Building a Common Culture
by Marlene Bylenga, SCSBC International Education Coordinator ◊
One of the challenges of a society with rapidly changing demographics is building a common culture where everyone feels that they are accepted and understood. An obstacles to cross cultural understanding is the assumption that the newcomer understands and embraces the host’s culture. The reality is that new students who are immigrants not only come from differing cultures but their reasons for coming vary. We need to recognize that some have come by choice and others are here because of war, persecution or other extenuating circumstances. Not all immigrants have had the opportunity to explore the differences in cultural frameworks and consider how those differences might affect the relationships they develop in their new country. Building a common culture involves give and take, and everyone changes in the process.
With so many differing cultural backgrounds it is only natural that misunderstandings and conflicts may occur. When we are involved in a situation where there is a problem to be solved, the cultural framework we are accustomed to will affect the way in which the difficulty is conceptualized and resolved. Often at the root of misunderstandings are some basic dangerous assumptions that can hinder communication and the resolution of problem solving process.
Some examples of dangerous assumptions are:
- People all share a common definition of “normal” behaviour. which is universal across social, cultural, economic backgrounds
- Individuals are the basic building blocks of society
- People will understand abstract words in the same way, for
- example, the concepts of “good” and “bad”
- Independence is valuable and dependencies are undesirable
- Everyone depends on linear thinking, cause and effect for the problem. Emphasis on measurement and tests
- People need to change to fit the system
- A person’s history is irrelevant; deal with the immediate crisis
- Most of us already know all of our assumptions
Being able to appreciate each others differences and building common starting points is vital. On all levels of society, from business to personal, effective communication will take place when all are willing to explore each other’s frameworks. These interactions will enable us to explore the values and norms of our individual cultures, change and adapt where necessary and also to appreciate and hold on to the norms which are non-negotiable.
Some of the qualities of effective communicators are:
- Self-esteem or self-acceptance by both communicators. If we don’t like ourselves, we won’t believe that others like us either, so we will be defensive and misinterpret signals they send us.
- Self-understanding. An important ability needed for effective communication is being able to see ourselves as others see us. Before we can do that, we need to know who we are, what we value, what our personal strengths and weaknesses are, and why we react as we do.
- Trust and acceptance of others. We need to accept the attitudes and feelings of others as legitimate, even if they are different from our own. It is not easy to see the world through another’s eyes, especially if we do not like what we are seeing or hearing. But if others believe that we are constantly evaluating and judging them, they will not want feedback from us, and they will cease to communicate or will not do so honestly.
- A desire to communicate. If one or the other party really is not interested in communicating, then effective interchanges will not occur. We need to be interested in others, what they feel and need, and they in us, for real understanding and communication to take place.
- A recognition that communication is a complex and, at best imperfect ability. No matter how hard we try, communication often fails. It is important that we recognize that this will happen and not give in to cynicism or despair.
As Christian educators it is imperative that we, together with our students and parents, work at building communities that are not only welcoming but inclusive. Miscommunications and misunderstandings will take place but if we genuinely seek to understand each other’s cultural frameworks and work at a common culture built on God’s Word, we will experience true Christian community.
1 Adapted from : UBC Centre for Intercultural Communication. Bridging Cultural Differences CIS 601 Course notes. Pg 23
2 UBC Centre for Intercultural Communication. Bridging Cultural Differences CIS 601. Course notes. Pg. 27