A Fish Out of Water: Cultural Transmission and Worldview


Culture is like water for a fish. You live in it and do not notice it until you are out of it. In other words, you cannot understand “normal” until you experience “not normal.” You receive culture without fanfare or announcement and assume the normalcy of seeing, interpreting, and interacting with the world. Gaining insights into your own cultural beliefs, values, and norms helps prepare you to understand why people from a different culture may act the way they do and what those actions mean to them.

Think back to a time when you recognized that the family of a friend had a different dinner or holiday practice than you had in your family. Perhaps they ate food that was unfamiliar to you or celebrated a holiday that did not exist in your experience. You may have experienced shock, fear, excitement, or various levels of reactions in between those extremes. Encounters with diverse people and situations mark the beginning of understanding your own worldview. In turn, recognizing characteristics of your own cultural beliefs, values, and norms is the first step in understanding other cultures. In this Discussion, you look at how elements of your culture are part of your identity and how they affect the way you communicate with others.

Photo credit: Microsoft Corporation. (Producer). MP900422949 [Photo of two goldfish kissing]. Retrieved September 25, 2013, from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/images/results.aspx?qu=fish+bowl&ex=1#ai:MP900422949

To prepare for your Discussion:

  • Review Chapter 1 of your course text. Pay particular attention to the concept of communication as a transaction between people and as a process that is open to interpretation. How successful are you in communicating with others in general? Are you usually understood or misunderstood? What do you believe may be the cause for this?
  • Review Chapter 2 of your course text. Note culture’s relationship to beliefs, values, and norms. Bring to mind one belief, one value, and one norm that you hold that is also held by the “typical” member of your culture. Are these the same for all people in your culture?
  • View the media piece, “The Use of Silence in Japan,” and consider how even the concept of communication (or non-communication) varies from culture to culture.
  • Consider how the beliefs, values, and norms that you share with your culture impact how you communicate with others. Do these seem to help or hinder communication? How much does successful communication depend on whether or not you are communicating with someone from your own culture?

Note: One of the goals of this course is to promote a wide variety of views. You are encouraged to present your honest personal viewpoint while at all times reflecting a respectful tone for the views of others.

Post a 2-paragraph explanation of your culture. Intercultural communication can be seen as a negotiation of competing values, beliefs and norms. Describe the relationship among and between your personal beliefs, values, and norms and those found in your culture. Briefly explain how beliefs, values, and norms can vary even within your culture. Describe how your personal culture informs your communication choices. Explain how the elements of your culture affect how you communicate with others.

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