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Culture and Interpersonal Communication

Culture and Interpersonal Communication

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Published by: sbmemon on Sep 05, 2009
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Culture and interpersonal communication Interpersonal Messages, communication and relationship skills Tarik Ocon
National University


This paper explores chapter 2, culture and interpersonal communication, from Joesph DeVito`s interpersonal messages. It discusses the role of culture, how culture differs from one another and the forms and principles of intercultural communication. This text also includes discussion over on online (Internet) and offline (non-Internet) relationships and their relationship to Computermediated communication (CMC) as explored through an emerging globalized world. The chapter, however, highlights cross-cultural communication as an important aspect of life for


more reasons than just business. It looks at the benefits of understanding culture to better understand ourselves and why people act as they do. There are some definitions used to help explain culture for a more universal understanding. Such terms suggested are: cultural assimilation, computer mediated communication CMC, enculturation, acculturation, individualistic and collective cultures, to name a few amongst other terms.

Culture and interpersonal communication are the hot topicsof the decade. We are in a world of intercultural interaction; it is here and here to stay. It is now 2009, and the idea that a country can remain independent from others or live purely in a self-serving nationalistic way is no longer a realistic option. I found this reading to be interesting in its ability to simplify and define for us what I think is now fairly common knowledge and an accepted idea; communicating with other cultures is necessary. We Americans from the United States have and continue to benefit and profit from the interaction or use of other cultures. Reading this chapter about the importance of culture was not new, shocking or even controversial, but more of a confirmation that, yes, we need other cultures. The concept of cultural assimilation is, however, a bit more controversial. Leave your native culture and melt into the pot of America (DeVito, 2005a). For obvious reasons if a person can adapt to the existing culture, language and lifestyle, there are financial, employment and personal gains that can be had (DeVito, 2005b). Therefore, if there is a standard or set dominant culture, it makes life easier for everyone. According to The New York Times Almanac (2005); the foreign-born population of the U.S is


increasing by millions, coming from all countries by percentages approaching 30% or more. (Devito, 2005c,) This could make for a great barrier to commerce and daily interaction, as a result of language and cultural differences, if everyone were to stay only within their own sub-culture. This is one concept the author did not point out when talking about assimilation. This text made me think about my personal experience as a teacher of English as a foreign language. I have primary taught students of a homogenous culture and language. Many ask me if I knew their language before leaving to teach in the country. I say, no, but that does not matter because I am not teaching them their language, I am teaching them mine. This changes of course when I step outside of the teaching realm and into the real life of daily survival. If I do not assimilate, I do not survive daily necessities. Not to be too dramatic. I do not feel that the author pointed out the various complications with concepts like assimilation. A debate that persists in states like Texas and California with Hispanics is; do we provide bilingual education? Those that agree are supporting a non-assimilation concept, where as those that do not are arguing for assimilation. Both valid points until you ask the question: are English and Spanish the only two languages that exist in these states? The answer is obviously, no. The problems of intercultural coexistence are more complicated. Would those in favor of bi-lingual education also be in favor of multilingual education; having teachers teach or separate teachers provided for all existing languages in the school? I believe that the real debate is about recognition. Sub-cultures want the majority culture to acknowledge their legitimate existence; they want others to adopt a cultural perspective. A cultural perspective does not imply that you accept all cultural practices or that all cultural practices are equal, according to Hatfield & Rapson (1996), only acknowledge them with some cultural sensitivity and not a forced societal demand to assimilate.


As an individualistic culture we value the idea that the nuclear family is who is responsible for us, not society; you are responsible to your own conscience, and responsibility is largely and individual matter (DeVito, 2005d, p. 39). Collectivism is a taboo word. Initially this appears to be a conservative view point, but what it is expressing is a micro form of enculturation. You learn the values of your culture through the teaching of your parents, peer groups, schools, religious institutions, media and government agencies (assuming that none of these favors a specific view point or forces specific believes); this process is enculturation. (DeVito, 2005e,) With this definition of the term, I think that a majority of American idealists would agree that freedom to practice culture as you wish is a better form of living, not a society of forced assimilation. This is not just for immigrants but also to protect the diversity of U.S Americans themselves, who live within many sub-cultures despite being part of a collective dominant culture. So the question is, why do so many become enraged when certain holidays or events are celebrated publicly? Some examples are;Columbus Day, Christmas, and Easter. Is it the celebration; the government support of;or the frustration of being a minority, dominated in majority culture? When communication is opened up over these issues what we hear is how one culture is offending the other culture in support of, and vice versa with the protest against. Communication breaks down because of the lack of Cultural perspective, sensitivity and recognition. In a more democratic society with basic freedoms and rights it is difficult to force onto another your own culture by law or government. So people use alternative methods, such as acculturation; which Young Yun Kim (1988) refers to the processes by which a person`s culture is modified through direct contact with or exposure to (say, mass media) another culture (DeVito, 2005f,) This was a really important concept in this chapter, but the methods used and how this happened should be further examined. It is through acculturation that the United States wins hands down. We, in the general sense of our majority culture, do not need to force or manipulate laws to ensure acculturation. People from around the world engage in it voluntarily. This typically happens by one, or all four of the tools of mass acculturation


and assimilation. First: our entertainment; movies, TV, music, magazines, internet and technology are the penetrators of this process; the first ones to expose our culture to another. This is why you can travel across the world to a lost village in the mountains of Vietnam with no plumbing or roads and find a young girl listening to Britney spears on a battery operated walkman (T. Quintana, personal communication, 2005). What comes next is the influx of business. You can go to Mexico, China and Canada and find WalMart or McDonald`s that will be just like home, almost. The number of native born English speakers is relatively low as compared to the overall percentage of people in the world, and the majorities are from the United States. However if you look at the number of countries that use English as the main form of business communication or national languages it is overwhelmingly hands down, an English speaking global world (Wikipedia.com, 2009). We bring in immigrants to live with us and assimilate; then let them carry back home the ` American dream` the new cloths, technology, language and ideas, doing the work of acculturation for us. And in the end, if none of those weapons of mass acculturation do the trick, we have the world`s most powerful military to finally force cultural acceptance. Many say that wars are fought over resources like: oil, gold, land, water etc; maybe, but I think wars are fought over cultural domination, that is real power, and with that you have control over resources. We have won the cultural war. How do we improve intercultural communication? Isolation is not an answer, neither is force. Joseph DeVito (2005) stated in this chapter that: intercultural communication depends on the cultural sensitivity of both individuals. Cultural sensitivity is an attitude and way of behaving in which you are aware of and acknowledge cultural differences. (p.45) Unfortunately, I think many just have apathy; those of us in the majority do not care because it doesn`t affect our lives directly. `The highest result of education is tolerance. ` - Helen Keller This quote says so much. To be educated is to be exposed to other ideas and see life differently, to understand one another and realize that you are not the only one on earth. To travel and gain experience is to confront your stereotypes and recognize differences and reduce over-attribution.


Larry A. Samovar (2009), in Intercultural Communications, said that culture is: the rules for living and functioning within a society…a shared meaning system found among those who speak the particular language dialect. I live everyday in a similar situation, very few of my family and friends understand what I am doing living in another country for such a long time. I live and work in Mexico and am married to a Mexican woman. I am a gringo, for those that don`t know, this refers specifically to a person in the United States that has the cultural mentality of: `American`; capitalist, democratic, a little arrogant, materialistic and feels they are from a superior culture and has more opportunities and rights because of where they are from or who they are. This definition does not refer to skin color, nationality, ethnicity or social status, which is why it is possible for immigrantsto become gringos too. With that being said, I get my education by living between two cultures. I am treated differently everywhere I go because of who I am, or should I say how I look, and receive many comments, mostly positive, about `my` country and culture. The majority of people are wrong with their ideas. They speak of things that are picked up from movies and TV, but I have to constantly respond to them. After five years of living here I have stopped trying to correct and clarify. This has given me a complex of how I act toward others here, and how I criticize or compare different ways of life betweenthe two cultures. Whether we like it or not it affects how we think about ourselves. I call it the celebrity syndrome: after enough time of people telling you come from a better place and your life and culture is better, you cannot help but start to believeit. You start to act like it. I go through culture shock the one time a year I return to The States where I am treated the same as others, or worse not noticed at all. This is a difficult concept to truly understand unless you have lived in a similar situation for a significant amount of time. All I can say is; I have lived, seen, bonded and communicated with another culture to the point of no longer being a passive observer but an active participant.



DeVito J.A (2005a). Interpersonal messages, communication and relationship skills. Pearson Education, Inc. (p.32) The importance of culture DeVito J.A (2005b). Interpersonal messages, communication and relationship skills. Pearson Education, Inc. (p.32) The importance of culture DeVito J.A (2005c). Interpersonal messages, communication and relationship skills. Pearson Education, Inc. (p.32) The importance of culture DeVito J.A (2005d). Interpersonal messages, communication and relationship skills. Pearson Education, Inc. (p.39) Individualist and Collectivist Cultures DeVito J.A (2005e). Interpersonal messages, communication and relationship skills. Pearson Education, Inc. (p.35) Enculturation and Acculturation DeVito J.A (2005f). Interpersonal messages, communication and relationship skills. Pearson Education, Inc. (p.36) Enculturation and Acculturation DeVito J.A (2005g). Interpersonal messages, communication and relationship skills. Pearson Education, Inc. (p.45) Improving intercultural Communication DeVito J.A (2005h). Interpersonal messages, communication and relationship skills. Pearson Education, Inc. (p.34) Quotation of Helen Keller, The Aim of a Cultural Perspective Hatfield, E., & Rapson, R.L. (1996). Love and sex: Cross-cultural perspectives. Boston: Allyn & Bacon Quintana T. (2005) Personal communication, interview of travels through Southeast Asia. Wikipedia.com (2009) List of countries where English is an official language. Kim, Y.Y. (1988). Communication and acculturation. In L.A. Samovar & R.E. Porter (eds.), Intercultural communication: A reader (5th ed., pp. 344-354). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth

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