Culture and the Individual
Two Definitions of Culture
Much has been said and written about culture. Consider the following:
According to Harris and Moran (1987), “culture gives people a sense
- of who they are,
- of belonging,
- of how they should behave,
- and of what they should be doing.
a learned, shared, and interrelated
symbols, codes, and values
direct and justify
So we can easily see: identity, community, morals and ethics, social responsibility, security, directions, way of life, and many other things…
For Hofstede culture is “the software of the mind” and he defines three levels of “mental programs”:
1. “The universal level of mental programming which is shared by all, or almost all, mankind. This is the biological ‘operating system’ of the human body, but it includes a range of expressive behaviors such as laughing and weeping and associative and aggressive behaviors which are found in higher animals.”
2. “The collective level of mental programming is shared with some but not with all other people; it is common to people belonging to a certain group or category. . . . The whole area of subjective human culture. . . belongs to this level.”
3. “The individual level of human programming is the truly unique part—no two people are programmed exactly alike, even if they are identical twins raised together.”
The Multi-layered Individual
As human beings we are all multi-layered, highly individualized creatures. Whatever we say to each other must first go through these layers, which in fact act as a filter. How it is understood depends on this “filter”
But the beautiful thing here is that this programming can be changed at the individual (or even collective) level. The individual has thoughts, feelings, emotions, aspirations to happiness, willpower, the possibility to choose, i.e. to be influenced. And that is where you come in, as a marketer and/or communicator. That is also the reason why you must seriously study culture and cultures, both your own (“Man, Know Thyself!”, said Socrates), and the culture of whoever you want to communicate with.
Once you reach out to the individual, across cultural constructs, it becomes possible, indeed easy, to talk to each other, relate to each other, work together, exchange ideas and feelings, share knowledge and skills, build relationships, strike friendships across borders and cultures, sell to each other and buy from each other…
Mastering any part (a few words in the langage, pacing, etiquette…) of the foreign culture can draw yo closer to the individual. Let’s face it: The locals will not expect you to be as fluent as they are in their own culture. They know you are a foreigner, even though you are a human being, just as they are.
So, just be genuine and authentic, sincerely and empathically show readiness to learn. Start from what we all have in common, because “we connect based on our commonalities and we enrich each other based on our differences”
Reach out for the individual, observe, pace, ask the right questions and above all, listen and empathize.
Amadou M. Sall
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