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Communication is essential to human life. It is the process by which we use symbols, signs, and behaviors to exchange information (O’Hair, Wiemann, Mullin, & Teven, 2015, p. 4). Communication can be influenced by a variety of factors, but a major one is culture. Culture and communication will always overlap with each other because culture colors our thoughts and perspective on the world around us. What may seem appropriate in one culture, may seem rude and inappropriate in another culture. This is an instance where cultural differences can actually be observed, and it proves just how much culture plays a role in communication.
One significant cultural influence in my life is my ethnicity, which is African American. Modern African American culture was established during the times of slavery, as slaves were forced to practice the beliefs of their white masters, and restricted from practicing their own beliefs. However, slaves did not entirely forget their own traditions and beliefs from the homeland. As a result, African culture blended with the dominant European culture of that time to create today’s modern African American culture.
As part of the African American culture, belief in a higher power or having some sort of religious faith is very important. Nearly 79% of African Americans say religion is very important in their lives, and at least 87% of African Americans will describe themselves as belonging to some type of religious group (“A Religious Portrait”, 2009). Because of the emphasis of faith in the African American culture, I believe that we are both a collectivist and individualist culture when it comes to religion. Collectivist cultures focus on group goals, duties/obligations, and relationships, while individualist cultures focus more on personal goals and the individual (O’Hair et al., 2015). For example, I am a Christian Baptist. I have attended church every Sunday ever since I was a child, participated in the church choir, and became Vice President of my choir. Sometimes, my choir would host bake sales to fundraise money for field trips and this involved all choir members working together to a similar goal. In addition, in being part of the church choir I had obligations to attend choir rehearsals and meetings. On the other hand, whenever my pastor gave his sermon, there was always an emphasis for members to develop a relationship with God one-on-one. We were encouraged to talk to God as individuals, and focus on communicating our needs and struggles to Him whenever we felt the need to. All in all, I believe that my culture’s religion can have both collectivist and individualist qualities.
Another value my culture emphasizes is family. Family is such an important part of African American culture, due in part because during slavery many families were separated and torn apart. After the emancipation of slaves, African American families were reunited, and able to teach their kids the lessons they learned from the trials and tribulations of slavery. For this reason, I believe that within the African American family, we show high power distance qualities. High power distance cultures don’t challenge authority and defer to those of a higher status (O’Hair et al., 2015). In my family, my mother has the highest authority and my siblings and I all obey her. My siblings and I are always told to obey my mother and if not, we would face the consequences. My sister often likes to disobey my mother, usually by talking back or refusing to do her chores. She almost always ends up getting lectured by my mother or my grandparents, or she gets banned from her cell phone until she listens. This is just one example of how much obeying the parent/s matters in my family, and other African American families. There is also a lot of wisdom placed on elders in my family. This is because they have lived longer than the rest of us, and they are able to give advice to others in my family because they have already been through similar situations themselves. Whenever my mother had trouble with school as a kid, my grandparents were always able to give her advice because they went through the same situation. Along the way, they also learned important life lessons about school, work, relationships, and life that they are always happy to tell me about whenever I see them. I know that sometimes my younger generation likes to act as if we know everything, but we don’t. We may not always want to hear the advice our elders want to share with us, but there is no doubt that it is always for our own benefit.
I believe that my cultural value of belief in a higher power can benefit a situation because there are times in life when I will be really stressed, have to deal with the passing of family members, or just the general obstacles life will throw at me. I feel that in situations like this I can use my religious faith to help me get back in the right state of mind emotionally. I find praying to be very relaxing, and it helps me clear my thoughts to focus on one clear goal that I have in mind. It also allows me to stop worrying as much because I can just leave my worries in God’s hands. Moreover, I believe that my cultural value on family will help me a lot with relationships. Because I have such a close and strong relationship with my family, I know how create strong bonds with other people. I know how to communicate emotionally with others, especially if we have family as the same cultural values. My family has taught me to respect others, to follow the rules and the law, and to always have a positive attitude in life. My cultural values benefit me in many ways, and they also make up a part of who I am.
In conclusion, culture plays a huge role in the way humans communicate. It influences the way we communicate because we all associate different things with our culture. There are always going to be cultural differences, because other cultures place emphasis on different ideas and qualities. In my African American culture, we place value on religious faith and family. Religious faith has been a part of African American culture for a very long time, even before there was an African American culture. Religious faith guides our life and lets us establish an intimate connection with a higher power. Family also has its own role in my culture, mostly because of the wisdom associated with learning from our elders, and obeying our parents. Cultural forces are present in communication all the time, whether it is small or big, and it is what contributes to how humans communicate with each other.
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