Culture: What you Can See
What does the word "culture" really mean? Culture is a loosely defined word and you are likely to get a different response from everyone that you ask. Some people believe that culture is movies, art and theatre. Others might say it is food and language. Some people believe that it is rituals, traditions and stories that have been passed through years of history. The truth is, the ideas above are all part of culture, but they are just the surface level of culture. They are the superficial aspects of culture that we can observe. If we compare culture to an iceberg, those things are the top 10% of the iceberg that is visible from the surface.
Culture: What you Can't See
What we are really interested in, is what lies below the surface, the remaining 90% of the iceberg that is the foundation of who we are, what we believe and what we assume to be true about others. The fascinating thing about culture is that we are often so unaware of our own cultural values that lie beneath the surface and even if we become aware of those values, we might assume that those basic values are shared by all. Nothing could be further from the truth.
We Are All Playing the Same Game with Different Rules
Ok, so we know that culture is deep and we know that we often make the mistake of assuming that others share our cultural values but why should we care? Have you ever tried to conduct a business deal with someone who has a different orientation toward time? Have you ever negotiated with someone who has a completely different idea of what silence and direct eye contact really mean? We are all interacting in this world and playing the same "game" but we are all playing the game according to different rules! When you truly think about that, it explains so much about human history and human interaction.
The Importance of Cultural Competence
So culture is the reason for many misunderstandings, feelings of hostility and difficult interpersonal interactions in our everyday life. If you are from another country and you are living and working in the United States, I can promise you that culture plays a part in your life even if you are not conscious of this fact. So what can we do? We can start by gaining a basic awareness of our own cultural orientations and assumptions. We can then open up to the culture in which we are living and working and try to gain some insight into the basic worldview of the people we interact with every day. If we truly want to succeed in a globalized society, we need to open our eyes and take a look at culture and how it affects our lives.
Cultural awareness is the future, get culturally competent or get left behind!