Carol A. Hand
Today’s task for Blogging 101 is “to say hi to everyone” in the course. All 1,200? My visits to the course “commons” remind me of going to the mall at Christmas time, something I have avoided for many, many years. For me, my visits to the commons remind me of the theory developed by Edward T. Hall (1976, Beyond Culture), an anthropologist. Although simplistic, as most theories developed on binary contrasts are, Hall’s distinctions provide a helpful way for me to understand profound differences in cultural patterns of communication. Hall asserts that the primary difference between cultures is the degree to which context matters – the degree to which communication is based on factors other than merely the words that are spoken.
Perhaps a picture will help.
Photo Credit: Low Context/High Context Cultures
I remember how fascinating this theory was when I first learned about it. It was during the supervision workshops I was required to attend as the aging network supervisor for a state department of health and social services. The presenter for the workshop was an engaging entertainer who illustrated the differences with a dialogue between a Black teen and his white teacher entitled “Where are my Gaiters.” The student was late for class. As he walked in, the teacher asked why he was late. The student proceeded to relate a fascinating story about his running shoes, his “gaiters.” They were special sneakers that he had saved up to buy. He stored them under his bed to protect them from his brother who wanted them. This particular morning when he reached under his bed, the gaiters were missing, and he told the long story of the history of his shoes and his attempts to get them back from his brother. Meanwhile, the teacher kept interrupting the student, insisting on a simple answer. Both the teacher and student were frustrated by the encounter.
The challenge of writing across cultures is how to convey meaning and context without preexisting relationships and all of the contextual and nonverbal cues that help one adjust the presentation of information so it can be understood. This is why I blog. Other venues force me to communicate without stories and images, and words alone are so inadequate to the task of illustrating other ways of seeing the world. Blogging allows me the freedom to experiment and to dialogue. One can take as much time and space as necessary to clarify meaning or fill in the missing pieces.
My reason for enrolling in the class was to learn about the technology that so befuddles me. And yes, I also am interested in meeting new people with other worldviews and connecting with different cultures. But as someone who is more comfortable with high context communication, I don’t find shopping malls at Christmas the right context for meaningful dialogue. When blogging, one has the time to explain that gaiters have a special history and significance within the context of relationships, and why they can sometimes make us late for class.
I can’t end this short piece without sharing two final comments. I do look forward to meeting as many of my classmates as possible. And I want to acknowledge my gratitude for the community of bloggers who have reached out to engage in meaningful dialogue on so many issues and topics. They are one of the reasons why I enrolled in a class that is helping me overcome my technophobia. Chi miigwetch. (Ojibwe thank you!)
Resources for more information on high context/low context cultures:
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