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Sunday, March 26, 2023

Perception: An other aspect of invisible culture

By Martine CharmoiseauSpecial to CSMS Magazine    Our culture influences us from the day we are brought into this world until the day we depart it. We learn cultural perception without being aware of it.  The culture we learn makes us who we are. It defines our being. Every event in our life, every person we meet, and every experience we encounter is molding us in a particular way. It is not any one of these things but all of them together that form our culture. Everything we experience in our life makes us everything we are today. Because culture is unseen, many people think of it as invisible.     In Communication Between Cultures, the authors point out three “invisible instructors” that affect our culture. First, are the proverbs that are important to nearly every culture (p.23). Recently at home I said, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”  This is an example of one of the many proverbs we routinely use that has a deeper meaning. When I blurted this out, it was with the connotation that things aren’t always the way they appear. People aren’t always the way they seem at first glance. Proverbs like these, and others mentioned in some textbooks, are attempting to teach us values from our culture.     The second way to learn culture is through folktales, legends, and myths. These are stories told through the ages. Many multicultural textbooks like Among US state “myths are stories of our search through the ages for truth, for meaning and for significance. We all need to tell our story and understand our story.” (p. 25). The authors give examples of super heroes: Greeks and Hercules, Jews and Samson, Norwegians and Thor, and Americans and Superman. Folktales, legends and myths “do more than accent cultural values. They confront cosmic questions about the world as a whole.” In addition they can tell you about specific details of life that may be important to a group of people (p. 25).     Another example of how we learn culture is through art. When I was vacationing in Ketchikan, Alaska last year, I inquired about the recurrent totem poles in the area. Our tour guide said “totem poles tell a story about an individual’s life—it is their family history.” He pointed to one that he was familiar with. The totem poles represent marriage, children and other significant events in life. Totem poles symbolize legends— stories from the past that will be told to future generations. This is one example of the ways that art can pass on culture.     Last, culture is learned through mass media. I will never forget the news report of the first marines and their tanks that stormed into Baghdad. With cameras mounted on the tanks and reporters embedded with the marines, we saw it firsthand as they experienced it. It was powerful and a life changing event that I will always remember. The time many Americans spend watching television has a tremendous impact on making us who we are. I have experienced difficulty finding a tennis court after Wimbledon has been broadcast. When my sons watched “Karate Kid,” they acted the part for the next several days. The Internet is another way our culture is learned. Video games, CDs, DVDs, and e-books are a few of the many ways that culture is formed. They are automatic and invisible, yet profound and life shaping.     Knowledge is the key to understanding that we are a culturally diverse society. We should be aware of the cultures that are among us and get educated about them.  Culture is powerful. Understanding our own culture will enable us to understand other cultures. One way to do this is with understanding the place that invisible culture plays in our lives.Martine Charmoiseau is a multicultural education major at Nova Southeastern University (NSU). She is originally from Vancouver, British Columbia.

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