NCSU COM 112 - COM 112 Chapter 2 (32 pages)

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COM 112 Chapter 2



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COM 112 Chapter 2

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Pages:
32
School:
North Carolina State University
Course:
Com 112 - Interpersonal Communication
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CHAPTER PREVIEW 1 2 3 4 1 Understanding Culture and Communication 2 How Culture Affects Communication 3 Understanding Gender and Communication 4 How Gender Affects Communication WHEN CULTURAL ASSUMPTIONS BACKFIRE When 14 year old Santiago Ventura left his home in the Mexican state of Oaxaca for farm work in Oregon he had no way of foreseeing the problems he would face After the fatal stabbing of a fellow farm worker at a party Ventura was questioned by a Spanish speaking police officer Ventura spoke neither Spanish nor English however but only the native language of the Mixtec Indians While being questioned Ventura never made eye contact with the officer because Mixtec Indians believe it is rude to look people directly in the eye Due to his poor grasp of Spanish Ventura simply answered yes to all of the officer s questions leading the officer to presume his guilt After a trial in which his lawyer forbade him to testify because of his language limitations Ventura was convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years to life in prison Only after five years of protest by immigration advocates and jurors who doubted Ventura s guilt did another judge set aside the verdict freeing Ventura from his wrongful imprisonment Page 36 H ad we been involved in Santiago Ventura s case many of us would have interpreted his words and behaviors just as the arresting officer did If we had asked Ventura whether he had committed a crime and he replied yes while also avoiding eye contact most of us would have concluded that he was guilty As this story illustrates however culture acts as a lens through which we make sense of communication behavior The arresting officer applied his own cultural lens to Ventura s behavior by assuming incorrectly that everyone from Mexico speaks Spanish and that a lack of eye contact signifies dishonesty Culture isn t the only lens that affects our understanding of communication Another powerful influence one that is always with us is gender Indeed many people feel that communicating across genders can be nearly as confusing as communicating across cultures if not more so Moreover culture and gender affect not only how we communicate but also how we interpret and respond to other people s behaviors Other lenses such as ethnicity age and socioeconomic status also can influence communication However gender and culture shape our behaviors and interpretations in so many ways that it s worth taking an in depth look at each 1 Understanding Culture and Communication Our cultural traditions and beliefs can influence how we make sense of communication behavior even without our realizing it The officer who questioned Santiago Ventura probably never considered the possibility that he was applying inaccurate cultural assumptions to Ventura s behavior By the same token Ventura would have had an enormous advantage if he had understood the officer s cultural beliefs and adapted his behavior accordingly Each of us is affected by the culture in which we were raised and we tend to notice other cultures only when they differ from ours In many people s minds culture like an accent is something that only other people have Let s begin by understanding in what sense we all have cultural traits and biases Defining Culture We use the term culture to mean all sorts of things Sometimes we connect it to a place as in French culture and New York culture Other times we use it to refer to an ethnic or a religious group as in African American culture and Jewish culture We also speak of deaf culture and the culture of the rich For our purposes we will define culture as the system of learned and shared symbols language values and norms that distinguish one group of people from another That definition tells us that culture isn t a property of countries or ethnicities or economic classes rather it s a property of people Each of us identifies with one or more groups that have a common culture comprising a shared language values beliefs traditions and customs We ll refer to a group of people who share a given culture as a society Page 37 DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN IN GROUPS AND OUT GROUPS Researchers use the term ingroup to refer to a group with whom we identify and out group to describe a group we see as different from ourselves 1 If you grew up in the U S Midwest for example you would probably view other midwesterners as part of your in group whereas someone from the Pacific Northwest would not Similarly when you are traveling in foreign countries the residents may perceive you as being from an out group if you look or sound different from them or behave differently For some people being perceived as different can be an exciting or intriguing experience For others however that experience can be stress inducing For example research shows that immigrants often experience abnormally high stress during their first year in their new homeland 2 We often refer to that stress as culture shock or the jarring reaction we have when we find ourselves in highly unfamiliar situations In the film The Kite Runner 2007 for instance Amir and his father are forced to flee Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in the 1980s and they relocate in Fremont California Amir s father goes from being a wealthy merchant to a gas station attendant as he and Amir struggle to adapt to an entirely new cultural environment in the United States Research shows that the stress of culture shock can contribute to illnesses such as high blood pressure depression and heart disease 3 Some researchers point out that our ability to distinguish between those who are similar to us and those who are different probably helped our ancestors survive by encouraging them to associate with people whose goals and priorities were similar to their own 4 That tendency endures today and research shows that many people exhibit strong preferences for individuals and groups they perceive to be like themselves In other words people are often more suspicious and less trusting of others whose ethnic national and or cultural backgrounds are different from their own 5 Researchers use the term ethnocentrism to describe the systematic preference for characteristics of one s own culture That tendency can make it particularly discomforting to live or work someplace where you are considered a minority In its account of Muslim students studying in the United States the Communication Dark Side box illustrates that point The in group out group distinction is a major reason why so many


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