Cross-culture, is that even a thing? Why does it matter and why is it important to anyone who has any form of communication with people from different cultures? This is a great question and one which many people never take time to reflect upon, thus also never realizing the importance of it. Although everyone does interact with several cultures in their daily lives, for some reason this question hasn’t been given the space it deserves. Up until today.
“Culture”, what a word. Immediate associations to arts, food, indigenous rituals and maybe a few historically not too great cultural traits. Maybe a painting, or a traditional national outfit from you-name-it land. Pizza, because that’s a great culture. This is what most people really think of when even trying to start a conversation on this huge topic – and well, this indicates that it’s a great idea to have a closer look at it. Let’s sort things out – is it pizza or iPhones?
Jokes aside, the very definition of culture is specific depending on what source of advocacy is being asked to define it. If a biochemist answers the question, you’ll most likely hear a very complex definition of bacteria culture and what that means to physical functions in our bodies. If you ask an entrepreneur, s/he will refer to the awesomeness culture being created in that specific business. If asking a manager working in an international corporation, s/he will most definitely talk about the different local cultures of the business’ employees and how they are different from each other when looking at different parts of the world. A painter might explain it through the selection of colors, motives and structure of his/her artwork, and a musician might explain that same word as a set of notes, a melody.
And so it goes on. But what is this thing called “culture” within an international context, and why does it matter to you?
Culture within this context is, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary;
“a: the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations
b: the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group;also: the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time <popular culture> <southern culture>
c: the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization <a corporate culture focused on the bottom line>
d: the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic”
Chill, this is not a university class. Nevertheless, as you can see from the definition above, culture involves a lot of things in which basically every human being takes part on a daily basis. In some cases, someone else might wish to emphasize a certain form of culture before another (pop culture before national culture) to describe one person or group of people. In other cases, that person or group might want to put focus on a specific aspect of a certain form of culture so as to confirm or strengthen a set of beliefs lined out by that group’s members. All of the situations described are happening around everyone all the time and thus, culture is an ongoing, interactive process. It evolves through both external and internal influence, and is both forming and formed by participants and those who refuse to be involved in any way.
Think of it as a really big pizza with everything as topping. Everything. Peperoni? Yes. Ice cream and cookies? Yes. Chicken and barbeque sauce? Yes. A salad and onions and bananas and some sandwiches and sweet sour soup? That too. As you can see, each of these ingredients are great and complex in themselves, and they might go very well together with some of the other ones too, but some of them simply won’t taste good in a combination, and the taste of other ones might surprise you in a positive way. There are layers, horizontally and vertically, from where you can analyze whether this would be a good taste experience or not.
Coincidentally, you can look at cultures the same way. Some of them go really well together, completing each other and supporting each other quite well. Others might have attributes which are absolutely incompatible, almost structured to be polarized against each other. There are some cultures which are more suitable to embrace while on vacation, and others which are much more appropriate for attending a big meeting on financial strategic planning. Mixing the two, or trying to hold the mind of the previous whilst attending the other event, will not be too successful. But it would indeed look very fun.
What’s the point of all of this, then?
Well, from the many, many cultures interacting and spreading, mutating and evolving all over the world, they too produce roles for their members. If the culture belongs to a huge group of people, there will naturally be variations and some of the members might emphasize one segment of that culture before the others. This leads to a specialized, radicalized or extreme movement and although having its core in that larger group, in quite a short time the differences between the two will be huge. This is what’s called development, a phenomenon which doesn’t necessarily have to be sorted under a positive context at all times and in all situations.
It simply defines some sort of change.
But OK, so why is it important to you?
Have a look at yourself and try to answer a set of questions, the following ones would be great: To which generation do you belong? To which national culture, if you have one? Which music do you like? What kind of books do you prefer to read? Do you speak more than one language? Which other ones? What kind of food do you like? And what profession do you have at the moment? What political theory do you find most appealing? What sort of lifestyle are you enjoying at the moment? Do you travel a lot, or enjoy reading about other places, ideas and ways of living?
If you have an answer to all of these questions, or even only one of them, then culture is highly relevant to you. You are affected by many cultures divided into many segments, forming you as an individual and all of which you form through simply being you. As no cultural blueprint is completely compatible with any individual, you are probably finding yourself in some situations where you can’t find an easy answer. The more complex questions you tend to ask yourself, the more you are aware of these different cultures, emphasizing different attributes, and how they are affecting you specifically – as well as other people around you. The more you reflect on this, the more you will start seeing these patterns, finding common denominators among certain cultural treats.
As people are currently migrating a lot, exchanging information online (a lot), and interacting like never before, the evolution of cultures happen at a rapid pace. This includes both good things and less good things, and also the consequences of both types of changes. Cultures cross-react, influence each other, grow and die, evolve and devolve, use violence and non-violence as means of expression and have political or non-political ambitions. Now, cross-cultural influence can be a fantastic thing – as in the case of technology and medicine evolving into software development for making health available to everyone. This fantastic cross-reaction will give scientist a huge source of data from which to create better medicines and much more rapidly identify potential health risks.
On the other hand, other cross-cultural interactions are destructive, violent and aiming at using force, fear and criminal acts to gain power. With new technology, and new means of communication, the ability to recruit members and mobilize as become much easier. Radicalization has become a much more convenient method of culture creation as the means of marketing ideas has become available to a lot of people. This is an important context to understand, as the mechanics behind enabling certain cultures are quite complex and often involving aspects from several cultures, fused into one. Luckily, destructive cultures tend to have a much shorter lifespan than constructive ones, allowing for the latter to keep evolving and making this planet a nice place to hang out.
So once again, why is cross-cultural awareness important to you? It is because you are a human being and you live on this planet called earth, where cultures are everywhere.