In order to accurately identify, and then understand the implications of cultural diversity we need to have a clear understanding of what is meant by the term "culture."
How do we experience culture?
Culture shows up in the social norms, customs, symbols, humor, expectations, beliefs and communication practices. Differences in any of these are often a clue that an underlying cultural difference may exist. These artifacts of culture MAY differ among various ethnic groups, racial groups, genders, generations, and other social groups. They may point to different "value-systems" that given the particular cultural context, make sense to one group and not to others.
We must understand however, that within cultures there are always subcultures. And, as with everything else, there are always exceptions. For example, an adopted infant from China, yet raised in the United States by an American family might, by others unfamiliar with her background, mistakenly be expected to demonstrate or speak to the cultural characteristics of Chinese individuals. This individual, however may be completely culturally American!
Culture can be broken down into the following four components:
Orientation to time
: Whether focus is on the past, present, or future
Orientation to people
: Ideas about authority and hierarchy, communication style, approach to conflict, etc.
Orientation to the environment
: Whether it's here to serve us, or we're here to serve it.
Values and Philosophies
: What's most important in life.
Differences along the lines of these four categories, whether subtle or obvious, between groups can, and often do, lead to misunderstanding and misinterpretation which sadly, can and does often lead to mistrust and disrespect.
So what should you know about cultural difference?
*Value systems differ and no one culture is better or more right than another
*In order to understand someone from another culture, we need to understand how they see the world along the four components of culture
*The best way to understand culture, is to explore our own! Ask yourself: What messages have I received about my own culture? What expectations was I raised with and to what degree are they culturally based? How did growing up when I did shape who I am? How does my gender shape how I see the world? What are my values and where do they come from?
If we first seek to understand ourselves, then it's a small step forward to understanding others.! Happy exploration!