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Reflection – Sandy Chan

by on November 16, 2007

The Values of Cultural Assumptions and Labels

In one of our previous classes, the class was paired into two for an exercise. We were asked to pretend we didn’t know each other and write down cultural assumptions and cultural labels to describe each other. We all shared our answers and surprisingly enough, I personally thought most of the assumptions/labels were at least partly true. Of course this result could be the biased since we’ve all known each other for a year already. The purpose of this exercise was to let us know how the assumptions we make or labels we put on people could be very wrong, and how doing so might endanger your future career. As much as I agree, I couldn’t help but wonder if there is any advantage of making cultural assumptions?

We always talk about diversity. Schools want a diversity of students; Companies want a diversity of employees. They want a diversity of students/employees because they are hoping their different (cultural) background would enable them to bring different perspectives/values to the table. When we assume a person’s perspective/value would be influenced by his/her (cultural) background. Isn’t it fair to assume at least some portion of a person’s behavior at work would be influenced by his/her cultural background as well? In a world that values diversity, how is it possible to look pass a person’s cultural background and see only who the person is?

Most of the cultural assumptions or cultural labels were not made up by one person. They are observations from people who had experiences with a certain group of people. Of course the assumptions or labels cannot apply to everyone in that group but they could apply to maybe half of the group. In fact, assumptions and labels are all we have when we enter a new environment. Without them, we might even offend someone. Assumptions and labels do have their values but you just cannot rely on them completely. However, it is always better to validate assumptions or labels before you believe them. Then, based on our own experiences and observations, we should have a better understanding of to what degree the assumptions/labels are true, and know possibly why the assumptions/labels were made at the first place.

People like to sort things into groups and find patterns for many reasons. Having things organized makes it easier to retrieve, easier to memorize, easier to understand, etc. It is only human nature that we group people into groups and make assumptions or labels so that it makes it easier to group the next a new person. I wouldn’t say making assumptions or labels is a terrible thing as long as you have validated them you’re your own observations/experiences and you know you cannot rely on them completely.

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