One of the last topics I discussed in my ADR Ethics class this semester was mediating multiculturally. In her book, Mediation Ethics: Cases and Commentaries (Jossey-Bass 2011), Ellen Waldman quotes a definition of culture as “the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group.” (Id. at 306.) it “…include[s] the wide variety of ways that people create, consume and transmit meaning in the world.” (Id.) “[I]t is the lens through which we see the world. It not only primes our choices but shapes how we view the choices of others.” (Id. at 307.)
Ms. Waldman then discusses the traditional distinctions in culture: individualistic vs collectivist, low power distance vs high power distance, low context vs high context in the use of language, monochronic vs polychronic in terms of structure and use of time and high-risk avoidance and low risk avoidance. (Id. at 308-9).
Last weekend, I attended the Annual Conference of the Southern California Mediation Association. In one of the presentations, the instructor mentioned “cultural differences” noting that it goes far beyond the traditional distinctions mentioned above. Each of us individually have our own culture, and each of our families, both the ones we grew up in and the ones we have as parents have our own culture. Even our work places have their own cultures.
This thought struck me as I had never thought of my own family or work place as having its own culture. A moment’s reflection revealed its truth; we had and have our own peculiar way of dealing with the world, emotionally, materially, spiritually and intellectually. This is most readily apparent in the use of language; it is high context in that the “…speaker and listener share a common heritage or background and that language builds on a set of unspoken but acknowledged understandings.” (Id. at 308.) That is, our discussions are cryptic because we all know what we are referencing.
Similarly, each generation has its own culture: The “greatest generation” or the “Silent Generation” who participated in World War II is far different than the “Baby Boomers” and without doubt the latest generations of Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z are each different from their predecessor. The more common term is “generation gap” as shown in the table below.
So, my take away from this presentation is that no matter how similar we appear to be, we each have a different culture that must be acknowledged, understood and respected. Or, as I ended my class by saying, we must go with their flow, not ours, to communicate successfully.
… Just something to think about.
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