time, the stress of constantly being on guard to protect oneself against making ?stupid mistakes? takes its toll and he or she will probably be affected by ?culture fatigue,? usually called culture shock. According to LaRay M. Barna,
The innate physiological makeup of the human animal is such that discomfort of varying degrees occurs in the presence of alien stimuli. Without the normal props of one?s own culture, there is unpredictability, helplessness, a threat to self-esteem, and a general feeling of ?walking on ice??all of which are stress producing.
The result of several months of this sustained anxiety or tension (or excitation if the high activation is perceived positively) is that reserve energy supplies become depleted, the person?s physical capacity is weakened, and a feeling of exhaustion, desperation, or depression may take over. He or she consciously or unconsciously is then more likely to use psychological defenses, such as those described previously. If this temptation is resisted, the sojourner suffering from the strain of constant adjustment may find his or her body absorbing the stress in the form of stomach- or backaches, insomnia, inability to concentrate, or other stress-related illnesses.
The following account by a sojourner to the United States illustrates the trauma of culture shock:
Soon after arriving in the United States from Peru, I cried almost every day. I was so tense I heard without hearing, and this made me feel foolish. I also escaped into sleeping more than twelve hours at a time and dreamed of my life, family, and friends in Lima. After three months of isolating myself in the house and speaking to no one, I ventured out. I then began to have severe headaches. Finally I consulted a doctor, but she only gave me a lot of drugs to relieve the pain. Neither my doctor nor my teachers ever mentioned the two magic words that could have changed my life: culture shock! When I learned about this, I began to see things from a new point of view and was better able to accept myself and my feelings. I now realize most of the Americans I met in Lima before I came to the U.S. were also in one of the stages of culture shock.
They demonstrated a somewhat hostile attitude toward Peru, which the Peruvians sensed and usually moved from an initially friendly attitude to a defensive, aggressive attitude or to avoidance. The Americans mostly stayed within the safe cultural familiarity of the embassy compound. Many seemed to feel that the difficulties they were experiencing in Peru were specially created by Peruvians to create discomfort for ?gringos.? In other words, they displaced their problem of adjustment and blamed everything on Peru.
Culture shock is a state of dis-ease, and, like a disease, it has different effects, different degrees of severity, and different time spans for different people. It is the least troublesome to those who learn to accept cultural diversity with interest instead of anxiety and manage normal stress reactions by practicing positive coping mechanisms, such as conscious physical relaxation.
Physiological Reactions. Understanding the physiological component of the stumbling block of anxiety/tension helps in the search for ways to lessen its debilitating effects. It is hard to circumvent because, as human animals, our biological system is set so that anything that is perceived as being ?not normal? automatically signals an alert.Depending on how serious the potential threat seems to be, extra adrenaline and noradrenaline pour into the system; muscles tighten; the heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate increase; the digestive process turns off; and other changes occur.
This ?fight or flight? response was useful?actually a biological gift for survival or effective functioning?when the need was for vigorous action. However, if the danger is to one?s social self, which is more often the case in today?s world, too much anxiety or tension just gets in the way. This is particularly true in an intercultural setting, where the need is for understanding, calm deliberation, and empathy in order to untangle misperceptions and enter into smooth relationships.
All is not doom and gloom, however. As stated by Holger Ur-sin, ?The bodily response to changes in the environment and to threatening stimuli is simply activation.? Researchers believe that individuals control their emotional response to that activation by their own cognitions. If a person expects something to be exciting rather than frightening, he or she is more likely to interpret the somatic changes of the body as excitement. Hans Selye would label that ?the good stress,? which does much less harm unless it continues for some time without relief.Feeling ?challenged? facilitates functioning as opposed to feeling ?threatened.?
People also differ in their stress tolerance. Everyone knows people who, for whatever the reasons, ?fall apart at the least thing? and others who seem unflappable in any crisis. If you are one of the former, there are positive ways to handle the stress of intercultural situations, whether these be one-time encounters or frequent dialogues in multicultural settings. For starters, you can find opportunities to become familiar with many types of people so that differences become normal and interesting instead of threatening. And you can practice body awareness so that changes that signify a stress reaction can be identified and counteracted.
See Charles Darwin, The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals(New York: Appleton, 1872); Irenaus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Ethology: The Biology of Behavior (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970); Paul Ekrnan and Wallace V. Friesen, ?Constants across Cultures in the Face and Emotion,? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 17 (1971): 124?29.
Paul Ekman, ?Movements with Precise Meanings,? Journal of Communication 26 (Summer 1976): 19?20.
Paul Ekman and Wallace V. Friesen, ?The Repertoire of Nonverbal Behavior?Categories, Origins, Usage, and Coding,? Semiotica 1 (1969): 1.
Personal correspondence. Mr. Do is a multicultural specialist, Portland Public Schools, Portland, Oregon.
E. Tai, ?Modification of the Western Approach to Intercultural Communication for the Japanese Context,? master?s thesis, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon, 1986: 45?47.
Taken from student papers in a course in intercultural communication taught by the author.
See, for example, Bryant Wedge, Visitors to the United States and How They See Us (Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand, 1965); and Milton Miller et al., ?The Cross-Cultural Student: Lessons in Human Nature,?Bulletin of Menninger Clinic (March 1971).
Jack D. Horn, ?Vietnamese Immigrants: Doing Poorly by Doing Well,?Psychology Today (June 1980): 103?04.
Charles Frankel, The Neglected Aspect of Foreign Affairs(Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1965): 1.
For information see newsletters and other material prepared by the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research (SIETAR), 1444 I Street NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC, 20005. Sources are also listed in the International and Intercultural Communication Annual,published by the National Communication Association, 5105 Backlick Rd., Suite E, Annandale, VA, 22003; the International Journal of Intercultural Relations, Department of Psychology, University of Mississippi, University, MS, 38677.
Margaret Mead, ?The Cultural Perspective,? in Communication or Conflict, edited by Mary Capes (New York: Association Press, I960).
Edward C. Stewart and Milton J. Bennett, American Cultural Patterns: A Cross-Cultural Perspective, rev. ed. (Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 1991).
Frankel, Neglected Aspect of Foreign Affairs, 103.
Ernest Becker, The Birth and Death of Meaning (New York: Free Press, 1962), 84?89.
Carolyn W. Sherif, Musafer Sherif, and Roger Nebergall, Attitude and Attitude Change (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1965), vi.
Taken from student papers in a course in intercultural communication taught by the author.
Young Y. Kim, ?Intercultural Communication Competence: A Systems-Theoretic View,? in Cross-Cultural Interpersonal Communication, vol. 15, edited by Stella Ting-Toomey and Felipe Korzenny, International and Intercultural Communication Annual (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1991).
Jack R. Gibb ?Defensive Communication,? Journal of Communication2 (September 1961): 141?48.
LaRay M. Barna, ?The Stress Factor in Intercultural Relations,? inHandbook of Intercultural Training, vol. 2, edited by Dan Landis and Richard W. Brislin (New York: Pergamon Press, 1983), 42?43.
Hans Selye, ?Stress: It?s a G.A.S.,? Psychology Today (September 1969).
Barna, ?Stress Factor,? 29?30.
Barna, ?Stress Factor,? 33?39.
Hans Selye, Stress without Distress (New York, J. B. Lippincott, 1974); Hans Selye, The Stress of Life (New York: Mc-Graw-Hill, 1976).
Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (New York: Bantam, 1970), 334? 42; Holger Ursin, ?Activation, Coping and Psychosomatics,? inPsychobiology of Stress: A Study of Coping Men, edited by Eirind Baade, Seymour Levine, and Holger Ursin (New York: Academic Press, 1978).
Donald Oken, ?Stress?Our Friend, Our Foe,? in Blue Print for Health(Chicago: Blue Cross, 1974).
Ursin, ?Activation, Coping and Psychosomatics,? 219.
B. B. Brown, ?Perspectives on Social Stress,? in Selye?s Guide to Stress Research, vol. 1, edited by Hans Selye (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1980); J. P. Keating, ?Environmental Stressors: Misplaced Emphasis Crowding as Stressor,? in Stress and Anxiety, vol. 6, edited by Irwin G. Sarason and Charles D. Spielberger (Washington, DC: Hemisphere, 1979); Stanley Schachter and J. E. Singer, ?Cognitive, Social and Physiological Determinants of Emotional State,?Psychological Review 69 (1962).
Hans Selye, ?On the Real Benefits of Eustress,? Psychology Today(March 1978).
Richard S. Lazarus, ?Positive Denial: The Case for Not Facing Reality,? Psychology Today (November 1979).
Being aware of the six stumbling blocks is certainly the first step in avoiding them, but it isn?t easy. For most people it takes insight, training, and sometimes an alteration of long-standing habits or thinking patterns before progress can be made. The increasing need for global understanding, however, gives all of us the responsibility for giving it our best effort.
We can study other languages and learn to expect differences in nonverbal forms and other cultural aspects. We can train ourselves to meet intercultural encounters with more attention to situational details. We can use an investigative approach rather than stereotypes and preconceptions. We can gradually expose ourselves to differences so that they become less threatening. We can even learn to lower our tension level when needed to avoid triggering defensive reactions.
The overall goal should be to achieve intercultural communication competence, which is defined by Kim as ?the overall internal capability of an individual to manage key challenging features of intercultural communication: namely, cultural differences and unfamiliarity, intergroup posture, and the accompanying experience of stress.?
Roger Harrison adds a final thought:
The communicator cannot stop at knowing that the people he is working with have different customs, goals, and thought patterns from his own. He must be able to feel his way into intimate contact with these alien values, attitudes, and feelings. He must be able to work with them and within them, neither losing his own values in the confrontation nor protecting himself behind a wall of intellectual detachment.
Kim, ?Intercultural Communication Competence,? 259.
Roger Harrison, ?The Design of Cross-Cultural Training: An Alternative to the University Model,? in Explorations in Human Relations Training and Research, NEA, no. 2 (Bethesda, MD: National Training Laboratories, 1966), 4.
Cultural Assumptions and Value?Edward C. Stewart, Jack Danielian, and Robert J. Foster
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, ideas about intercultural communication were being consolidated into ever more sophisticated models. One such model emerged in the late sixties in response to a request from the U.S. military, which was looking for ways to reduce the image of the ?ugly American? abroad. Edward Stewart believed that the key to improving intercultural communication was cultural self-awareness, so he and his colleagues Jack Danielian and Robert Foster constructed a model of Amer-ican culture and its cultural contrasts. In a simulation, actors were trained to respond to American participants in terms of contrasting values, assumptions, and ?forms,? with the result that Americans became more aware of their own culture. The structure of this model, which is described in the article ?Cultural Assumptions and Values,? became the basis of gaining self-awareness in many other cultural contexts. In 1977, Stewart published an influential book based on the model?American Cultural Patterns: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. A revision of that book, published in 1991, added Milton Bennett as a coauthor and it is still in print.
For purposes of analysis, culture may be examined at four levels: concrete behavior, values, assumptions, and generalized cultural forms.The last three are necessarily derived from observations of behavior but can be usefully treated as a motivational explanation underlying most human behavior. Viewed at the individual level they are, in effect, internalized components of personality that are generally shared with other members of the cultural group.
Values are relatively concrete, discrete, and specific; for instance, typical American values are the sanctity of private property, the desirability of physical comfort, and the need for tangible measures of success. Values also have a quality of ?oughtness? and are relatively available to individual awareness. A person will often discuss values when explaining his or her own or others? feelings or behavior.
Assumptions, on the other hand, are more abstract and more outside of conscious awareness. They represent the predispositions the individual employs to pattern the world and are usually felt by the individual to be an aspect of the world itself and not simply his or her perception of it. Examples of American assumptions are a predisposition to see the self as separate from the world and the usual endorsement of ?doing? as the preferred means of self-expression.
Assumptions provide a person with a sense of reality?which is only one of several possible realities?and values provide a basis for choice and evaluation. However, assumptions and values merge into one another. What is an assumption for one individual, or for one culture, may be a value for another individual or for another culture. Any one concept held by a person is likely to combine aspects of both assumptions and values; hence it is difficult, and often unimportant, to determine whether it is one or the other.
In some cases the cognitive processes underlying cultural thinking are so abstract and lacking in substantive reference that they are probably best distinguished from assumptions and called cultural forms. Examples include assumptions about time, space, essence, energy, and logical process. Cultural forms tend to overlap with assumptions and, to a lesser degree, values. For training purposes it is probably not critical to be able to make firm distinctions; consequently, after the nature of forms, assumptions, and values is illustrated, these concepts will generally be treated under the label ?value and assumption? or, where it seems more appropriate, ?predisposition.? Occasionally, ?perspective? or ?frame of reference? will be used with more or less the same meaning.
A frequent objection made to efforts to analyze any culture is that people differ from one another in many ways, even within a culture, and any attempt to describe a people according to broad generalizations, such as cultural characteristics, results in stereotypes. It is clear that people differ widely with respect to any particular behavior or value. Nevertheless, certain values and assumptions are dominant in, for example, American culture and are shared to one degree or another by most members. Thus, when we speak of an American value (or assumption), we refer to a peak or modal tendency for a range (distribution) of that value in the culture. All points on the distribution can be found in any society; thus, when two cultures are compared on a given dimension, there is overlap (i.e., some members of Culture A will be more typical of Culture B than many members of Culture B who may be far from the modal point of their culture).
In addition, an individual?s reactions will vary from situation to situation and from time to time in the same situation. However, there is a relative internal integration and stability in behavior over time and situation. Variations, thus, should not obscure systematic differences which do exist or the validity of stereotypes (modal tendencies) in understanding intercultural phenomena.
Cultural patterns, including their variations, may be seen as guides to ?a limited number of common human problems for which all peoples at all times must find some solution.? These problem areas can be used as a framework for identifying inclusive cultural dimensions on which all cultures can be plotted. The common human problems covered by such a system of assumptions and values can be classified under five categories: activity, social relations, motivation, perception of the world, and perception of the self and of the individual. Each category is briefly identified by describing some American values and assumptions, together with non-Western alternatives, which fall within each category. Their identification follows the work of Florence R. Kluckhohn, with a few divergencies.
Self-expression is a problem common to all humans; Kluckhohn refers to this as the activity modality. In American society, the dominant mode of activity is doing. Doing refers to the assumption that activity should result in externalized, visible accomplishment as exemplified by the stock American phrase, ?getting things done.? The contrasting mode is being,which, however, does not connote passivity, since a person with a being orientation can be very active. The being orientation refers to the spontaneous expression of what is regarded as the given nature of human personality. It values the phenomenological experience of humanity rather than tangible accomplishments and is associated with the notion of having a natural and given position in society. A third possible orientation to activity, which stresses development of all aspects of the integrated person?being-in-becoming?is similar to being in its stress on experience rather than accomplishment, but it is dynamic.
Another area of activity that can be analyzed according to several dimensions is problem-solving decision making. In some cultures, decisions are more likely to be made by an individual because of the role he or she occupies; under this condition, decisions are much more likely to be influenced by the characteristics of the role than by the preferences or commitments of the individual. Another possibility is for decision making to be a function of a group, and for no one individual or role occupant to assume responsibility for it. This last alternative, for example, is more typical of Japanese culture than of American culture.
The concept of what constitutes decision making varies from culture to culture and thus requires some alteration when examined within different cultural frameworks. In American society the process of decision making unfolds primarily through the anticipation of the consequences of alternative courses of action. In some other cultures, however, the function of the decision maker or makers is to evaluate a situation by classifying it according to preestablished categories. Whatever action ensues, or whatever decisions are made, will follow automatically from this traditional classifying activity. Perhaps it is such a process of classification that leads some Western observers to conclude that in the underdeveloped world few decisions are required. This example illustrates the difficulty of getting outside of one?s own cultural framework when one is required to examine parallel processes from culture to culture.
The distinctions between different ways of organizing activity also have important implications for learning or teaching. For example, Americans implicitly assume that learning is an active process requiring performance by the learner, whose incentive to learn is either a future reward or the avoidance of punishment; thus, learning is regarded as a process of shaping the responses of the learner and building upon them. In some cultures the learner is assumed to be passive and the chief technique used is serial rote learning; learning is assumed to be an automatic process occurring in a highly structured situation. From this perspective, events in the natural and social world of the learner occur automatically in response to his or her actions. Since the world is considered as overwhelming, highly structured, and impervious to the initiative of the individual, no stress is put on spontaneity or upon the characteristics of the learner. This kind of learning corresponds to a Pavlovian situation, and is more prevalent in Bali, for example, than in the United States.
These brief descriptions of some possible alternative values and assumptions underlying different expressions of activity call attention to the necessity for using several dimensions to explain any specific behavior. In speaking of decision making and learning, for instance, allusions to perception of the self, perception of the world, and motivation are required.
Clyde Kluckhohn et al., ?Values and Value-Orientations in the Theory of Action,? in Toward a General Theory of Action, edited by Talcott Parsons and Edward A. Shils (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1951), 388?433.
Florence R. Kluckhohn and Fred L. Strodtbeck, Variations in Value Orientations (1961; reprint, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973).
Florence R. Kluckhohn, ?Some Reflections on the Nature of Cultural Integration and Change,? in Sociological Theory, Values and Sociocultural Change: Essays in Honor of P. A. Sorokin, edited by Edward A. Tiryakian (New York: Free Press, 1963), 221.
Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, Variations.
Fred N. Kerlinger, ?Decision-Making in Japan,? Social Forces 30 (October 1951): 36?41.
Kalman H. Silvert, ?National Values, Development, and Leaders and Followers,? UNESCO International Social Science Journal 15, no. 4 (1963): 560?70.
Gregory Bateson, ?Social Planning and the Concept of Deutero-Learning,? in Readings in Social Psychology, edited by Theodore M. Newcomb and Eugene L. Hartley (New York: Henry Holt, 1947), 121?28.
Gerardo and Alicia Reichel-Dolmatoff, The People of Ari-tama: The Cultural Personality of a Colombian Mestizo Village (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961).
Bateson, Social Planning.
A chief characteristic of social relationships among Americans of the middle class is equality. Its ramifications are so profound that it should be considered an assumption of American culture, even though as an expressed value there is no uniform application to all segments of the society. In nearly every other culture there is a much greater emphasis on inequality of persons. To assume that everyone is equal and should be treated alike is considered, in some cultures, to be demeaning to the individuality of the person. Inequality underlies social conventions and etiquette and clearly defined reciprocity among persons engaged in social interactions.
In American culture social conventions tend to be more informal and social reciprocities much less clearly defined. For example, equality removes the need for elaborate forms of social address, since one of the functions of formality is to call attention to the participants? respective status and ascriptions. Americans usually tend to ignore these qualities of social intercourse, quickly achieve a first-name basis with others, and conduct both business and social intercourse with directness and informality. Unlike members of other cultures such as the Thai, Americans prefer direct contact with others in either business or social affairs and hence seldom have need of a third person, an intermediary, as do the Thai.
Despite the emphasis on equality and informality, there is an element of depersonalization in relationships between Americans. Americans have many friends, but these are often associated with a given situation or time. Furthermore, the word friend may serve to describe anyone from a passing acquaintance to a lifetime associate. American friendship differs from that found in many parts of the world, where an individual may have few friends but is likely to have a total, rather than a selective, commitment to them. Individuals may be disinclined to share a friend with other friends, since both the quality of friendship and the number of friends are considered limited and hence not to be squandered.
Americans tend to be relatively impartial and objective in the conduct of social relations, compared to the personalized interactions found in many parts of the world. Examples of the former are large charitable fund-raising efforts, objective standards of promotion, and the uneasiness about gift giving in business.
Examples of personalized interaction are found in the paternal benevolence of the Japanese and Latin Americans, personal leadership of the Latin caudillos, and the nepotism endemic to Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The depersonalized predisposition of Americans combines with other values to nurture competition in which each individual strives for his or her own personal goals. For example, ?joshing,? ?one-upmanship,? ?repartee,? and a ?friendly suggestion? are subtle forms of competition. Although this sort of behavior in interpersonal relations usually seems innocuous to Americans, such actions are perceived as subtle coercion in many other cultures.
Robin M. Williams Jr., American Society: A Sociological Interpretation(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961), 415?26.
Conrad M. Arensberg and Arthur H. Niehoff, Introducing Social Change (Chicago: Aldine Publishing, 1964).
Clyde Kluckhohn, ?American Culture?A General Description,? inHuman Factors in Military Operations, edited by Richard H. Williams, Technical Memorandum ORO-T-259, Operations Research Office, Johns Hopkins University, Chevy Chase, Maryland, 1957, 94?111.
George M. Foster, ?Peasant Society and the Image of Limited Good,?American Anthropologist 67, no. 2 (April 1965): 293?315.
In describing American social relations as ?depersonalized? and those of others as ?personalized,? no invidious comparison is intended. Trust, goodwill, and acceptance of other people for what they are, for example, are American characteristics but they need not be personalized in their expression. Distrust and suspicion are quite personal and more common in many other parts of the world than in the United States.
Rosalie H. Wax and Robert K. Thomas, ?American Indians and White People,? Phylon 22, no. 4 (Winter 1961): 305?17.
A third category of assumptions and values is motivation. Achievement is generally agreed to be a chief motivating force in American culture. It is the force which gives the culture its quality of ?driveness.? An American?s identity and, to a large degree, worth are established by accomplishments; an American is what an American achieves. Furthermore, accomplishments should be objective, visible, and measurable, since the culture does not readily provide a means of evaluating and knowing the self except through external performance.
Relative to members of many other societies, Americans do not attribute particular meaning to place of birth, family, heritage, traditional status, or other prescriptive considerations which can be used to define the self. American culture, then, emphasizes personal achievement through externally documented accomplishments while many other societies emphasize ascription with its attendant concern for the traditionally fixed status of the individual.
An American?s investment in material and visible signs of success leads one to inquire about American notions about failure. For Americans the concept is difficult to accept and hence is usually avoided or rationalized. A typical response is to rationalize the failure as an inevitable part of the learning process leading to future accomplishment or to regard the situation as the fault of others.
Jules Henry, Culture against Man (New York: Random House, 1963).
David M. Potter, People of Plenty: Economic Abundance and the American Character (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1954).
Perception of the World
A dominant perception in American culture assumes that the world is material rather than spirit (or idea, essence, will, or process), and should be exploited for the material benefit of humanity. This perception implies a clear separation between humans and all other forms of life and nature. Men?s and women?s quality of humanness endows them with a value absent in other forms of life; they are unique because of their souls. Nature and the physical world, although often referred to as living, are conceived of as material and mechanistic.
This perspective is distinct from assumptions held in some other parts of the world (and variant assumptions in American culture) that humanity is inseparable from the environment and should strive for harmony with it. Nature is perceived as alive and animistic; animals and even inanimate objects have their own essence. Hence, no clear dividing line separates plants, rocks, rivers, and mountains from humans. Consequently, they should strive for unity and integration with nature and the physical world rather than attempt to control these forces.
Control and exploitation of the environment are closely associated with the concept of progress, a notion relatively absent in many parts of the world. There is a prevalent notion among Americans that a person and especially an organization must progress or cease to exist; one cannot stand still and continue to function.
Bound up with the idea of progress and achievement motivation in American culture is a feeling of general optimism toward the future. Most Americans feel that through their efforts a better future can be brought about which will not compromise the welfare and progress of others.There is enough for everyone. Such a system of values and assumptions, of course, receives repeated reinforcement, since Americans live in a country with an expanding economy and resources. These assumptions contrast with the concept of ?limited good? and fatalism found in many parts of the world.
The American?s high valuation of material aspects of the world, in combination with values associated with the self as an individual, forms cultural underpinnings for a strong and salient cultural concept of private property.
Arensberg and Niehoff, Introducing Social Change.
Clyde Kluckhohn and Florence R. Kluckhohn, ?American Culture: Generalized Orientations and Class Patterns,? in Conflicts of Power in Modem Culture: Seventh Symposium, edited by Lyman Bryson (New York: Harper and Row, 1947).
Foster, ?Peasant Society.?
Perception of Self and the Individual
The concept of an individualistic self is an integral assumption of American culture so deeply ingrained that Americans ordinarily do not question it. They naturally assume that each person has his or her own separate identity. However, since this cultural assumption is implicit and generally outside the awareness of the American, the nature of self-identity is somewhat elusive. An individual?s relatively diffuse identity is, in part, a consequence of the absence of clear ascriptive classifications such as caste and class found in other cultures.
Stress on the individual begins at a very early age when the American child is encouraged to be autonomous. It is an accepted value that children (and adults) should be encouraged to make decisions for themselves, develop their own opinions, solve their own problems, have their own possessions. The concepts of freedom of choice and self-autonomy are, however, moderated by social control mechanisms in the form of expectations that the individual will choose according to the wishes of others.
An important consequence of this emphasis on the individual is that the American tends to resist formal authoritative control. The concept of ideal authority for the American is one that is minimal and exercised informally by means of persuasion and appeals to the individual, rather than by coercion or by expectation of compliance to tradition, as is the case in many other cultures.
Another consequence of the American?s individuality is that his or her self-concept is not easily merged with a group; any group, ranging from a small one to the nation, is conceived as a collection of individuals. The American resists becoming lost in a group or expresses concern about the nonperson emphasis of a cause or abstract ideology.
This avoidance of nonperson is tied to the fact that in the American culture ideas and concepts are typically made meaningful by using the individual as a point of reference. For example, concepts of dignity and human nature are most likely to take the form of self-respect, personal needs, and individual goals. With emphasis on concrete and self-referring terms, Americans are uncomfortable when referring to concepts that do not have a clear reference to the individual.
Another dimension of the perception of self and others revolves around the wholeness-divisibility of the person and is closely related to the American?s emphasis on objectives rather than personal relationships. Americans tend to fragment personalities. They do not have to accept other people in totality to be able to work with them; an American may disapprove of the politics, hobbies, or personal life of an associate and still work effectively with him or her. An individual with ascriptive motivation, however, tends to react to others as total or whole persons and, consequently, often cannot work or cooperate with a person of different religion, belief system, or ethical code.
Action, thoughts, and intent are separately evaluated in American culture. For example, the individual cannot be held legally liable for harboring undesirable thoughts. In parts of the non-West (perhaps China is the best example), there is no such clear differentiation. Instead, action, thoughts, feelings, and intents are synthesized in a total assessment of the person. Thus, an indication of ?wrong thoughts? would be grounds for censure even though undesirable action did not actually occur.
Margaret Mead, ?The Factor of Culture,? in The Selection of Personnel for International Services, edited by Mottram Torre (Geneva: Federation for Mental Health, 1963), 3?22.
Geoffrey Gorer, The American People: A Study in National Character(New York: W.W. Norton, 1948).
Generalized Cultural Forms
When the assumptions underlying cultural thinking are pervasive and lack substantive reference, they are probably best called cultural forms or form cognitions. While forms tend to merge with values and assumptions, they are discussed separately for conceptual clarity even though the distinction is not emphasized in training.
For Americans, the cultural form of time may usually be regarded as lineal. American concepts of planning, progress, preventive measures in health and technology, and orientation to the future may be seen to be associated with a lineal concept of time. Progress, for example, is closely associated with the view that time flows in one direction, toward the future. ?You?ve got to keep up with the times? is an American expression which illustrates this association. This concept of time is eminently suited to a rational view of the world. One can distinguish various events in time and note their relationship by calling the preceding moment ?the cause? and the next one ?an effect.? Although this description is oversimplified, it identifies the American predilection for seeing the world in concrete and delimited cause-and-effect sequences and provides a firm foundation on which to base the dominant American beliefs in accomplishment, in one?s ability to master one?s environment.
Concepts concerning contiguity and location may be regarded as aspects of space, a second kind of cultural form. Concepts of using space show important cultural differences. It is clear that different cultures deploy living and working areas in different patterns. Some cultures, such as Chinese, have a strong sense of territorialism; in other cultures, American for instance, territorialism is less highly developed, and one might expect it to be nearly absent in some nomadic cultures. Spatial displacements of persons in face-to-face interactions are also noticeably and measurably different from culture to culture. At the most abstract level, formal causes and correlational thinking may be considered expressions of spatial relations. Although they occur in American culture, they are not nearly so frequent as, for example, in Chinese culture. Temporal concepts, and efficient and material causes, are usually preferred by Americans.
A third kind of cultural form refers to the definitions of essence andenergy. Primarily, for Americans, the universe is conceived as matter, or as things; in contrast, some people from sub-Saharan Africa view the universe as consisting of a network of living forces. In their perspective, force is synonymous with being.
The relational form, a fourth possible kind of form cognition, is the one which perhaps most clearly refers to process rather than to structure. A basic issue underlying human behavior is the relationship between the empirical world and the cognitive world. If the relationship is isometric, the empirical world can be apprehended directly. Americans tend to comprehend what they observe through intermediate explanatory concepts, whereas many non-Western people are more likely to apprehend experience directly through intuition and spontaneous reaction, without a need for ?explanation? in the Western sense of the word.
The American is more likely to take a relativistic and pragmatic position than to assume the existence of a directly knowable reality. Another aspect of this contrast in relational forms is manifest in the American emphasis on analysis and logic as modes of expression rather than esthetic appreciation or sensitivity. 
Other cultural forms are related to those described above: for example, the American tendency toward inductive thinking and quantification in contrast to deduction and inherent qualities. Another important contrast is that between comparative judgment, which is typically American, and absolute judgment (i.e., comparison against an abstract standard).
A final additional example, the concept of limits, should be mentioned. George M. Foster has described a chief distinction between peasant and Western societies in terms of the concept of ?limited good.? The concept, in the most general sense of a cultural form, refers to the tendency to conceive of the world in limited rather than expansive terms. The assumption of ?unlimited good,? in American culture, underlies achievement motivation, in which individuals see their opportunities and achievements as relatively unlimited and at least partly determined by their efforts. The value configuration is frequently referred to as ?effort-optimism,? a key concept in understanding American behavior. In peasant societies the basic motivation is ascription, maintenance and entrenchment of status, privileges, and prerogatives.  Underlying this value is the concept that the good in the world is limited and that gains for one individual are necessarily obtained at the expense of others. Foster describes the ?image of the limited good? as,
one in which all of the desired things in life such as land, wealth, health, friendship and love, manliness and honor, respect and status, power and influence, security and safety,exist in finite quantity, and are always in short supply . . . Not only do these and other ?good things? exist in finite and limited quantities, but in addition there is no way directly within peasant power to increase the available quantities. It is as if the obvious fact of land shortage in a densely populated area applied to all other desired things: not enough to go around. ?Good,? like land, is seen as inherent in nature, there to be divided and redivided, if necessary, but not to be augmented.
This concept of limits has far-reaching consequences in all aspects of the cultural pattern.
The authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of Dr. Jasper Ingersoll, Department of Anthropology, Catholic University, to the development of this table.
Edward T. Hall, The Hidden Dimension (1966; reprint, New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1982).
Hajime Nakamura, Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India-China-Tibet-Japan(Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1964).
Janheinz Jahn, ?Value Conceptions in Sub-Saharan Africa,? in Cross-Cultural Understanding: Epistemology in Anthropology, edited by Filmer Stuart C. Northrop and Helen H. Livingston (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 56.
Filmer Stuart C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West, An Inquiry Concerning World Understanding (New York: Macmillan, 1945).
Foster, ?Peasant Society.?
Foster, ?Peasant Society?; Potter, People of Plenty.
Foster, ?Peasant Society,? 296.
Communication in a Global Village?Dean Barnlund
Dean Barnlund was a constructivist theorist and researcher in communication theory with extensive experience in psychology and linguistics. In the 1970s he recognized the connection among those fields and began to write works on intercultural communication that incorporated ideas from the linguistic theorist Benjamin Lee Whorf, the psychology theorist George Kelly, and the anthropology/communication theorist Gregory Bateson. This established the practical constructivist approach to intercultural communication that continues to this day. Barnlund was also a teacher, and he supported the instigation of intercultural communication as a subject in universities and professional institutes. In ?Communication in a Global Village,? Barnlund uses his constructivist approach to suggest how intercultural communication could be applied to living in multicultural societies and an interconnected world.
Nearing Autumn?s close.
How does he live, I wonder?
These lines, written by one of the most cherished of haiku poets, express our timeless and universal curiosity about humankind. When they were written, nearly three hundred years ago, the word neighbor referred to people very much like one?s self?similar in dress, in diet, in custom, in language?who happened to live next door. Today relatively few people are surrounded by neighbors who are cultural replicas of themselves. Tomorrow we can expect to spend most of our lives in the company of neighbors who will speak in a different tongue, seek different values, move at a different pace, and interact according to a different script. Within no more than a decade or two the probability of spending part of one?s life in a foreign culture will exceed the probability a hundred years ago of ever leaving the town in which one was born. As our world is transformed, our neighbors increasingly will be people whose lifestyles contrast sharply with our own.
The technological feasibility of such a global village is no longer in doubt. Only the precise date of its attainment is uncertain. The means already exist: in telecommunication systems linking the world by satellite, in aircraft capable of moving people faster than the speed of sound, in computers which can disgorge facts more rapidly than people can formulate their questions. The methods for bringing people closer physically and electronically are clearly at hand. What is in doubt is whether the erosion of cultural boundaries through technology will bring the realization of a dream or a nightmare. Will a global village be a mere collection of people or a true community? Will its residents be neighbors capable of respecting and utilizing their differences or clusters of strangers living in ghettos and united only in their antipathies for others?
Can we generate the new cultural attitudes required by our technological virtuosity? History is not very reassuring here. It has taken centuries to learn how to live harmoniously in the family, the tribe, the city-state, and the nation. Each new stretching of human sensitivity and loyalty has taken generations to become firmly assimilated in the human psyche. And now we are forced into a quantum leap from the mutual suspicion and hostility that have marked the past relations between peoples into a world in which mutual respect and comprehension are requisite.
Even events of recent decades provide little basis for optimism. Increasing physical proximity has brought no millennium in human relations. If anything, it has appeared to intensify the divisions among people rather than to create a broader intimacy. Every new reduction in physical distance has made us more painfully aware of the psychic distance that divides people and has increased alarm over real or imagined differences. If today people occasionally choke on what seem to be indigestible differences between rich and poor, male and female, specialist and nonspecialist within cultures, what will happen tomorrow when people must assimilate and cope with still greater contrasts in lifestyles? Wider access to more people will be a doubtful victory if human beings find they have nothing to say to one another or cannot stand to listen to each other.
Time and space have long cushioned intercultural encounters, confining them to touristic exchanges. But this insulation is rapidly wearing thin. In the world of tomorrow we can expect to live?not merely vacation?in societies which seek different values and abide by different codes. There we will be surrounded by foreigners for long periods of time, working with others in the closest possible relationships. If people currently show little tolerance or talent for encounters with alien cultures, how can they learn to deal with constant and inescapable coexistence?
The temptation is to retreat to some pious hope or talismanic formula to carry us into the new age. ?Meanwhile,? as Edwin Reischauer reminds us, ?we fail to do what we ourselves must do if ?one world? is ever to be achieved, and that is to develop the education, the skills, and the attitudes that men must have if they are to build and maintain such a world. The time is short, and the needs are great. The task faces all men. But it is on the shoulders of people living in the strong countries of the world, such as Japan and the United States, that this burden falls with special weight and urgency.?
Those who have truly struggled to comprehend other people?even those closest to and most like them?will appreciate the immensity of the challenge of intercultural communication. A greater exchange of people between nations, needed as that may be, carries with it no guarantee of increased cultural empathy; experience in other lands often does little but aggravate existing prejudices. Studying guidebooks or memorizing polite phrases similarly fails to explain differences in cultural perspectives. Programs of cultural enrichment, while they contribute to curiosity about other ways of life, do not cultivate the skills to function effectively in the cultures studied. Even concentrated exposure to a foreign language, valuable as it is, provides access to only one of the many codes that regulate daily affairs; human understanding is by no means guaranteed because conversants share the same dictionary. (Within the United States, where people inhabit a common territory and possess a common language, mutuality of meaning among Latino Americans, European Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, to say nothing of old and young, poor and rich, proestablishment and antiestablishment cultures, is a sporadic and unreliable occurrence.) Useful as all these measures are for enlarging appreciation of diverse cultures, they fall short of what is needed for a global village to survive.
What seems most critical is to find ways of gaining entrance into the assumptive world of another culture, to identify the norms that govern face-to-face relations, and to equip people to function within a social system that is foreign but no longer incomprehensible. Without this kind of insight, people are condemned to remain outsiders no matter how long they live in another country. Its institutions and its customs will be interpreted inevitably from the premises and through the medium of their own culture. Whether they notice something or overlook it, respect or ridicule it, express or conceal it, their reaction will be dictated by the logic of their own rather than the alien culture.
There are, of course, shelves and shelves of books on the cultures of the world. They cover the history, religion, political thought, music, sculpture, and industry of many nations. And they make fascinating and provocative reading. But only in the vaguest way do they suggest what it is that really distinguishes the behavior of a Samoan, a Congolese, a Japanese, or an American. Rarely do the descriptions of a political structure or religious faith explain precisely when and why certain topics are avoided or why specific gestures carry such radically different meanings according to the context in which they appear.
When former President Nixon and former Premier Sato met to discuss a growing problem concerning trade in textiles between Japan and the United States, Premier Sato announced that since they were on such good terms with each other the deliberations would be ?three parts talk and seven parts haragei.? Translated literally, haragei means to communicate through the belly, that is, to feel out intuitively rather than verbally state the precise position of each person.
Subscribing to this strategy?one that governs many interpersonal exchanges in his culture?Premier Sato conveyed without verbal elaboration his comprehension of the plight of American textile firms threatened by accelerating exports of Japanese fabrics to the United States. President Nixon?similarly abiding by norms that govern interaction within his culture?took this comprehension of the American position to mean that new export quotas would be forthcoming shortly.
During the next few weeks both were shocked at the consequences of their meeting: Nixon was infuriated to learn that the new policies he expected were not forthcoming, and Sato was upset to find that he had unwittingly triggered a new wave of hostility toward his country. If prominent officials, surrounded by foreign advisers, can commit such grievous communicative blunders, the plight of the ordinary citizen may be suggested. Such intercultural collisions, forced upon the public consciousness by the grave consequences they carry and the extensive publicity they receive, only hint at the wider and more frequent confusions and hostilities that disrupt the negotiations of lesser officials, business executives, professionals, and even visitors in foreign countries.
Every culture expresses its purposes and conducts its affairs through the medium of communication. Cultures exist primarily to create and preserve common systems of symbols by which their members can assign and exchange meanings. Unhappily, the distinctive rules that govern these symbol systems are far from obvious. About some of these codes, such as language, we have extensive knowledge. About others, such as gestures and facial codes, we have only rudimentary knowledge. On many others?rules governing topical appropriateness, customs regulating physical contact, time and space codes, strategies for the management of conflict?we have almost no systematic knowledge. To crash another culture with only the vaguest notion of its underlying dynamics reflects not only a provincial naivet? but a dangerous form of cultural arrogance.
It is differences in meaning, far more than mere differences in vocabulary, that isolate cultures and that cause them to regard each other as strange or even barbaric. It is not too surprising that many cultures refer to themselves as ?The People,? relegating all other human beings to a subhuman form of life. To the person who drinks blood, the eating of meat is repulsive. Someone who conveys respect by standing is upset by someone who conveys it by sitting down; both may regard kneeling as absurd. Burying the dead may prompt tears in one society, smiles in another, and dancing in a third. If spitting on the street makes sense to some, it will appear bizarre that others carry their spit in their pocket; neither may quite appreciate someone who spits to express gratitude. The bullfight that constitutes an almost religious ritual for some seems a cruel and inhumane way of destroying a defenseless animal to others. Although staring is acceptable social behavior in some cultures, in others it is a thoughtless invasion of privacy. Privacy, itself, is without universal meaning.
Note that none of these acts involves an insurmountable linguistic challenge. The words that describe these acts?eating, spitting, showing respect, fighting, burying, and staring?are quite translatable into most languages. The issue is more conceptual than linguistic; each society places events in its own cultural frame, and it is these frames that bestow the unique meaning and differentiated response they produce.
As we move or are driven toward a global village and increasingly frequent cultural contact, we need more than simply greater factual knowledge of each other. We need, more specifically, to identify what might be called the ?rule books of meaning? that distinguish one culture from another. For to grasp the way in which other cultures perceive the world, and the assumptions and values that are the foundation of these perceptions, is to gain access to the experience of other human beings. Access to the worldview and the communicative style of other cultures may not only enlarge our own way of experiencing the world but enable us to maintain constructive relationships with societies that operate according to a different logic than our own.
Sources of Meaning
To survive, psychologically as well as physically, human beings must inhabit a world that is relatively free of ambiguity and is reasonably predictable. Some sort of structure must be placed upon the endless profusion of incoming signals. The infant, born into a world of flashing, hissing, moving images, soon learns to adapt by resolving this chaos into toys and tables, dogs and parents.
Even adults who have had their vision or hearing restored through surgery describe the world as a frightening and sometimes unbearable experience; only after days of effort are they able to transform blurs and noises into meaningful and therefore manageable experiences.
It is commonplace to talk as if the world ?has? meaning, to ask what ?is? the meaning of a phrase, a gesture, a painting, a contract. Yet when thought about, it is clear that events are devoid of meaning until someone assigns it to them. There is no appropriate response to a bow or a handshake, a shout or a whisper, until it is interpreted. A drop of water and the color red have no meaning?they simply exist. The aim of human perception is to make the world intelligible so that it can be managed successfully; the attribution of meaning is a prerequisite to and preparation for action.
People are never passive receivers, merely absorbing events of obvious significance, but are active in assigning meaning to sensation. What any event acquires in the way of meaning appears to reflect a transaction between what is there to be seen or heard and what the interpreter brings to it in the way of past experience and prevailing motive. Thus the attribution of meaning is always a creative process by which the raw data of sensation are transformed to fit the aims of the observer.
The diversity of reactions that can be triggered by a single experience?meeting a stranger, negotiating a contract, attending a textile conference?is immense. Observers are forced to see it through their own eyes, interpret it in the light of their own values, fit it to the requirements of their own circumstances. As a consequence, every object and message is seen by every observer from a somewhat different perspective. Each person will note some features and neglect others. Each will accept some relations among the facts and deny others. Each will arrive at some conclusion, tentative or certain, as the sounds and forms resolve into a temple or barn, a compliment or insult.
Provide a group of people with a set of photographs, even quite simple and ordinary photographs, and note how diverse are the meanings the photographs provoke. They will recall and forget different pictures; they will also assign quite distinctive meanings to those they do remember. Some will recall the mood of a picture, others the actions; some the appearance and others the attitudes of persons portrayed. Often the observers cannot agree upon even the most ?objective? details?the number of people, the precise location and identity of simple objects. A difference in frame of mind?fatigue, hunger, excitement, anger?will change dramatically what they report they have ?seen.?
It should not be surprising that people raised in different families, exposed to different events, praised and punished for different reasons, should come to view the world so differently. As George A. Kelly has noted, people see the world through templates which force them to construe events in unique ways. These patterns or grids which we fit over the realities of the world are cut from our own experience and values, and they predispose us to certain interpretations. Industrialist and farmer do not see the ?same? land; husband and wife do not plan for the ?same? child; doctor and patient do not discuss the ?same? disease; borrower and creditor do not negotiate the ?same? mortgage; daughter and daughter-in-law do not react to the ?same? mother.
The worlds people create for themselves are distinctive worlds, not the same worlds others occupy. They fashion from every incident whatever meanings fit their own private biases. These biases, taken together, constitute what has been called the ?assumptive world of the individual.? The worlds people get inside their heads are the only worlds they know. And these symbolic worlds, not the real world, are what people talk about, argue about, laugh about, fight about.
Edwin Reischauer, Man and His Shrinking World (Tokyo: Asahi Press, 1971), 34?35.
Masao Kunihiro, ?U.S.-Japan Communications,? in Discord in the Pacific, edited by Henry Rosovsky (Washington, DC: Columbia Books, 1972), 167.
Every communication, interpersonal or intercultural, is a transaction between these private worlds. As people talk, they search for symbols that will enable them to share their experience and converge upon a common meaning. This process, often long and sometimes painful, makes it possible finally to reconcile apparent or real differences between them. Various words are used to describe this moment. When it involves an integration of facts or ideas, it is usually called anagreement; when it involves sharing a mood or feeling, it is referred to asempathy or rapport. But understanding is a broad enough term to cover both possibilities; in either case it identifies the achievement of a common meaning.
If understanding is a measure of communicative success, a simple formula?which might be called the interpersonal equation?may clarify the major factors that contribute to its achievement:
Interpersonal Understanding = f (Similarity of Perceptual Orientations, Similarity of Belief Systems, Similarity of Communicative Styles)
That is, Interpersonal Understanding is a function of or dependent upon the degree of Similarity of Perceptual Orientations, Similarity of Systems of Belief, and Similarity in Communicative Styles. Each of these terms requires some elaboration.
Similarity in Perceptual Orientations refers to people?s prevailing approaches to reality and the degree of flexibility they manifest in organizing it. Some people scan the world broadly, searching for diversity of experience, preferring the novel and unpredictable. They may be drawn to new foods, new music, new ways of thinking. Others seem to scan the world more narrowly, searching to confirm past experience, preferring the known and predictable. They secure satisfaction from old friends, traditional art forms, familiar lifestyles. The former have a high tolerance for novelty; the latter a low tolerance for novelty.
It is a balance between these tendencies, of course, that characterizes most people. Within the same person, attraction to the unfamiliar and the familiar coexist. Which prevails at any moment is at least partly a matter of circumstance: when secure, people may widen their perceptual field, accommodate new ideas or actions; when they feel insecure, they may narrow their perceptual field to protect existing assumptions from the threat of new beliefs or lifestyles. The balance may be struck in still other ways: some people like to live in a stable physical setting with everything in its proper place, but welcome new emotional or intellectual challenges; others enjoy living in a chaotic and disordered environment but would rather avoid exposing themselves to novel or challenging ideas.
People differ also in the degree to which their perceptions are flexible or rigid. Some react with curiosity and delight to unpredictable and uncategorizable events. Others are disturbed or uncomfortable in the presence of the confusing and complex. There are people who show a high degree of tolerance for ambiguity; others manifest a low tolerance for ambiguity. When confronted with the complications and confusions that surround many daily events, the former tend to avoid immediate closure and delay judgment, while the latter seek immediate closure and evaluation. Those with little tolerance for ambiguity tend to respond categorically, that is, by reference to the class names for things (businessmen, radicals, hippies, foreigners) rather than to their unique and differentiating features.
It would be reasonable to expect that individuals who approach reality similarly might understand each other easily, and laboratory research confirms this conclusion: people with similar perceptual styles attract one another, understand each other better, and work more efficiently together and with greater satisfaction than those whose perceptual orientations differ.
Similarity in Systems of Belief refers not to the way people view the world but to the conclusions they draw from their experience. Everyone develops a variety of opinions toward divorce, poverty, religion, television, sex, and social customs. When belief and disbelief systems coincide, people are likely to understand and appreciate each other better. Research done by Donn Byrne and replicated by the author demonstrates how powerfully human beings are drawn to those who hold the same beliefs and how sharply they are repelled by those who do not.
Subjects in these experiments were given questionnaires requesting their opinions on twenty-six topics. After completing the forms, each was asked to rank the thirteen most important and least important topics. Later each person was given four forms, ostensibly filled out by people in another group but actually filled out by the researchers to show varying degrees of agreement with their own answers, and invited to choose among them with regard to their attractiveness as associates. The results were clear: people most preferred to talk with those whose attitudes duplicated their own exactly, next chose those who agreed with them on all important issues, next chose those with similar views on unimportant issues, and finally and reluctantly chose those who disagreed with them completely. It appears that most people most of the time find satisfying relationships easiest to achieve with someone who shares their own hierarchy of beliefs. This, of course, converts many human encounters into rituals of ratification, both people looking to each other only to obtain endorsement and applause for their own beliefs. It is, however, what is often meant by ?interpersonal understanding.?
Does the same principle hold true for Similarity of Communicative Styles? To a large extent, yes. But not completely. By communicative style is meant the topics people prefer to discuss, their favorite forms of interaction?ritual, repartee, argument, self-disclosure?and the depth of involvement they demand of each other. It includes the extent to which communicants rely upon the same channels?vocal, verbal, physical?for conveying information and the extent to which they are tuned to the same level of meaning, that is, to the factual or emotional content of messages. The use of a common vocabulary and even preference for similar metaphors may help people to understand each other.
But some complementarity in conversational style may also help. Talkative people may prefer quiet partners, the more aggressive may enjoy the less aggressive, and those who seek affection may be drawn to the more affection-giving, simply because both can find the greatest mutual satisfaction when interpersonal styles mesh. Even this sort of complementarity, however, may reflect a case of similarity in definitions of each other?s conversational role.
This hypothesis, too, has drawn the interest of communicologists. One investigator found that people paired to work on common tasks were much more effective if their communicative styles were similar than if they were dissimilar. Another social scientist found that teachers tended to give higher grades on tests to students whose verbal styles matched their own than to students who gave equally valid answers but did not phrase them as their instructors might. To establish common meanings seems to require that conversants share a common vocabulary and compatible ways of expressing ideas and feelings.
It must be emphasized that perceptual orientations, systems of belief, and communicative styles do not exist or operate independently. They overlap and affect each other. They combine in complex ways to determine behavior. What people say is influenced by what they believe and what they believe, in turn, by what they see. Their perceptions and beliefs are themselves partly a product of their manner of communicating with others. The terms that comprise the interpersonal equationconstitute not three isolated but three interdependent variables. They provide three perspectives to use in the analysis of communicative acts.
The interpersonal equation suggests there is an underlying narcissistic bias in human societies that draws similar people together. They seek to find in others a reflection of themselves, those who view the world as they do, who interpret it as they do, and who express themselves in a similar way. It is not surprising, then, that artists should be drawn to artists, radicals to radicals, Jews to Jews?or Japanese to Japanese and Americans to Americans. The opposite seems equally true: people tend to avoid those who challenge their assumptions, who dismiss their beliefs, and who communicate in strange and unintelligible ways. When one reviews history, whether one examines crises within or between cultures, one finds people have consistently shielded themselves, segregated themselves, even fortified themselves against wide differences in modes of perception or expression (in many cases, indeed, have persecuted and conquered the infidel and afterwards substituted their own cultural ways for the offending ones). Intercultural defensiveness appears to be only a counterpart of interpersonal defensiveness in the face of uncomprehended or incomprehensible differences.
Donn Byrne, ?Interpersonal Attraction and Attitude Similarity,? Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 62 (1961).
Harry C. Triandis, ?Cognitive Similarity and Communication in a Dyad,?Human Relations 13 (I960).
P. Runkel, ?Cognitive Similarity in Facilitating Communication,?Sociometiy 19 (1956).
Every culture attempts to create a ?universe of discourse? for its members, a way in which people can interpret their experience and convey it to one another. Without a common system of codifying sensations, life would be absurd and all efforts to share meanings doomed to failure. This universe of discourse?one of the most precious of all cultural legacies?is transmitted to each generation in part consciously and in part unconsciously. Parents and teachers give explicit instruction in it by praising or criticizing certain ways of dressing, of thinking, of gesturing, of responding to the acts of others. But the most significant aspects of any cultural code may be conveyed implicitly, not by rule or lesson but through modeling behavior. The child is surrounded by others who, through the mere consistency of their actions as males and females, mothers and fathers, salesclerks and police officers, display what is appropriate behavior. Thus the grammar of any culture is sent and received largely unconsciously, making one?s own cultural assumptions and biases difficult to recognize. They seem so obviously right that they require no explanation.
In The Open and Closed Mind, Milton Rokeach poses the problem of cultural understanding in its simplest form, but one that can readily demonstrate the complications of communication between cultures. It is called the ?Denny Doodlebug Problem.? Readers are given all the rules that govern his culture: Denny is an animal that always faces north and can move only by jumping; he can jump large distances or small distances, but can change direction only after jumping four times in any direction; he can jump north, south, east, or west, but not diagonally. Upon concluding a jump, his master places some food three feet directly west of him. Surveying the situation, Denny concludes he must jump four times to reach the food. No more or less. And he is right. All the reader has to do is to explain the circumstances that make his conclusion correct.
The large majority of people who attempt this problem fail to solve it, despite the fact that they are given all the rules that control behavior in this culture. If there is difficulty in getting inside the simplistic world of Denny Doodlebug?where the cultural code has already been broken and handed to us?imagine the complexity of comprehending behavior in societies where codes have not yet been deciphered?and where even those who obey these codes are only vaguely aware of and can rarely describe the underlying sources of their own actions.
If two people, both of whom spring from a single culture, must often shout to be heard across the void that separates their private worlds, one can begin to appreciate the distance to be overcome when people of different cultural identities attempt to talk. Even with the most patient dedication to seeking a common terminology, it is surprising that people of alien cultures are able to hear each other at all. And the peoples of Japan and the United States would appear to constitute a particularly dramatic test of the ability to cross an intercultural divide. Consider the disparity between them.
Here is Japan, a tiny island nation with a minimum of resources, buffeted by periodic disasters, overcrowded with people, isolated by physical fact and cultural choice, nurtured in Shinto and Buddhist religions, permeated by a deep respect for nature, nonmaterialist in philosophy, intuitive in thought, hierarchical in social structure. Eschewing the explicit, the monumental, the bold and boisterous, it expresses its sensuality in the form of impeccable gardens, simple rural temples, asymmetrical flower arrangements, a theater unparalleled for containment of feeling, an art and literature remarkable for their delicacy, and crafts noted for their honest and earthy character. Its people, among the most homogeneous in the world, are modest and apologetic in manner, communicate in an ambiguous and evocative language, are engrossed in interpersonal rituals, and prefer inner serenity to influencing others. They occupy unpretentious buildings of wood and paper and live in cities laid out as casually as farm villages. Suddenly from these rice paddies emerges an industrial giant, surpassing rival nations with decades of industrial experience, greater resources, and a larger reserve of technicians. Its labor force, working longer, harder, and more frantically than any in the world, builds the earth?s largest city, constructs some of its ugliest buildings, promotes the most garish and insistent advertising anywhere, and pollutes its air and water beyond the imagination.
And here is the United States, an immense country, sparsely settled, richly endowed, tied through waves of immigrants to the heritage of Europe, yet forced to subdue nature and find fresh solutions to the problems of survival. Steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition, schooled in European abstract and analytic thought, it is materialist and experimental in outlook, philosophically pragmatic, politically egalitarian, economically competitive, its raw individualism sometimes tempered by a humanitarian concern for others. Its cities are studies in geometry along whose avenues rise shafts of steel and glass subdivided into separate cubicles for separate activities and separate people. Its popular arts are characterized by the hugeness of cinemascope, the spontaneity of jazz, the earthy loudness of rock; in its fine arts the experimental, striking, and monumental often stifle the more subtle revelation. The people, a smorgasbord of races, religions, dialects, and nationalities, are turned expressively outward, impatient with rituals and rules, casual and flippant, gifted in logic and argument, approachable and direct yet given to flamboyant and exaggerated assertion. They are curious about one another, open and helpful, yet display a missionary zeal for changing one another. Suddenly this nation whose power and confidence have placed it in a dominant position in the world intellectually and politically, whose style of life has permeated the planet, finds itself uncertain of its direction, doubts its own premises and values, questions its motives and materialism, and engages in an orgy of self-criticism.
It is when people nurtured in such different psychological worlds meet that differences in cultural perspectives and communicative codes may sabotage efforts to understand one another. Repeated collisions between a foreigner and the members of a contrasting culture often produce what is called culture shock. It is a feeling of helplessness, even of terror or anger, that accompanies working in an alien society. One feels trapped in an absurd and indecipherable nightmare.
It is as if some hostile leprechaun had gotten into the works and as a cosmic caper rewired the connections that hold society together. Not only do the actions of others no longer make sense, but it is impossible even to express one?s own intentions clearly. ?Yes? comes out meaning ?no.? A wave of the hand means ?come,? or it may mean ?go.? Formality may be regarded as childish or as a devious form of flattery. Statements of fact may be heard as statements of conceit. Arriving early, or arriving late, embarrasses or impresses. ?Suggestions? may be treated as ?ultimatums,? or precisely the opposite. Failure to stand at the proper moment, or failure to sit, may be insulting. The compliment intended to express gratitude instead conveys a sense of distance. A smile signifies disappointment rather than pleasure.
If the crises that follow such intercultural encounters are sufficiently dramatic or the communicants unusually sensitive, they may recognize the source of their trouble. If there is patience and constructive intention, the confusion can sometimes be clarified. But more often foreigners, without knowing it, leave behind them a trail of frustration, mistrust, and even hatred of which they are totally unaware. Neither they nor their associates recognize that their difficulty springs from sources deep within the rhetoric of their own societies. All see themselves as acting in ways that are thoroughly sensible, honest, and considerate. And?given the rules governing their own universes of discourse?they all are. Unfortunately, there are few cultural universals, and the degree of overlap in communicative codes is always less than perfect. Experience can be transmitted with fidelity only when the unique properties of each code are recognized and respected, or where the motivation and means exist to bring them into some sort of alignment.
Milton Rokeach, The Open and Closed Mind (New York: Basic Books, 1960).
The Collective Unconscious
Among the greatest insights of this modern age are two that bear a curious affinity to each other. The first, evolving from the efforts of psychologists, particularly Sigmund Freud, revealed the existence of anindividual unconscious. The acts of human beings were found to spring from motives of which they were often vaguely or completely unaware. Their unique perceptions of events arose not from the facts outside their skins but from unrecognized assumptions inside them. When, through intensive analysis, they obtained some insight into these assumptions, they became free to develop other ways of seeing and acting which contributed to their greater flexibility in coping with reality.
The second of these generative ideas, flowing from the work of anthropologists, particularly Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, postulated a parallel idea in the existence of a cultural unconscious.Students of primitive cultures began to see that there was nothing divine or absolute about cultural norms. Every society had its own way of viewing the universe, and each developed from its premises a coherent set of rules of behavior. Each tended to be blindly committed to its own style of life and regarded all others as evil. The fortunate people who were able to master the art of living in foreign cultures often learned that their own modes of life were not universal. With this insight they became free to choose from among cultural values those that seemed to best fit their peculiar circumstances.
Cultural norms so completely surround people, so permeate thought and action, that few ever recognize the assumptions on which their lives and their sanity rest. As one observer put it, if birds were suddenly endowed with scientific curiosity, they might examine many things, but the sky itself would be overlooked as a suitable subject; if fish were to become curious about the world, it would never occur to them to begin by investigating water. For birds and fish would take the sky and sea for granted, unaware of their profound influence, because they comprise the medium for every act. Human beings, in a similar way, occupy a symbolic universe governed by codes that are unconsciously acquired and automatically employed. So much so that they rarely notice that the ways they interpret and talk about events are distinctively different from the ways people conduct their affairs in other cultures.
As long as people remain blind to the sources of their meanings, they are imprisoned within them. These cultural frames of reference are no less confining simply because they cannot be seen or touched. Whether it is an individual neurosis that keeps an individual out of contact with his or her neighbors, or a collective neurosis that separates neighbors of different cultures, both are forms of blindness that limit what can be experienced and what can be learned from others.
It would seem that everywhere people would desire to break out of the boundaries of their own experiential worlds. Their ability to react sensitively to a wider spectrum of events and peoples requires an overcoming of such cultural parochialism. But, in fact, few attain this broader vision. Some, of course, have little opportunity for wider cultural experience, though this condition should change as the movement of people accelerates. Others do not try to widen their experience because they prefer the old and familiar, seek from their affairs only further confirmation of the correctness of their own values. Still others recoil from such experiences because they feel it dangerous to probe too deeply into the personal or cultural unconscious. Exposure may reveal how tenuous and arbitrary many cultural norms are; such exposure might force people to acquire new bases for interpreting events. And even for the many who do seek actively to enlarge the variety of human beings with whom they are capable of communicating, there are still difficulties.
Cultural myopia persists not merely because of inertia and habit but chiefly because it is so difficult to overcome. People acquire personalities and cultures in childhood, long before they are capable of comprehending either of them. To survive, people master the perceptual orientations, cognitive biases, and communicative habits of their own cultures. But once mastered, objective assessment of these same processes is awkward, since the same mechanisms that are being evaluated must be used in making the evaluations. Once children learn Japanese or English or Navajo, the categories and grammar of each language predispose them to perceive and think in certain ways and discourage them from doing so in other ways. When they attempt to discover why they see or think as they do, they use the same techniques they are trying to identify.
Fortunately, there may be a way around this paradox. Or promise of a way around it. It is to expose the culturally distinctive ways various peoples construe events and to seek to identify the conventions that connect what is seen with what is thought with what is said. Once this cultural grammar is assimilated and the rules that govern the exchange of meanings are known, they can be shared and learned by those who choose to work and live in alien cultures.
When people within a culture face an insurmountable problem, they turn to friends, neighbors, and associates for help. To them they explain their predicament, often in distinctive, personal ways. Through talking it out, however, there often emerge new ways of looking at the problem, fresh incentive to attack it, and alternative solutions to it. This sort of interpersonal exploration is often successful within a culture, for people share at least the same communicative style even if they do not agree completely in their perceptions or beliefs.
When people communicate between cultures, where communicative rules as well as the substance of experience differs, the problems multiply. But so, too, do the number of interpretations and alternatives. If it is true that the more people differ the harder it is for them to understand each other, it is equally true that the more they differ the more they have to teach and learn from each other. To do so, of course, there must be mutual respect and sufficient curiosity to overcome the frustrations that occur as they flounder from one misunderstanding to another. Yet the task of coming to grips with differences in communicative styles?between or within cultures?is prerequisite to all other types of mutuality.
Beyond Cultural Identity?Reflections on Multiculturalism?Peter S. Adler
In the emerging global village, the issue of personal and cultural identity is becoming more important and also more complex. This development was foreseen by Peter Adler, as indicated in his 1977 article ?Beyond Cultural Identity: Reflections on Multiculturalism.? Adler strikes some similar chords with Marshall Singer about the synthesis of individual and cultural levels of analysis. But he continues with a thoughtful analysis of what it might mean to have a multicultural identity?an issue that is now resonating with new generations throughout the global village. In the long run, according to Adler, all of us will need to become more multicultural to both survive and thrive in the new interconnected world.
Multiculturalism is an attractive and persuasive notion. It suggests a human being whose identifications and loyalties transcend the boundaries of nationalism and whose commitments are pinned to a larger vision of the global community. To be a citizen of the world, an international person, has long been an ideal toward which many strive. Unfortunately, history is also rich with examples of totalitarian societies and individuals who took it upon themselves to shape everyone else to the mold of their planetary vision. Repulsive as it was, Hitler had a vision of a world society.
Less common are examples of men and women who have striven to sustain a self-process that is inclusively international in attitude and behavior. For good reason. Nation, culture, and society exert tremendous influence on each of our lives, structuring our values, engineering our view of the world, and patterning our responses to experience. Human beings cannot hold themselves apart from some form of cultural influence. No one is culture free. Yet, the conditions of contemporary history are such that we may now be on the threshold of a new kind of person, a person who is socially and psychologically a product of the interweaving of cultures in the twentieth century.
We are reminded daily of this phenomenon. In the corner of a traditional Japanese home sits a television set tuned to a baseball game in which the visitors, an American team, are losing. A Canadian family, meanwhile, decorates their home with sculptures and paintings imported from Pakistan, India, and Ceylon. Teenagers in Singapore and Hong Kong pay unheard-of prices for used American blue jeans while high school students in England and France take courses on the making of traditional Indonesian batik. A team of Malaysian physicians inoculates a remote village against typhus while their Western counterparts study Ayurvedic medicine and acupuncture. Around the planet the streams of the world?s cultures merge together to form new currents of human interaction. Though superficial and only a manifestation of the shrinking of the globe, each such vignette is a symbol of the mingling and melding of human cultures. Communication and cultural exchange are the preeminent conditions of the twentieth century.
For the first time in the history of the world, a patchwork of technology and organization has made possible simultaneous interpersonal and intercultural communication. Innovations and refinements of innovations, including modems, electronic mail, facsimile machines, digital recording, cable television, satellite dishes, and desktop publishing have brought people everywhere into potential contact. Barely a city or village exists that is more than a day or two from anyplace else; almost no town or community is without a television. Bus lines, railroads, highways, and airports have created linkages within and between local, regional, national, and international levels of human organization.
The impact is enormous. Human connections through communication have made possible the interchange of goods, products, and services as well as the more significant exchange of thoughts and ideas. Accompanying the growth of human communication has been the erosion of barriers that have, throughout history, geographically, linguistically, and culturally separated people. As Harold Lasswell once suggested, ?The technological revolution as it affects mass media has reached a limit that is subject only to innovations that would substantially modify our basic perspectives of one another and of man?s place in the cosmos.? It is possible that the emergence of the multicultural person is just such an innovation.
This article originally appeared in 1977 in Culture Learning: Concepts, Applications, and Research, edited by Richard W. Brislin and published by the East-West Center, The University Press of Hawaii, Honolulu. It has subsequently been reprinted in various other texts on intercultural communication, but it has been revised and updated specifically for this publication.
Harold Lasswell, The Future of World Communication: Quality and Style of Life (Honolulu: East-West Center Communication Institute, 1972).
A New Kind of Person
A new type of person whose orientation and view of the world profoundly transcends his or her indigenous culture is developing from the complex of social, political, economic, and educational interactions of our time. The various conceptions of an ?international,? ?transcultural,? ?multicultural,? or ?intercultural? individual have each been used with varying degrees of explanatory or descriptive utility. Essentially, they all attempt to define someone whose horizons extend significantly beyond his or her own culture. An ?internationalist,? for example, has been defined as a person who trusts other nations, is willing to cooperate with other countries, perceives international agencies as potential deterrents to war, and who considers international tensions reducible by mediation. Others have studied the international orientation of groups by measuring their attitudes toward international issues, that is, the role of the United Nations, economic versus military aid, international alliances, and so on. And at least several attempts have been made to measure the world-mindedness of individuals by exploring the degree to which persons have a broad international frame of reference rather than specific knowledge or interest in some narrower aspect of global affairs.
Whatever the terminology, the definitions and metaphors allude to a person whose essential identity is inclusive of different life patterns and who has psychologically and socially come to grips with a multiplicity of realities. We can call this new type of person multicultural because he or she embodies a core process of self-verification that is grounded in both the universality of the human condition and the diversity of cultural forms. We are speaking, then, of a social-psychological style of self-process that differs from others. The multicultural person is intellectually and emotionally committed to the basic unity of all human beings while at the same time recognizing, legitimizing, accepting, and appreciating the differences that exist between people of different cultures. This new kind of person cannot be defined by the languages he or she speaks, the number of countries visited, or the number of personal international contacts made. Nor is he or she defined by profession, place of residence, or cognitive sophistication. Instead, the multicultural person is recognized by a configuration of outlooks and worldview, by how the universe as a dynamically moving process is incorporated, by the way the interconnectedness of life is reflected in thought and action, and by the way this woman or man remains open to the imminence of experience.
The multicultural person is, at once, both old and new. On the one hand, this involves being the timeless ?universal? person described again and again by philosophers through the ages. He or she approaches, at least in the attributions we make, the classical ideal of a person whose lifestyle is one of knowledge and wisdom, integrity and direction, principle and fulfillment, balance and proportion. ?To be a universal man,? wrote John Walsh, using man in the traditional sense of including men and women, ?means not how much a man knows but what intellectual depth and breadth he has and how he relates it to other central and universally important problems.? What is universal about the multicultural person is an abiding commitment to the essential similarities among people everywhere, while paradoxically maintaining an equally strong commitment to differences. The universal person, suggests Walsh, ?does not at all eliminate culture differences.? Rather, he or she ?seeks to preserve whatever is most valid, significant, and valuable in each culture as a way of enriching and helping to form the whole.? In this embodiment of the universal and the particular, the multicultural person is a descendant of the great philosophers of both the East and the West.
On the other hand, what is new about this type of person, and unique to our time, is a fundamental change in the structure and process of identity. The identity of the multicultural person, far from being frozen in a social character, is more fluid and mobile, more susceptible to change, more open to variation. It is an identity based not on a ?belongingness,? which implies either owning or being owned by culture, but on a style of self-consciousness that is capable of negotiating ever new formations of reality. In this sense the multicultural person is a radical departure from the kinds of identities found in both traditional and mass societies. He or she is neither totally a part of nor totally apart from his or her culture; instead, he or she lives on the boundary. To live on the edge of one?s thinking, one?s culture, or one?s ego, suggested Paul Tillich, is to live with tension and movement: ?It is in truth not standing still, but rather a crossing and return, a repetition of return and crossing, back and forth?the aim of which is to create a third area beyond the bounded territories, an area where one can stand for a time without being enclosed in something tightly bounded.? Multiculturalism, then, is an outgrowth of the complexities of the twentieth century. As unique as this kind of person may be, the style of identity that is embodied arises from the myriad of forms that are present in this day and age. An understanding of this new kind of person must be predicated on a clear understanding of cultural identity.
D. Lutzker, ?Internationalism as a Predictor of Cooperative Behavior,?Journal of Conflict Resolution 4, no. 4 (I960): 426?30.
Angus Campbell, Gerald Gurin, and Warren E. Miller, The Voter Decides (Evanston, IL: Row, Peterson, 1954).
D. Sampson and H. Smith, ?A Scale to Measure Worldminded Attitudes,? Journal of Social Psychology 45 (1957): 99?106; K. Garrison, ?Worldminded Attitudes of College Students in a Southern University,?Journal of Social Psychology 54 (1961): 147?53; S. Paul, ?Worldminded Attitudes of Punjab University Students,? Journal of Social Psychology69 (1969): 33?37.
John Walsh, Intercultural Education in the Communication of Man(Honolulu: The University of Hawaii Press, 1973).
Paul Tillich, The Future of Religions (New York: Harper & Row, 1966).
The Concept of Cultural Identity: A Psychocultural Framework
The concept of cultural identity can be used in two different ways. First, it can be employed as a reference to the collective self-awareness that a given group embodies and reflects. This is the most prevalent use of the term. ?Generally,? writes Stephen Bochner, ?the cultural identity of a society is defined by its majority group, and this group is usually quite distinguishable from the minority subgroups with whom they share the physical environment and the territory that they inhabit.? With the emphasis upon the group, the concept is akin to the idea of a national or social character which describes a set of traits that members of a given community share with one another above and beyond their individual differences. Such traits almost always include a constellation of values and attitudes toward life, death, birth, family, children, god, and nature. Used in its collective sense, the concept of cultural identity includes typologies of cultural behavior, such behaviors being the appropriate and inappropriate ways of meeting basic needs and solving life?s essential dilemmas. Used in its collective sense, the concept of cultural identity incorporates the shared premises, values, definitions, beliefs, and the day-to-day, largely unconscious patterning of activities.
A second, more specific use of the concept revolves around the identity of the individual in relation to his or her culture. Cultural identity, in the sense that it is a functioning aspect of individual personality, is a fundamental symbol of a person?s existence. It is in reference to the individual that the concept is used in this article. In psychoanalytic literature, most notably in the writing of Erik Erikson, identity is an elemental form of psychic organization which develops in successive psychosexual phases throughout life. Erikson, who focused the greater portion of his analytic studies on identity conflicts, recognized the anchoring of the ego in a larger cultural context. Identity, he suggested, takes a variety of forms in the individual. ?At one time,? he wrote, ?it will appear to refer to a conscious sense of individual identity; at another to an unconscious striving for a continuity of personal character; at a third, as a criterion for the silent doings of ego synthesis; and, finally, as a maintenance of an inner solidarity with a group?s ideals and identity.?The analytic perspective, as voiced by Erikson, is only one of a variety of definitions. Almost always, however, the concept of identity is meant to imply a coherent sense of self that depends on a stability of values and a sense of wholeness and integration.
How, then, can we conceptualize the interplay of culture and personality? Culture and personality are inextricably woven together in the gestalt of each person?s identity. Culture, the mass of life patterns that human beings in a given society learn from their elders and pass on to the younger generation, is imprinted in the individual as a pattern of perceptions that is accepted and expected by others in a society.Cultural identity is the symbol of one?s essential experience of oneself as it incorporates the worldview, value system, attitudes, and beliefs of a group with which such elements are shared. In its most manifest form, cultural identity takes the shape of names which both locate and differentiate the person. When an individual calls himself or herself an American, a Buddhist, a Democrat, a Dane, a woman, or John Jones, that person is symbolizing parts of the complex of images that are likewise recognizable by others. The deeper structure of cultural identity is a fabric of such images and perceptions embedded in the psychological posture of the individual. At the center of this matrix of images is a psychocultural fusion of biological, social, and philosophical motivations; this fusion, a synthesis of culture and personality, is the operant person.
The center, or core, of cultural identity is an image of the self and the culture intertwined in the individual?s total conception of reality. This image, a patchwork of internalized roles, rules, and norms, functions as the coordinating mechanism in personal and interpersonal situations. The ?mazeway,? as Anthony Wallace called it, is made up of human, nonhuman, material, and abstract elements of the culture. It is the ?stuff? of both personality and culture. The mazeway, suggested Wallace, is the patterned image of society and culture, personality and nature?all of which is ingrained in the person?s symbolization of self. A system of culture, he writes, ?depends relatively more on the ability of constituent units autonomously to perceive the system of which they are a part, to receive and transmit information, and to act in accordance with the necessities of the system. . .? The image, or mazeway, of cultural identity is the gyroscope of the functioning individual. It mediates, arbitrates, and negotiates the life of the individual. It is within the context of this central, navigating image that the fusion of biological, social, and philosophical realities forms units of integration that are important to a comparative analysis of cultural identity. The way in which these units are knit together and contoured by the culture at large determines the parameters of the individual. This boundary of cultural identity plays a large part in determining the individual?s ability to relate to other cultural systems.
All human beings share a similar biology, universally limited by the rhythms of life. All individuals of all races and cultures must move through life?s phases on a similar schedule: birth, infancy, adolescence, middle age, old age, and death. Similarly, humans everywhere embody the same physiological functions of ingestion, irritability, metabolic equilibrium, sexuality, growth, and decay. Yet the ultimate interpretation of human biology is a cultural phenomenon: that is, the meanings of human biological patterns are culturally derived. It is culture which dictates the meanings of sexuality, the ceremonials of birth, the transitions of life, and the rituals of death. The capacity for language, for example, is universally accepted as a biological given. Any child, given unimpaired apparatus for hearing, vocalizing, and thinking, can learn to speak and understand any human language. Yet the language that is learned by a child depends solely upon the place and the manner of rearing. Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton, in outlining the grammatical and phonetic systems of the Navajo, argued that patterns of language affect the expression of ideas and very possibly more fundamental processes of thinking. Benjamin Lee Whorf further suggested that language may not be merely an inventory of linguistic items but rather ?itself the shaper of ideas, the program and guide for the individual?s mental activity.?
The interaction of culture and biology provides one cornerstone for an understanding of cultural identity. How each individual?s biological situation is given meaning becomes a psychobiological unit of integration and analysis. Humanity?s essential physiological needs?food, sex, avoidance of pain, and so on?are one part of the reality pattern of cultural identity. Another part consists of those drives that reach out to the social order. At this psychosocial level of integration, generic needs are channeled and organized by culture. The needs for affection, acceptance, recognition, affiliation, status, belonging, and interaction with other human beings are enlivened and given recognizable form by culture. We can, for example, see clearly the intersection of culture and the psychosocial level of integration in comparative status responses. In the United States economic status is demonstrated by the conspicuous consumption of products, while among the Kwakiutl, status is gained by giving all possessions away in the potlatch. In many Asian societies age confers status, and contempt or disrespect for old people represents a serious breach of conduct demanding face-saving measures.
It is the unwritten task of every culture to organize, integrate, and maintain the psychosocial patterns of the individual, especially in the formative years of childhood. Each culture engineers such patterns in ways that are unique, coherent, and logical to the conditions and predispositions that underlie the culture. This imprinting of the forms of interconnection that are needed by the individual for psychosocial survival, acceptance, and enrichment is a significant part of the socialization and enculturation process. Yet of equal importance in the imprinting is the structuring of higher forms of individual consciousness. Culture gives meaning and form to those drives and motivations that extend toward an understanding of the cosmological ordering of the universe. All cultures, in one manner or another, invoke the great philosophical questions of life concerning the origin and destiny of existence, the nature of knowledge, the meaning of reality, the significance of the human experience. As George Peter Murdock suggested in ?Universals of Culture,? some form of cosmology, ethics, mythology, supernatural propitiation, religious ritual, and soul concept appears in every culture known to history or ethnography. How an individual raises these questions and searches for ultimate answers is a function of the psychophilosophical patterning of cultural identity. Ultimately, it is the task of every individual to relate to his or her god, to deal with the supernatural, and to incorporate for himself or herself the mystery of life. The ways in which individuals do this, the relationships and connections that are formed, are a function of the psychophilosophical component of cultural identity.
A conceptualization of cultural identity, then, must include three interrelated levels of integration and analysis. While the cultural identity of an individual is comprised of symbols and images that signify aspects of these levels, the psychobiological, psychosocial, and psychophilosophical realities of an individual are knit together by the culture, which operates through sanctions and rewards, totems and taboos, prohibitions and myths. The unity and integration of society, nature, and the cosmos are reflected in the total image of the self and in the day-to-day awareness and consciousness of the individual. This synthesis is modulated by the larger dynamics of the culture itself. In the concept of cultural identity we see a synthesis of the operant culture reflected by the deepest images held by the individual. These images, in turn, are based on universal human motivations.
Implicit in any analysis of cultural identity is a configuration of motivational needs. As the late Abraham Maslow suggested, human drives form a hierarchy in which the most prepotent motivations will monopolize consciousness and will tend, of themselves, to organize the various capacities and capabilities of the organism.
In the sequence of development, the needs of infancy and childhood revolve primarily around physiological and biological necessities, that is, nourishment by food, water, and warmth. Correspondingly, psychosocial needs are most profound in adolescence and young adulthood when people engage in establishing themselves through marriage, occupation, and social and economic status. Finally, psychophilosophical drives are most strongly manifest in middle and old age when people are more prepared to occupy themselves with creative pursuits, philosophic self-actualization, and transcendental relationships. As Charles N. Cofer and Mor-timer H. Appley rightly pointed out, Maslow?s hierarchy of needs is not an explicit, empirical, verifiable theory of human motivation. It is useful, however, in postulating a universally recognized but differently named process of individual motivation that carries the individual through the stages of life. Each level of integration and analysis in cultural identity can thus be viewed as both a part of the gridwork of one?s self-image as well as a developmental road map imprinted by one?s culture.
The gyroscope of cultural identity functions to orchestrate the allegiances, loyalties, and commitments of the individual by giving him or her direction and meaning. Human beings, however, differentiate themselves to some degree from their culture. Just as no one is totally free of cultural influence, no one is totally a reflection of his or her culture. Cultural identity, therefore, must be viewed as an integrated synthesis of identifications that are idiosyncratic within the parameters of culturally influenced biological, social, and philosophical motivations. Whether, in fact, such unity ever achieves sufficient integration to provide for consistency among individuals within a given culture is an empirical matter that deals with normality and modal personality. The concept of cultural identity can at best be a schema for comparative research between cultures. Although, admittedly, a fundamental rule of social science must be human variation and the unpredictability of models and theories, a schema of cultural identity and the interplay of psychological and cultural dynamics may lay a groundwork for future research and conceptualization. Particularly useful may be the eiconic approach proposed by Kenneth Boulding. His typology of images, which includes the spatial, temporal, relational, personal, value, affectional, conscious-unconscious, certainty-uncertainty, reality-unreality, and public-private dimensions, adds important perspectives to the comparative study of cultural identity.
Stephen Bochner, ?The Mediating Man and Cultural Diversity,? Topics in Culture Learning 1 (1973): 23?37.
Erik Erikson, ?The Problem of Ego Identity,? Psychological Issues l, no. 1 (1959): 101?64.
Marshall R. Singer, ?Culture: A Perceptual Approach,? in Readings in Intercultural Communication, edited by David Hoopes (Pittsburgh: Regional Council for International Education, 1971), 6?20.
Anthony Wallace, ?Revitalization Movements: Some Theoretical Considerations for Their Comparative Study,? American Anthropologist58 (1956): 264?81.
Clyde Kluckhohn and Dorothea Leighton, ?The Language of the Navajo Indians,? in Culture Shock, edited by Philip Bock (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970), 29?49.
Benjamin Lee Whorf, Language, Thought, and Reality: The Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, edited by John B. Carroll (Cambridge: Technology Press of MIT, 1957); a technical reference to the controversial literature examining the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis can be found in ?Psycholinguistics,? by G. Miller and D. McNeill in volume 3 of the Handbook of Social Psychology, edited by Gardner Lindzey, Elliot Aronson, and Elmer R. Smith (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1968).
George Peter Murdock, ?Universals of Culture,? in Readings in Anthropology, edited by Jesse Jennings and Edward Adam-son Hoebel (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1955), 13?14.
Abraham Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being (Princeton: Van Nostrand, 1962).
Charles N. Cofer and Mortimer H. Appley, Motivation: Theory and Research (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1964).
Kenneth Boulding, The Image (Ann Arbor University of Michigan Press, 1956).
The Multicultural Identity
The rise of the multicultural person is a significant phenomenon and represents a new psychocultural style of self-process. The multicultural person arises amidst the metamorphoses of both traditional and mass societies in a transitional time in which humans are redefining themselves politically, socially, and economically. Multiculturalism offers a potentially different sort of human being. Three characteristics distinguish this style of personality from the traditional structure of cultural identity.
First, the multicultural person is psychoculturally adaptive; that is, he or she is situational in relationships with others. The multicultural person maintains no clear boundaries between self and the varieties of personal and cultural contexts he or she encounters. The multicultural identity is premised not on the hierarchical structuring of a single mental image, but rather on the intentional and accidental shifts that life?s experiences involve. Values and attitudes, worldview and beliefs are always in reformation, dependent more on the necessities of experience than on the predispositions of a given culture. For the multicultural individual, attitudes, values, beliefs, and a worldview are relevant only to a given context (as is frequently discovered in the culture shock process) and cannot be translated from context to context. The multicultural person does not judge one situation by the terms of another and is therefore ever evolving new systems of evaluations that are relative to the context and situation.
Second, the multicultural person seems to undergo continual personal transitions. He or she is always in a state of ?becoming? or ?un-becoming? something different from before while yet mindful of the grounding in his or her primary cultural reality. In other words, the multicultural individual is propelled from identity to identity through a process of both cultural learning and cultural unlearning. The multicultural person, like Robert J. Lifton?s concept of ?protean man,? is always re-creating his or her identity. He or she moves through one experience of self to another, incorporating here, discarding there, responding dynamically and situationally. This style of self-process, suggests Lifton, ?is characterized by an interminable series of experiments and explorations, some shallow, some profound, each of which can readily be abandoned in favor of still new, psychological quests.? The multicultural person is always in flux, the configuration of loyalties and identifications changing, the overall image of self perpetually being reformulated through experience and contact with the world. Stated differently, life is an ongoing process of psychic death and rebirth.
Third, the multicultural person maintains indefinite boundaries of the self. The parameters of identity are neither fixed nor predictable, being responsive, instead, to both temporary form and openness to change. Multicultural people are capable of major shifts in their frame of reference and embody the ability to disavow a permanent character and to change in sociopsychological style. The multicultural person, in the words of Peter L. Berger, is a ?homeless mind,? a condition which, though allowing great flexibility, also allows for nothing permanent and unchanging to develop. This homelessness is at the heart of one?s motivational needs. The individual is, suggests Lifton, ?starved for ideas and feelings that give coherence to his world,? that give structure and form to the search for the universal and absolute, that give definition to the perpetual quest. Multicultural persons, like great philosophers in any age, can never accept totally the demands of any one culture, nor are they free from the conditioning of their culture. Their psychocultural style must always be relational and in movement, enabling them to look at their own original culture from an outsider?s perspective. This tension gives rise to a dynamic, passionate, and critical posture in the face of totalistic ideologies, systems, and movements.
Like the culture-bound person, the multicultural person bears within him- or herself a simultaneous image of societies, nature, personality, and culture. Yet in contrast to the structure of cultural identity, the multicultural individual is perpetually redefining his or her mazeway. No culture is capable of imprinting or ingraining the identity of a multicultural person indelibly; yet the multicultural person must rely heavily on culture to maintain his or her own relativity. Like human beings in any period of time, he or she is driven by psychobiological, psychosocial, and psychophilosophical motivations; yet the configuration of these drives is perpetually in flux and situational. The maturational hierarchy, implicit in the central image of cultural identity, is less structured and cohesive in the multicultural identity. For that reason, needs, drives, motivations, and expectations are constantly being aligned and realigned to fit the context.
The flexibility of the multicultural personality allows great variation in adaptability and adjustment. Adjustment and adaptation, however, must always be dependent on some constant, on something stable and unchanging in the fabric of life. We can attribute to the multicultural person three fundamental postulates that are incorporated and reflected in thinking and behavior. Such postulates are fundamental to success in cross-cultural adaptation.
1. Every culture or system has its own internal coherence, integrity, and logic. Every culture is an intertwined system of values and attitudes, beliefs and norms that give meaning and significance to both individual and collective identity.
2. No one culture is inherently better or worse than another. All cultural systems are equally valid as variations on the human experience.
3. All persons are, to some extent, culturally bound. Every culture provides the individual with some sense of identity, some regulation of behavior, and some sense of personal place in the scheme of things.
The multicultural person embodies these propositions and lives them on a daily basis and not just in cross-cultural situations. They are fundamentally a part of his or her interior image of the world and self.
What is uniquely new about this emerging human being is a psychocultural style of self-process that transcends the structured image a given culture may impress upon the individual in his or her youth. The navigating image at the core of the multicultural personality is premised on an assumption of many cultural realities. The multicultural person, therefore, is not simply one who is sensitive to many different cultures. Rather, this person is always in the process of becoming a part of and apart from a given cultural context. He or she is a formative being, resilient, changing, and evolutionary. There is no permanent cultural ?character,? but neither is he or she free from the influences of culture. In the shifts and movements of his or her identity process, the multicultural person is continually re-creating the symbol of self.
The indefinite boundaries and the constantly realigning relationships that are generated by the psychobiological, psychosocial, and psychophilosophical motivations make possible sophisticated and complex responses on the part of the individual to cultural and subcultural systems. Moreover, this psychocultural flexibility necessitates sequential changes in identity. Intentionally or accidentally, multicultural persons undergo shifts in their total psychocultural posture; their religion, personality, behavior, occupation, nationality, outlook, political persuasion, and values may, in part or completely, reformulate in the face of new experience. ?It is becoming increasingly possible,? wrote Michael Novak, ?for men to live through several profound conversions, calling forth in themselves significantly different personalities. . .? The relationship of multicultural persons to cultural systems is fragile and tenuous. ?A man?s cultural and social milieu,? says Novak, ?conditions his personality, values, and actions; yet the same man is able, within limits, to choose the milieus whose conditioning will affect him.?
Robert J. Lifton, History and Human Survival (New York: Vintage Books, 1961).
Peter L. Berger, The Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness (New York: Random House, 1973).
Lifton, History and Human Survival.
Michael Novak, The Experience of Nothingness (New York: Harper & Row, 1970).
Stresses and Tensions
The unprecedented dynamism of the multicultural person makes it possible to live many different lives, in sequence or simultaneously. But such psychocultural pliability gives rise to tensions and stresses unique to the conditions which allow such dynamism in the first place. The multicultural individual, by virtue of indefinite boundaries, experiences life intensely and in telescoped forms. He or she is thus subject to stresses and strains that are equally unique. At least five of these stresses bear mentioning.
First, the multicultural person is vulnerable. In maintaining no clear boundary and form, he or she is susceptible to confusing the profound and the insignificant, the important and the unimportant, the visionary and the reactionary. ?Boundaries can be viewed,? Lifton suggests,
as neither permanent nor by definition false, but rather as essential . . . We require images of limit and restraint, if only to help us grasp what we are transcending. We need distinctions between our biology and our history, all the more so as we seek to bring these together in a sense of ourselves . . .
Without some form of boundary, experience itself has no shape or contour, no meaning and importance; where the individual maintains no critical edge to his or her existence, everything can become confusion. Experience, in order to be a particular experience, must take place amidst some essential polarity in which there is tension between two opposing forces. Where there is no sense of evil, there can be no sense of good; where nothing is profane, nothing can be sacred. Boundaries, however indefinite, give shape and meaning to the experience of experience; they allow us to differentiate, define, and determine who we are in relation to someone or something else.
Second, the multicultural person can easily become multi-phrenic, that is, to use Erikson?s terminology, come to have a ?diffused identity.?Where the configuration of loyalties and identifications is constantly in flux and where boundaries are never secure, the multicultural person is open to any and all kinds of stimuli. In the face of messages which are confusing, contradictory, or overwhelming, the individual is thrown back on his or her own subjectivity to integrate and sort out what is indiscriminately taken in. Where incapable of doing this, the multicultural person is pulled and pushed by the winds of communication, a victim of what everyone else claims he or she is or should be. It is the task of every social and cultural group to define messages, images, and symbols into constructs that the individual can translate into his or her own existence. But where the messages and stimuli of all groups are given equal importance and validity, the individual can easily be overwhelmed by the demands of everyone else.
Third, the multicultural person can easily suffer from a loss of the sense of authenticity; that is, by virtue of being psychoculturally adaptive, the person can potentially be reduced to a variety of roles that bear little or no relationship to one another. The person can lose the sense of congruence and integrity that is implicit in the definition of identity itself. Roles, suggest psychologists, are constellations of behaviors that are expected of an individual because of one?s place in particular social or cultural arrangements. Behind roles are the deeper threads of continuity, the processes of affect, perception, cognition, and value that make a whole of the parts. The multicultural personality can easily disintegrate into fragmented personalities that are unable to experience life along any dimension other than that which is institutionalized and routinized by family, friends, and society.
Fourth, and related to this, is the risk of being a dilettante. The multicultural person can very easily move from identity experience to identity experience without committing values to real-life situations. The energy and enthusiasm brought to bear on new situations can easily disintegrate into superficial fads and fancies in which the multicultural person simply avoids deeper responsibilities and involvements. The person becomes plastic. Flexibility disguises a self-process in which real human problems are avoided or given only superficial importance. Especially in societies where youth is vulnerable to the fabricated fads of contemporary world culture, the multicultural identity can give way to a dilettantism in which the individual flows, unimpaired, uncommitted, and unaffected, through the social, political, and economic manipulations of elites.
Fifth, and finally, the multicultural person may take ultimate psychological and philosophical refuge in an attitude of existential absurdity, mocking the patterns and lifestyles of others who are different, reacting at best in a detached and aloof way and at worst as a nihilist who sees negation as a salvation. Where the breakdown of boundaries creates a gulf that separates the individual from meaningful relationships with others, the individual may hide behind cynicisms that harbor apathy and insecurity. In such a condition nothing within and nothing outside of the individual is of serious consequence; the individual, in such a position, must ultimately scorn that which cannot be understood and incorporated into his or her own existence.
These stresses and strains should not be confused with the tensions and anxieties that are encountered in the process of cross-cultural adjustment. Culture shock is a more superficial constellation of problems that result from the misreading of commonly perceived and understood signs of social interaction. Nor is the delineation of these tensions meant to suggest that the multicultural person must necessarily harbor these various difficulties. The multicultural style of identity is premised on a fluid, dynamic movement of the self, an ability to move in and out of contexts, and an ability to maintain some inner coherence through varieties of situations. As for psychocultural style, the multicultural individual may just as easily be a great artist or a neurotic, each of whom is equally susceptible to the fundamental forces of our time. Any list of multicultural individuals must automatically include individuals who have achieved a high degree of accomplishment (writers, musicians, diplomats, etc.) as well as those women and men whose lives have, for one reason or another, been fractured by the circumstances they failed to negotiate. The artist and the neurotic lie close together in each of us, suggests Rollo May. ?The neurotic,? he writes, ?and the artist?since both live out the unconscious of the race?reveal to us what is going to emerge endemically in the society later on . . . the neurotic is the ?artiste Manque,? the artist who cannot transmute his conflicts into art.?
The multicultural individual represents a new kind of person unfettered by the constricting limitations of culture as a total entity. Yet, like women and men in any age, the multicultural person must negotiate the difficulties of cross-cultural contact. The literature of cross-cultural psychology is rich with examples of the kinds of problems encountered when people are intensely exposed to other cultures. Integration and assimilation, for example, represent two different responses to a dominant culture, integration suggesting the retention of subcultural differences, and assimilation implying absorption into a larger cultural system. The relationship between assimilation, integration, and identification, according to E. Sommerlad and John W. Berry, suggests that if people identify with their own group, they will hold favorable attitudes toward integration. On the other hand, if they identify with the host society, they should favor assimilation. Related to this are the various negative attitudes, psychosomatic stresses, and deviant behaviors that are expressed by individuals in psychologically risky situations. ?Contrary to predictions stemming from the theory of Marginal Man,? writes Berry, ?it tends to be those persons more traditionally oriented who suffer the most psychological marginality, rather than those who wish to move on and cannot.? The multicultural man or woman is, in many ways, a stranger. The degree to which he or she can continually modify the frame of reference and become aware of the structures and functions of a group, while at the same time maintaining a clear understanding of personal, ethnic, and cultural identifications, may very well be the degree to which the multicultural person can truly function successfully between cultures.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint the conditions under which cultural identities will evolve into multicultural identities, such changes in psychocultural style are most likely to occur where the foundations of collective cultural identity have been shaken. ?Communities that have been exposed too long to exceptional stresses from ecological or economic hardships,? writes John E. Cawte, ?or from natural or man-made disasters, are apt to have a high proportion of their members subject to mental disorders.? Cawte?s studies of the Aboriginal societies of Australia and Colin M. Turnbull?s studies of the Ik in Africadocument how major threats to collective cultural identity produce social and psychological breakdown in individuals. Yet, potentially, multicultural attitudes and values may develop where cultural interchange takes place between cultures that are not totally disparate or where the rate of change is evolutionary rather than immediate. The reorganization of a culture, suggests J. L. M. Dawson, ?results in the formation of in-between attitudes,? which Dawson considers ?to be more appropriate for the satisfactory adjustment of individuals in transitional situations.? The multicultural style, then, may be born and initially expressed in any society or culture that is faced with new exposures to other ways of life.
Conceptualization of a multicultural identity style in terms of personality types, behavior patterns, traits, and cultural background is at best impressionistic and anecdotal. Yet, the investigations of cross-cultural psychologists and anthropologists give increasing credence to the idea of a multicultural personality that is shaped and contoured by the stresses and strains which result from cultural interweaving at both the macro- and microcultural levels. Seemingly, a multicultural style is able to evolve when the individual is capable of negotiating the conflicts and tensions inherent in cross-cultural contacts. The multicultural person, then, may very well represent an affirmation of individual identity at a higher level of social, psychological, and cultural integration.
Just as the cultures of the world, if they are to merit survival amidst the onslaught of Western technologies, must be responsive to both tradition and change, so too must the individual identity be psychoculturally adaptive to the encounters of an imploding world. There is every reason to think that such human beings are emerging. The multicultural person, embodying sequential identities, is open to the continuous cycle of birth and death as it takes place within the framework of his or her psyche. The lifestyle of the multicultural person is a continual process of dissolution and reformation of identity; yet implicit in such a process is growth. Psychological movements into new dimensions of perception and experience tend very often to produce forms of personality disintegration; and disintegration, suggests Kazimierez Dabrowski, ?is the basis for developmental thrusts upward, the creation of new evolutionary dynamics, and the movement of personality to a higher level. . .? The seeds of each new identity of the multicultural person lie within the disintegration of previous identities. ?When the human being,? writes Erikson, ?because of accidental or developmental shifts, loses an essential wholeness, he restructures himself and the world by taking recourse to what we may call totalism.? Such totalism, above and beyond being a mechanism of coping and adjustment, is a part of the growth of a new kind of wholeness at a higher level of integration.
Robert J. Lifton, Boundaries (New York: Vintage Books, 1967).
Erik Erikson, Insight and Responsibility (New York: W. W. Norton, 1964).
Rollo May, Love and Will (New York: Dell Publishing, 1969).
E. Sommerlad and John W. Berry, ?The Role of Ethnic Identification,? in The Psychology of Aboriginal Australians, edited by G. E. Kearney, P. R. de Lacey, and G. R. Davidson (Sydney: John Wiley & Sons Australasia Pty Ltd., 1973), 236?43.
John W. Berry, ?Marginality, Stress and Ethnic Identification,? Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 1 (1970): 239?52.
John E. Cawte, ?A Sick Society,? in The Psychology of Aboriginal Australians, edited by G. E. Kearney, P. R. de Lacey, and G. R. Davidson (Sydney: John Wiley & Sons Australasia Pty Ltd., 1973), 365?79.
Colin M. Turnbull, The Mountain People (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972).
J. L. M. Dawson, ?Attitude Change and Conflict,? Australian Journal of Psychology 21 (1969): 101?16.
Kazimierez Dabrowski, Positive Disintegration (Boston: Little, Brown, 1964).
Erikson, Insight and Responsibility.
Conclusions and Summary
This article does not suggest that the multicultural person is now the predominant character style of our time. Nor is it meant to suggest that multicultural persons, by virtue of their uninhibited way of relating to other cultures, are in any way ?better? than those who are mono- or bicultural. Rather, this article argues that multicultural persons are not simply individuals who are sensitive to other cultures or knowledgeable about international affairs, but instead can be defined by a psychocultural pattern of identity that differs radically from the relatively stable forms of self-process found in the usual cultural identity pattern. This article argues that both cultural and multicultural identity processes can be conceptualized by the constellation of biological, social, and philosophical motivations involved and by the relative degrees of rigidity maintained in personal boundaries, and that such conceptualization lays the basis for comparative research.
Two final points might be noted about the multicultural personality. First, the multicultural person embodies attributes and characteristics that prepare him or her to serve as a facilitator and catalyst for contacts between cultures. The variations and flexibility of this identity style allow that person to relate to a variety of contexts and environments without being totally encapsulated by or totally alienated from any given culture. As Bochner suggests, a major problem in attempting to avert the loss of cultures in Asia and the Pacific ?is the lack of sufficient people who can act as links between diverse cultural systems.? These ?mediating? individuals incorporate the essential characteristics of the multicultural person. ?Genuine multicultural individuals are very rare,? he writes, ?which is unfortunate because it is these people who are uniquely equipped to mediate the cultures of the world.? The multicultural person, then, embodies a pattern of self-process that potentially allows him or her to help others negotiate the cultural realities of a different system. With a self-process that is adaptational, the multicultural individual is in a unique position to understand, facilitate, and research the psychocultural dynamics of other systems.
Second, multiculturalism is an increasingly significant psychological and cultural phenomenon, enough so to merit further conceptualization and research. It is neither easy nor necessarily useful to reconcile the approaches of psychology and anthropology; nor is there any guarantee that interdisciplinary approaches bring us closer to an intelligent understanding of human beings as they exist in relation to their culture. Yet, the existence of multicultural people may prove to be a significant enough problem in understanding the process of culture learning (and culture unlearning) to force an integrated approach to studies of the individual and the group. ?Psychologists,? write Richard W. Brislin, Walter J. Lon-ner, and Robert M. Thorndike, ?have the goal of incorporating the behavior of many cultures into one theory (etic approach), but they must also understand the behavior within each culture (emic approach).?Empirical research based on strategies that can accurately observe, measure, and test behavior and that incorporate the ?emic versus etic? distinction will be a natural next step. Such studies may very well be a springboard into the more fundamental dynamics of cross-cultural relationships.
We live in a transitional period of history, a time that of necessity demands parallel forms of psychocultural self-process. That a true international community of nations is coming into existence is still a debatable issue, but that individuals with a self-consciousness that is larger than the mental territory of their culture are emerging is no longer arguable. However, the psychocultural pattern of identity that allows such self-consciousness opens individuals to both benefits and pathologies. The interlinking of cultures and persons in the twentieth century is not always a pleasant process; modernization and economic development have taken heavy psychological tolls in both developed and Third-World countries. The changes brought on in our time have invoked revitalized needs for the preservation of collective, cultural identities. Yet, along with the disorientation and alienation which have characterized much of this century comes a new possibility in the way humans conceive of their individual identities and the identity of the human species. No one has better stated this possibility than Harold Taylor, himself an excellent example of the multicultural person:
There is a new kind of [person] in the world, and there are more of that kind than is commonly recognized. He [or she] is a national citizen with international intuitions, conscious of the age that is past and aware of the one now in being, aware of the radical difference between the two, willing to accept the lack of precedents, willing to work on the problems of the future as a labor of love, unrewarded by governments, academies, prizes, and position. He [or she] forms part of an invisible world community of poets, writers, dancers, scientists, teachers, lawyers, scholars, philosophers, students, citizens who see the world whole and feel at one with all its parts.
Bochner, ?Mediating Man,? 23?37.
Richard W. Brislin, Walter J. Lonner, and Robert M. Thorn-dike,Cross-Cultural Research Methods (New York: John Wi-ley & Sons, 1973).
Harold Taylor, ?Toward a World University,? Saturday Review 24 (1969): 52.
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