When I was growing up in the Bahamas, my father often told that I was lucky to grow up in such a small country…
And when I asked why, I was told:
Because you can observe all of the other big countries without the handicap of cultural filters.
Because you have a clearer vision of the world compared to many others.
Because it is so interesting to watch how these bigger countries react and interact with the rest of the world… with very little cultural influence, cultural filters or cultural prejudice.
Of course, I did not understand this and could not see a value. All of those bigger countries had so much more to offer than I did, living on my little island:
- Toy stores… no, just stores
- Recently released movies… no, just decent movies
- Mail order offers… no, just stuf
Natural Cultural Filters
Everyone has cultural filters. People acquire cultural filters naturally from their own environment.
They can’t help it.
Even the rebels, the radicals and those who claim they think out of the box usually still have cultural filters.
Coming from a small country and growing up on an island the most obvious filters I have are:
- Money does not impress me. It is easy to observe how the very rich can be so very foolish if you hang around the expensive yachts in the marina. Foolishness in hurricane territory costs lives. Personal value is more impressive.
- A total disinterest in “big country” political parties. Where I grew up, politics was a question of being black or white. Something no one could change.
- Complainers don’t get attention. When I grew up, if you were not happy with something, it is very simple: You got on your own two feet and did something to correct it. The island I grew up on is not big. There was no one to complain to.
Cultural filters are part of what makes up our cultural differences.
People do not acquire cultural filters through stupidity. There are usually very good reasons for them.
- Either in how people do things or in events.
- Sometimes you need to go back in history to find the reason why a cultural filter exists.
But if you are looking in from another culture, it might take you some time to understand the “why” behind a particular cultural filter. It can take some digging.
Beyond Cultural Prejudice
The problem with cultural filters is that they often inadvertently lead to cultural prejudice. And cultural prejudice creates two problems:
- You cannot develop an effective cross-cultural communication.
- It is not easy to educate someone with strong cultural prejudice.
Interactive conversation stops dead in its tracks when you hit a cultural prejudice. This is where miscommunication and cultural blunders start.
Towards Cross-Cultural Communication
Your own international mindset is important in moving towards cross-cultural communication. And this leads to a key question:
- Are you willing to open up, or temporarily put aside, your own cultural filters enough to open communication with people with different cultural filters?
If you do temporarily put aside your own cultural filters and prejudices you can usually move your communication forward with someone culturally different. Experience helps you notice the little signals that tell you when you are approaching the other person’s cultural prejudice. And with experience you can develop a talent in bypassing, or side stepping, these cultural roadblocks.
Connecting Across Cultures
Once both parties get beyond their cultural prejudices, real cross-cultural connection begins.
To get to this stage of real communication, you need two things:
- Personal development
- Cross-cultural experience
The challenge is to first recognize your own cultural filters. Most people do not like the idea of acknowledging their own prejudices. It is so much easier to label other people with cultural prejudices.
But it is easier to recognize your own cultural filters.
And if you can recognize your own cultural filters, you should be able to put them aside the time of a conversation with someone who has different cultural filters. This gets you that one step closer to real communication and understanding between two different cultures.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.
Photos from Shutterstock.
Filed under: Cross-Cultural Communication
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