I’ve been thinking about cultural customs and communication a lot lately. I’m wondering how much of what we do or don’t like about a person initially is more about how they communicate or the manners they learned growing up in their own family/national culture and less about who they are or how they behave.
What is culture? It’s the way a group of people living in close proximity have learned to communicate through words, actions, and behaviors. The family I grew up in had its own developed culture. And the state and country I grew up in had its own wider culture. Your culture teaches you what to expect from the people around you and what they expect from you. It makes people comfortable and able to focus on bigger things. When I walk in a room at a party, I know that if I make eye contact, smile, and talk in a familiar friendly way, people will accept me as part of the group and I can move forward with making closer friendships. That is what culture is.
The world is a big place with so many different cultures and communication styles. We used to only interact with a few on a daily basis. In the course of a regular work week, we’d interact with our own family’s culture and that of our physical location. It was easy. In a lifetime, the only time you’d deal with another would be if you traveled or if a foreigner came to your area. In those instances, you’d have to learn about what was expected of you as you traveled or that your new neighbor from China communicated respect in way different than you.
With the internet and social media, the world suddenly seems so much smaller. We deal with vastly different cultures on a daily basis. The pictures we see, the articles, the comments, all reflect a myriad of cultures that are so foreign to our own even from people inside our own country. We react to what we see from our own perspective, assuming that the person on the other end is posting from the same point of view when in fact he most likely is not. We end up taking offense and being angry, wondering what in the world has gone so completely wrong these days.
You’d think making it possible to see and communicate with people from around the world for free would make us immediately more understanding and sympathetic to others, but no. It’s made us angry and distrustful. Of course, it has! People say human is human and “a smile means friendship to everyone” but that just isn’t true.
The internet is opening up a whole new era of communication. In my opinion, it’s the equivalent of discovering fire, inventing language, and developing farming. It’s going to take a long time to re-invent the rules of behavior. Our new culture may be very different than any previous one. It may need to be based on a broader understanding of human nature, braver communication techniques, and a penchant for really wanting to connect. It remains to be seen if the human race is up to it.