Saturday, June 27, 2015

Cultural Dissonance

by Patrick Brown
One aspect of my study aboard program is the discussion, observation and experience of “cultural dissonance.” Cultural dissonance is an evolving concept that attempts to understand the disharmony, anxiety and disassociation that individuals may feel when confronted with another culture, ethnic identity, language or even technology.

It is thought that by immersion in another culture an individual can gain greater understanding of differences and that this understanding can lead to a greater empathy and awareness of another culture, language and even thought processes.

For some individuals, immersion in a different culture or environment can be a very threatening experience. This concept goes a long way in explaining the behavior and reactions of various cultures and societies during the expansionist period beginning with the European Renaissance.

Taken a step further, it leads me to think of my own society (America) and it’s history of Manifest Destiny, The Great White Fleet, cultural Imperialism, and, my favorite modern expression, “American Exceptionalism.”

It has occurred to me that modern America is moving farther away from Alexis de Tocqueville’s concept of “enlightened self-interest,” and has embraced the singularly selfish concept of maximum ethnocentrism.

Instead of using our great wealth, power and knowledge to create a greater good for humankind, we seem to be more interested in gaining more material goods for ourselves while ignoring our impact on this planet and it’s inhabitants.

My study abroad experience has shown me that cultural dissonance is a very real thing, and the more we can share, learn and experience other cultures the more realistic and successful our concept of self can become.