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What is Culture

Comfortably Uncomfortable
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Though I've lived in Africa most of my life since 1971, I still have to acknowledge my foreignness.  One never quite becomes an insider.  Besides the fact that you have to carry a card declaring that you are an alien, there may be situations in which you still feel ill at ease.

We tend to avoid those situations in which we feel uncertain and retreat into comfortable situations.  Those we first learned to handle, or those most like our home culture.

You have to get used to it.  Yet why are you living in another country anyway?  Don't you want to relate to the people more personally?  Don't you want to contribute in some meaningful way to the community?  Doesn't your work depend on building relationships?  Can one remain outside the inner circle of those we came to minister to?

The Norm of Discomfort
I just learned to accept being uncomfortable.  But I can handle it. I don't focus on that aspect of being here.  I realize I will continue to run up on things I have not yet learned or experienced.  So I just expect that.  That is part of the "edge" of being here.

I am comfortably uncomfortable.  It is something I accept.  If you don't expect to feel comfortable, it won't bother you so much when you feel uncomfortable!  But your range of comfort will grow.  I learned a whole new dimension of myself by living in the African culture in Kenya, and now South Africa.  That dimension continues to grow.

But I think if we lose that exploring and experimenting edge in our relationships and activities, we can settle into a lower level of effectiveness.  Maybe we should not get to feeling too much "at home."  It may mean we have stopped growing in our cross-cultural competence and effectiveness.  But we can become comfortable in a positive way.

The Way to Comfort
This involves language, social skills, expectations, logic.  We can stay on the outer edge of our skill and awareness, and keep moving forward.  We can keep expanding our boundaries of comfortableness, keep extending our range of social skill, keep upgrading our level of acceptability to the local people, keep raising our credibility.

Continued Growth
We need to keep ourselves growing in cultural awareness and communication effectiveness.  This is a major reason for language updates, evaluations, learning new languages, continuing cultural studies and continuing to try new experiences.

Also related:
[TXT] Cognitive and Social Culture
[TXT] Language and Cultural Worldview
[TXT] Culture, Learning and Communication
[TXT] Learning to Be Happy


Originally published as a feature article in Focus on Communication Effectiveness, a cross-cultural communication newsletter, Nairobi, Kenya, September 1994
This version written and posted on OJTR 31 December 2007

Orville Boyd Jenkins, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Copyright © 1994, 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
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