Many times people wonder if who they are—who they truly are—is nothing more than a by-product of society. We can’t ignore that the values and characteristics of our respective cultures have been instilled in us as a result of being conditioned by our society. However, that is not to say we are merely puppets created by our environment without the ability to think for ourselves. After all, there are many cases where our own communication patterns differ slightly from that of our culture’s—myself being an example.
I’ve heard on more than one occasion that you can’t truly love others unless you love yourself. Well, to tweak it a little for this context, you cannot truly understand others until you can understand yourself. Another lesson I learned on the journey. So to get to know myself better and how I interact with others, I took a self test of sorts, and to be honest, it did help me understand myself a lot more. So cheers to time well spent…
To understand my own communication patterns, I first looked at the characteristics of my culture. To take a closer look at America’s culture profile and an explanation of the terms used, you can look at these tables as you read along.
When one thinks of America, it is usually understood to be an individualistic culture where status is achieved. Supposedly, fairness and efficiency are observed through the practice of universalism. Americans are said to be expressive when managing their emotions (sometimes too expressive), believe in inner control, follow a linear time reference with a future orientation, and adhere to the idea of inner truth. Regarding gender, America boasts of having a gender similar community, where the same opportunities are made available to men and women alike—though this could be argued. As a whole, America is also said to be a masculine nation.
As for whether America is diffuse- or specific-oriented when it comes to space, keeping in mind that most Americans are thought to be excessively direct and having too many boundaries, it is safe to assume that they prefer a discrete space. However, the importance of discrete and diffuse space varies depending on the region. Since those from southern states are thought to be more open and welcoming overall—disregarding many of the barriers Northerners abide by—they may prefer diffuse space. Their public space is larger than their private space, so it is common for them to smile or make small talk with a stranger they come across in the street; whereas this is almost unheard of in the North, particularly, in New York. Even if you see your boss walking on the opposite sidewalk, chances are many New Yorkers might pretend to not see him and continue on their way. I, for one, have exhibited such behavior on more than one occasion. However, various anomalies are bound to surface when characterizing America as a whole—for the simple fact that it is considered a melting pot of many differing cultures—but to better compare my cultural profile to that of my culture, it was necessary.
As an American, I do share a number of the same traits as my culture. I believe that following a linear time is vital. I don’t like to waste time when I’m out, so sometimes it may appear like I am always “on the go” to others. If something is supposed to be done by a certain time, when that time comes, I expect it to be done. However, that does not mean that I am always doing tasks in sequential order—often, I am working on multiple projects at once, but that is the only trait from a multi-active time that I have. I also believe that people are (well, at least, I am) happier when they are responsible for themselves. I have no interest in picking up the slack of those in a society where they can abuse the system, knowing that someone will have to help them since everyone is responsible for each other.
Therefore, I am an individualist like my culture. Status should be achieved so that those in power have rightly earned it—unlike some who are only in their positions because it was ascribed to them. Although there are others better fit or more capable than those in power, since they were not born into that status, they are unable to realize their true potential. That is why it should be achieved, and not ascribed. I also believe in following inner truth, private space and the universalistic approach for fairness and efficiency like my culture. However, that is where the similarities end.
The differences between my culture and myself can be attributed to my beliefs as a Christian. When managing my emotions, I believe that being neutral is better. In other words, a poker face is essential. It is true that in the Bible, it says that we should not be led by our emotions, but being neutral is also a personal choice. I find that when I am clouded by emotions, I do not always make the best decision; whereas, if I ignore my feelings, I can see the situation more clearly. Knowing that God is always in control, it is obvious that I would choose outer control. The only contradiction is that it is said that “life and death are in the power of our tongues” (Proverbs 18:21). So although God is in control, we have a say in the direction our lives will take, which sounds like inner control. Concerning gender, I understand that we are different biologically—and that difference is important. There is a reason why women have larger hips, breasts, and other biological differences than men. The roles we were originally meant to fill are not the same. (Ladies, relax and put your chairs back down. Did you ever stop to think that we’re the ones having babies because we can handle the pain down there, and guys can’t?) This is why, historically, women have been the caretakers for so long, and men—being physically stronger—were the providers. Beyond those initial differences, I believe that men and women can perform the same roles. It is difficult to pick one category completely without agreeing with the other to some extent, which can be said for most things in life.
Although looking back, it would appear that I am incredibly similar to my culture, I know that my personal beliefs and choices have helped to set me apart from my society—if only slightly. Despite its heavy influence, I am my own person, and not merely a by-product of my society’s values. For those of you who’d like to take a closer look at yourselves, creating your own cultural profile is definitely one way to do so.
For a more in-depth explanation of cross culture communication patterns, you might like to take a look at Robert Lewis‘ work.
I’ll finish off by saying, there are no strings on me!