When an event occurs, whether it’s someone talking on their cellphone on a train, or committing self-immolation for a controversial cause, there is always conflicted narrative that is created as a result. Culture creates language, visual representation, and processes associated with silences. These three elements are what make conflicting narratives occur.
I studied Japanese for two years, and I was a linguistics major for two years before changing it to psychology. One of the most fascinating aspect of language is how the language we speak shapes our opinions and our ways of thinking. When individuals learn a second language, they come across a problem of not being able to directly translate what they would say in their native language to their second language. This is because the direct translation may create a sentence that is inappropriate to the second language. One example that I learned was how to replicate the same meaning of “you’re welcome”, from American English to Japanese. In American English this phrase is perfectly acceptable. However, it’s direct translation to Japanese can sound haughty, and rude. Instead, an individual would something along the lines of, “Oh, it’s nothing!”, in Japanese. Essentially, brushing off the other person’s expression of thanks. The two phrases do not directly translate to each other, but they hold the same cultural meaning. We all speak language, but because language shapes our opinions and viewpoints, conflicting narratives occur because different cultures speak different languages or different dialects of a language.
While some argue that visual representation only reflects the so-called reality of a society, visual representation may also shape reality, which can create conflicting narratives. One example is the perception that American schools are now much more dangerous due to the numerous media coverage of school shootings, despite the fact that students in poorer areas are in safer environments than they would be in their neighborhood. An individual who binge watches CNN during every school shooting may have had their reality shaped by media to believe that all schools are extremely dangerous. However, a mother from a very poor neighborhood may be very relieved that her children are in a school, and safe from their poor neighborhood. Visual representation shapes, as well distorts the reality of these individuals.
From one culture to another, appropriate and inappropriate processes associated with silences occur, creating narratives of conflict. This is very significant in international friendships and relationships. There are certain accepted norms of how an individual should express themselves with silences. I’m going to refer back to my study abroad time in Japan. While studying abroad, I learned that Japanese individuals are overall much more likely to have more silences while speaking than Americans. It is very common for Americans to be quick to express strong emotions verbally. However, most Japanese people do not express their true emotions in public, or around acquaintances, and as a result they are more likely to have silences. This is due to social spaces that are categorized as in-group (uchi), out-group (yoso), and soto. Soto refers to acquaintances, who are the most sensitive to public behavior, and the term is the origin of shame from society. These distinct social spaces, which American culture does not have, leads to more processes associated with silences. Due to this, Americans may feel that Japanese people are superficial, while Japanese people may feel that Americans are too bold and rude.
Overall, language, visual representation, and processes associated with silences create conflicting narratives. These three things add to and establish differences between cultures. Individuals who belong to opposite cultures may have conflicting narratives for a wide range of communication strategies, and this can cause pronounced differences in their interactions with others. At the end of the day, however, we all have the responsibility to coexist with one another and work on solving important worldwide issues, something that the easy communication that derives from understanding language and representation can only improve upon.
Goekler, J. L. (2010). UCHI-SOTO (INSIDE-OUTSIDE): LANGUAGE AND CULTURE IN CONTEXT FOR THE JAPANESE AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE (JFL) LEARNER. Retrieved July 07, 2016, from http://csuchico-dspace.calstate.edu/bitstream/handle/10211.4/267/11 28 2010 Jaime Louise Goekler.pdf?sequence=1
Said EW. 1979. Orientalism. Vintage Books: New York.