February 21, 2011

The Two C’s: Culture and Credibility in Unstable Times

Kelton Rhoads, author of “The Cultural Variable in the Influence Equation”, writes about the how the culture maybe given too much attention or as he puts it “culture looms as a causal explanation of human behavior” when there are some universally human responses. He writes,

When approaching a culture, of which one has little knowledge or mutual history, it is of course important to locate or develop cultural expertise. When resources allow, culture should be considered in conjunction with other group-level variables, with human universals, with environmental inducements and constraints (and with individual particulars when possible).

Rhoads’s article is of particular interest because culture, at times, is brushed off as not as significant as other concerns in the international system. However, intercultural communication scholars maintain that what is ignored is that culture is the foundation from which people act. Here, Rhoads argues that as humans “we are both similar to and different from each other.” While this is true, the point of concern here is maintaining a balance between recognizing universally human responses versus recognizing cultural responses. The distinction between the two seems easy superficially, but one could beg to differ that it is more complicated.

Keeping Rhoads’ observations in mind, another compelling article for this week was Steven Corman, Aaron Hess, and Z.S. Justus’ article on US credibility in the global war on terrorism. The authors hold that there are three components to having credibility- trustworthiness, competence, and goodwill. Each one of these dimensions, especially trustworthiness, takes time to establish when they already needed to be in existence yesterday. To become more credible, maybe we need to start with the deep tensions that exist and how to best ameliorate them. To do this, the worlds need lower rank cultural officers to make relationships and establish ties for people of other cultures to understand the US similarities to their culture and that, after all, humans have similarities, regardless of culture. Finally, the point is that human universals, culture, and credibility all must be included in the equation in order to pacify world tensions particularly in places with a great amount of social unrest.

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