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Chapter Three: Change as the Status Quo

Section 5: Culture Shock


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 "The Happy Tamborine" a Mongolian Dance performed by the Academy of Chinese Performing Arts. Rosa during dress rehearsal.



The extent of dependency makes it important that communication be effective. However, when the exchanges are international, the participants often speak different languages. This is not simply a matter of two people using distinct terms for one and the same concept. Concepts are related in conceptual systems -- and the meaning of any concept depends on its relation to all the components of the system. The semantic difficulties can be quite severe since discerning the exact meaning of a term may require familiarity with the entire cultural context. Additionally, many communications are non-verbal -- and behaviors that may be insignificant in one culture may be very significant in another. (I cannot recall the details, but one American managed to insult his hosts by not belching at the end of a feast.)



The problems are not insurmountable on a practical level. Approximations and mutual tolerance can grease the wheels of exchange. In fact, the effort can expand one's understanding and appreciation of other cultures -- and this, in turn, opens the way for better world relations.



However, even this respect-building process has its dark side. Cross-cultural understanding inevitably leads to comparisons with ones own, perhaps previously unquestioned, culture. People will become aware of previously unknown choices. This may undermine the faith necessary to preserve the cultural unity of certain populations and greatly strain international relations.



I recall a Princeton political scientist of Iranian origin saying that the Iranian crisis was largely a reaction to a culture clash. The fusion of alluring Western ideas into Moslem culture was likened to putting too much into a small can -- and an explosion resulted. Not all clashes will be so calamitous, but there will be several minor misunderstandings that will prove costly in their own right.



In the long run it can be expected that these problems will become a source of strength. Those cultures that survive comparison will have a stronger basis for holding the faith of its members. Other cultures may assimilate some new options and thereby improve themselves. A broadened perspective can only help everyone and improve the prospects for world peace.



In the meantime, culture shock adds to the challenge posed by technological innovation. New products and new cultural ideas will appear with greater and greater frequency. Again, accelerating change is the primary challenge for tomorrow's person, society and world.







Book Contents

Transcultural Friendship: Our Political Future


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The Evolution of Societal Structures

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