Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Stages of CultureShock Part 2: The 4 Laws

Stage 2 is exchanged for Stage 3 by those who have a healthy acceptance of own culture as one of many, but, their own never-the-less. They view host culture as an environment where how people interact my be different but not necessarily wrong, Pemberton’s first Law of Cross-Cultural Communication is, “It is not wrong, it is just different.” Of course, some things are patently wrong, such as infanticide but much less of a host culture is actually wrong – though it feels wrong to eat dog, for instance – and just different. I believe this is the first law for moving from “teacher” to “learner” and preparing oneself for a healthy transition.
The second law tag teams as “It Doesn’t Matter Why, It Only Matters That.” Once one agrees that what they are experiencing is merely different the next obstacle is the “why” question. For the purpose of living and learning one is best served to begin life accepting certain truths without searching for the origins of them. Why do some cultures not allow shorts, sandals, hats, the color red etc. in public places? It does not matter why – it only matters that you have learned this to be true so practice it. If you are asked to be a change agent – as in the case of a missionary – you may want at some point to know the answer to the question why, but for emotional health and good interaction it is unimportant.
The third and fourth are mirror images of each other and help learn the “that” mentioned in the last paragraph. At dinner with a host family one of family members “intentionally” passes the main dish by you to your seatmate which momentarily causes you to feel some slight has been given. First, “Never Assume” what you think you saw is what you actually saw. There are any number of reasons for that practice, none involving rudeness. If you practice Law # 3 then you will need to follow it with Law # 4 “Always Look for Alternate Interpretations.” Living in a new environment involves an endless cycle of Observe/Experiment/Adjust from Observation/Experimentation and repeat till satisfied that Stage 3 has been achieved.
Stage 3 is achieved when the irritation of Stage 2 has been replaced by an understanding that the irritant is “normal” for the place and time and it is ok to accept it as not necessarily “normal” for the traveler. I can live any place where dog is a meat without becoming a butcher of dog meat, or, anti-dog eating activist.
There is a Stage 4 to transition shock and it is achieved when the traveler can both understand and tell jokes in the local language receiving appropriate responses.

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