CQ – How are we different? Part One – An Introduction to Culture

Up to this point, I have talked about what Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is, why we need it, and how to start developing it in ourselves. Once again, CQ is the capability to function effectively across various cultural contexts(national, ethnic, organizational, generational, etc.)

In my last blog, I talked about cultural humility and the need to “focus on the otherthe other person from another culture is the expert and has the answers. I am here to learn from that person, to focus on that person. I ask questions instead providing answers. It’s a lifelong process and attitude of growing instead of focus on an end product. Cultural humility encourages us to look at our own biases, to self-reflect regularly on our attitudes toward the other. I come to the other person with modesty and with a courteous respect for that person and culture.”

But where do our biases come from? Why do we have to think about the others in our life? Aren’t we all just the same? I don’t know about you, but I disagree with people. I even disagree with my husband sometimes! (GASP!) And where do those disagreements come from? I could go in to a lot of detail about that. However, I won’t today nor in the immediate future.

Instead, I want to take the time to start a series about cultural dimensions. These are areas where cultures differ. One isn’t right and the other wrong. They are just different. Before we understand cultural dimensions, though, we need to understand what culture means.

Here is a definition of culture: the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.

What kinds of things are a part of your culture? Nitza Hidalgo mentions three different levels of culture:

Concrete: surface level, food, festivals, clothes, music

Behavioral: language, gender roles, family structure, politics (how you view leadership, communication (specific or not), etc.

Symbolic: values and beliefs, religion, worldview

The iceberg is a metaphor often used to explain culture. You have probably seen this before or something similar. When we look at an iceberg related to culture, at the top of the iceberg is what we see and experience with our senses, the concrete culture. The food, clothes, music, etc. Much of the behavior we experience comes from what we cannot see, what which is just below the surface, the Behavioral Culture, what this picture calls cultural values and assumptions. Down deep, though, is the Symbolic Culture. I would add to the “individual personality” things such as our cultural rules about relationships, virtue and vice, worldview, and religious beliefs, which do indeed affect our culture. It’s the ideas, beliefs, mannerisms in our culture that “go without saying.”

As we teach our young children, there are things that we just automatically teach without realizing it is a part of our culture. We teach our 2-year-old grandson about not standing while eating and chewing with his mouth closed and other such “manners.” Those ideas become what “goes without saying” in our culture.

To understand what makes things different from us is to learn about the other person, with an attitude of cultural humility, where she or he comes from, and how those pieces of culture that are different are things we can learn from. Not judge. Learn from. And to learn from the other person, it is helpful to understand the different cultural dimensions. Next week we will start in and take one set of ideas per week.

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