Culture is a broad term that refers to the sense of one's belonging and identity in relation to it.It incorporates the inculcated values due to the fact that a person may belong to different social groups and have various religious, racial, tribal, or generational features. The difference in values inadvertently brings about dissimilar views as well as perceptions of different cultural beliefs and, unfortunately, inevitably leads to misunderstandings and conflict. Culture is constantly evolving rather than being static adapting to changing political, socio-economic and generational landscapes.
Conflict usually has three variables such as content, relational and cultural misunderstanding (Williams). Content refers to the subject in question and the perceptions entwined with it. The Japanese consider placing a kettle with the spout facing the guest as a sign of disrespect. Someone unfamiliar with Japanese customs would treat this as something inconsequential. The content of the action and the importance attached to it bring about the conflict. Relational misunderstandings happen due to interactions with the secondary party, members of which may be considered as abrasive, dismissive or rude people. Cultural misunderstanding represents our differences in beliefs. Native South Americans often consider waterfalls as sacred while the early explorers just thought of them as water sources where they could swim and have fun. A simple misunderstanding escalated into an all-out war.
It is, therefore, imperative that everyone tries to understand their significance and importance in addressing issues of cultural misunderstanding. On a daily basis, I interact with people of different cultural beliefs at home and university. Our relationships are based on mutual respect and understanding of our differences, yet are built on our similarities. The Japanese rarely shake hands but rather give a slight bow or nod of the head. I understand why my Sikh neighbor puts on a turban and why my Muslim classmate does not eat pork. Whenever I have a party, I ensure there is an alternative to pork. They in turn understand and put up with my idiosyncrasies. This promotes cohesiveness and goodwill not just between them and me, but also in the community as a whole. This cohesiveness breeds a sense of unity and common purpose that drives and brings us together to deal with any arising problem such as insecurity in the neighborhood. Despite our differences, security affects all of us thus necessitating synergy between us. Neighborhood watches are formed where everyone can join them.
The Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania have always engaged in conflicts between each other. This always results in the loss of life. The governments of both countries decided to intervene. However, they noticed that they had always refused to participate in negotiations; therefore, a woman was introduced as a mediator. What they did not consider was that the Maasai culture does not allow a woman to address a group of males. The first step in solving social misunderstandings is to understand the peculiarities of the specific cultures, their customs and how they differ from yours. One can engage a third party conversant with the practices of the said community to mediate and forestall confrontation (Lederach, Syracuse university press. 94). A simpler alternative is to engage cultural experts to advise on the do's and don'ts before engaging the members of a particular culture. The Japanese rarely shake hands but rather give a slight bow or nod of the head.
Communication is a key element in solving social misunderstandings as illustrated earlier in the case of a relational conflict. Communication can be divided into high context and low context communication (Hall 30.) High context communication puts emphasis on setting, cultural rituals, non-verbal cues and body language rather than words. The venue, its arrangement, and accessibility play a vital role. This method is advantageous as it avoids confrontation by trying to emphasize the comfort of the differing parties.The comfort is meant to enhance concessions and understanding. Non-verbal cues influence the state of the communication. However, it may take some time to pass the message as the rituals and unspoken agreements must be adhered to. Low context communication is more direct being largely verbal. One precisely states what they want and the meaning is not lost. This may be confrontational if the tact is lost. The city of Kenai in Alaska was planning to commemorate the coming of the first Russian fur traders to the region which offended a Native Indian tribe that had lived in Alaska for thousands of years. The event implied that there was no civilization in Alaska until the Russians came to the region. However, communication between the event organizers and representatives of the tribe resulted in a yearlong event and the formation of the Kenai Bicentennial Visitors and Cultural Center. Communication and understanding between the different cultures brought out an even better result than initially anticipated.
Collaborative negotiation is also a step in the right direction. This assumes that both parties do not assume a positional stance but are ready and willing to give and take concessions depending on the importance attached to each cultural practice. Both parties act as partners rather than adversaries. Superiority is abolished and everyone comes to the table on equal ground. This encourages openness and builds a level of trust. Moreover, this necessitates changing of organizational practices and procedures to suit the different cultures and their evolving nature since no two cultures no matter how close are entirely the same.
In conclusion, as much as our different cultures influence our predispositions and inadvertently contribute to conflict, they are important for the development of the society. Our differences bring about essential diversity. The issues that are caused by these differences can also be solved when everyone will understand that proper communication between each other can bring a positive outcome.