August 3, 2006

Essentializing essentialism

Question: How many days can you eat chickpeas and spinach for lunch and still be satisfied?

Answer: I didn't come here for the food.

I'm never sure what I'm coming to the summer institute for intercultural communication for. Some people come because their institution has some ill-fated strategic plan, and they have money in the budget for a week away at a place where people can offer sympathy, empathy, and a little support or space to not think about that futility of a strategic plan. Some people come to learn skills and strategies. It's not that I have low expectations, but I come to see what might reveal itself to me.

So, it seems like one thing I've been learning is about essentialism in practice. Or, something like that. Case in point: how do you use information about core values of a culture? Information that says US-American core values include speed and capitalism. I'm a US-American. Do I value speed? I don't wear a watch. Do I value capitalism? I don't think I do, at least not in the corporate dominant way (I write this on my Dell laptop with my Microsoft windows software, while drinking a Diet Coke....I can't really say I'm not positively affected by capitallism, now can I?) Sure, I might give it up for some good socialized healthcare, where I wouldn't be getting these occasional letters from my insurance--"we need more information before we can process your claim." But, even in my poor attempts at resistance, I'm still seeing the world through a lens influenced by capitalism.

Essentialism. I am not my culture's core values. But, if you're going to interact with me, you might be able to use US core values to predict some things about me. It might be a start of a conversation or a place to begin to build a bridge. I don't think we should avoid the conversation at the risk of confusing me with my cultural core values. It seems like if we're avoiding the conversation, the best we can do is to assume we know each other's core values, or fail to acknowledge what we don't know. Where's the conversation? I don't think I'm willing to forego that conversation.

Posted by chri1010 at August 3, 2006 1:50 AM