Communication Between Cultures

(Sean Pound) #1
and identity. As these descriptions of significant historical events get transmitted from
generation to generation, people begin to perceive“where they belong”and where
their loyalties lie. Stories of the past also provide members of a culture with large por-
tions of their values and rules for behavior. History highlights a culture’s origins,
“tells”its members what is deemed important, and identifies the accomplishments of
the culture of which they can be proud. Although all cultures use history to transmit
important messages about that culture, each set of messages is unique to a particular
culture. The motivation behind the building of the Great Wall of China, the Spanish
conquest of Mexico, the“lessons”of the Holocaust, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947,
the struggles of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and the events of September 11,
2001, are stories that carry a unique meaning for their respective cultures. These
events also help explain contemporary perceptions held by members of those cultures.
Succinctly, the study of history links the old with the new while serving as a pointer
for the future. However, it is important to remember that authorities often selectively
recount and mold historical stories in an effort to construct a desired public percep-
tion. The conflict among China, Japan, and Korea over different presentations of
history is an example.


Values are another key feature of every culture. Bailey and Peoples emphasize the
role values play in culture when they write,“Values are a people’s beliefs about the
goals or ways of living that are desirable for themselves and their society. Values
have profound, though partly unconscious, effects on people’s behavior.”^83 In this
sense, values and the specific behaviors associated with them provide members of a
culture standards to live by. The connections among values, culture, and behavior
are so strong that it is hard to talk about one without discussing the other, as they
“represent the general criteria on which our lives and the lives of others can be
judged. They justify the social rules that determine how we ought to behave.”^84
The two key words in any discussion of cultural values are “guidelines” and
“behavior.”In other words, values help determine how people within a particular
culture ought to behave. Whether they be values regarding individualism, private
property, accomplishment, generosity, change, freedom, etc., each culture defines
specific behaviors for nearly every situation.
To the extent that cultural values differ, you can expect that participants in inter-
cultural communication will tend to exhibit and to anticipate different behaviors
under similar circumstances. For example, although all cultures value the elderly, the
strength of this value is often very different from culture to culture. In Asian, Mexican,
and American Indian cultures, the elderly are highly respected and revered. They are
even sought out for advice and counsel. This is in stark contrast to the United States,
where the emphasis is on youth. So important is the study of values to intercultural
communication that we will devote an entire chapter to this topic later in the book.

Social Organizations

Another feature found in all cultures is what are called“social organizations.”These
organizations (sometimes referred to as social systems or social structures) represent
the various social units within the culture. These are institutions such as family, gov-
ernment, schools, tribes, and clans. The basic premise that underlies all these organi-
zations is the need for and reality ofinterdependence. For over 40,000 years, people

58 CHAPTER 2•Communication and Culture: The Voice and the Echo

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