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The history of cultures is as old as human existence and generally involves the values of a community, society, or a group of people living or working together.
People’s way of interpreting issues including verbal and non-verbal communication signals or body language, events, dressing modes, and general lifestyles lead to creation of a particular cultural pattern of a specific community or social set up.
These similar attributes of a particular lifestyle to a specific community or group of people contribute to the cultural identity of that community. People with the same cultural identity interpret experiences the same, behave the same, lead a similar lifestyle, and understand the world from a similar point of view.
However, cultural identities differ from one community to another and from country to the other. With little knowledge on the cultural differences, one can easily assume some conventions, notions, and taboos and interpret them differently not knowing that different values mean different things across different cultures.
In cases where one culture assumes other cultures, then cultural biasness hulks which in most cases causes adverse effects including frustration even in public.
Cultural differences also are of importance in the business world; for instance, during or after business negotiation, a handshake may signify different things in different cultures. In some cultures, it may mean a deal has been sealed or an agreement reached while others may interpret it as the start of serious negotiations.
The secret life of bees
The aspects of cultural differences remain of great importance to the peaceful coexistence of different people of the world, good business performances, healthy families and good relationships.
Many films and movies together with many volumes of books seeking to exemplify the importance of upholding and acknowledging the diversity of cultural differences focus on bring out the cultural factors and dimensions of cultural patterns across different communities and societies.
One of the many films of such calibre is “The secret life of bees.” This film contains a story of Lily, a fourteen-year-old girl and the setting of the story is South Carolina in 1964 directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. The story entirely revolves around the lives of Lily, her caregiver Rosaleen, and her father T. Ray.
Lily’s mother dies when Lily is just four years of age. The death of Lily’s mother leaves Lily under the care of her father and a caregiver, Rosaleen.
The relationship between Lily and her father is poor and at the age of fourteen, Lily and the caregiver run away from the family especially the father to other town. Lily’s family is probably nuclear because there is no mention of her uncles, aunts or anyone else from an extended family.
This insight might underscore the reason why upon the death of Lily’s mother, she remains under the care of an unloving father. According to Hofstede’s dimensions of cultural patterns, this family practised individualism, it lived separated from the extended family and only integrated between the members of the nuclear family.
The resources of this family provided only to its members. Moreover, the events surrounding the death of Lily’s mother indicate strongly that the family is nuclear.
Shortly before the death of Lily’s mother, Lily sits close to her mother and immediately her father comes in, a quarrel ensures and lily’s mother packs her belongings ready to leave the house and probably the estranged marriage.
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Amidst the heated quarrel, Lily’s mother picks a gun ready to kill her husband but the gun ends up in the hands of Lily’s father then to the floor and finally in the hands of Lily who shoots her mother and this typifies Hofstede’s individualistic cultural pattern.
Conventionally, many societies, communities, and cultures hold that men should be superior to women; that is before the emergence of the affirmative action that ‘threatens’ manhood as many men would love to think.
From Lily’s family, it is clear that, their culture is deeply rooted in this believe. Lily’s mother wants to kill Lily’s father but she fails utterly for no apparent reason; perhaps being a woman, she is weak to kill a man.
Given the cultural misconstrued conceptions of male dominancy and superiority, Lily’s father has to struggle under all means and get the gun out of his wife’s hands and he succeeds to the chagrin of the berated woman.
Furthermore, this aspect of masculinity dominance spiced with chauvinism comes out clearly, when Rosaleen is beaten and arrested; she admits, “…I was beaten by Posey and other men” (Prince-Bythewood).
Rosaleen insults some men playing cards and in retaliation, the best way for these men to punish seemingly uncouth woman is by beating her thoroughly.
Lily hates the punishment her father gives her of kneeling on the white grit on the kitchen floor for going to the peach orchard. All these uncalled mistreatment of women typifies a society characterized by chauvinism.
Another major cultural factor, which many cultures look into, involves avoidance of uncertainties. This factor rotates around the search by the members of the society to know the truth about why things are the way they are.
Lily in this film runs away from her father to another town, which bears the history of her mother. In that town, she even cheats by claiming that she is orphaned simply because she fears to tell the truth but she looks for ways of acceptance as she seeks the truth about her mother. Lily says, “…that’s what I knew about myself.
She was all what I wanted but I took her away…” (Prince-Bythewood, 2008). By the time Lily’s mother dies, Lily has known little about her and this fact is among other reasons why she chooses to run away.
She wants to know more about her mother; a cultural factor that most cultures withhold. Cultures often seek to establish issues like their origin among other things and Lily follows the same line when she seeks to know the truth regarding her mother’s ancestry and origin.
According to Edward Hall’s perspective, cultural differences occurring across cultures involve context, time, and space. Some cultures have their values and beliefs explained clearly and in details in what Hall terms high contextual culture while others assume many details with no clarity of the cultural values and therefore, every person views the world differently to form the low contextual culture.
Lily’s culture is in the low contextual culture because, what Rosaleen tells her about bees is what she believes. Rosaleen tells Lily that bees’ swarms are omen that usually heralds death. Lily believes this version of story simply because her culture does not give details and meaning of bees swarming.
The August house where Lily and Rosaleen are living is a big house with many cots, beekeeping area, and honey processing chambers. The cots are spacious and the entire territory remains under the custody of a woman called August.
Some people naturally want to dominate in terms of space such as owning a big house, big car, big office and/or even big living room, which is the culture in Augusts’ house.
This family is also different from the family, which Lily has known since birth. August lives here with her sister keeping bees for their livelihood. People here love one another and culture of relationships with opposite sex is allowed. Lily’s gets a boyfriend and nobody punishes her contrary to what happened back at home when her father finds her in the peach orchard garden at night only to think she is with a man.
Cultural identity and cultural bias as displayed in the film
In the August’s community where Lily and Rosaleen live after running away from Lily’s father, has unique identity. Women are actively involved in beekeeping and to the Lily’s surprise; the honey from bees is used in many ways apart from what Lily thinks. Lily says, “They eat it, bathe in it, take it as medicine and make candles with it” (Prince-Bythewood).
Most cultures use honey as food but they do not bathe in it, but in this culture, things are different. In this community also, women work; they are not homemakers only. Lily says, “I enjoyed learning how to tend to August honey making machine” (Prince-Bythewood, 2008). These are specific cultural identities for the August’s community.
On the other hand, Lily’s community is characterised by male superiority leading to male biasness both in power leadership and in economy.
The concept of cultural patterns
Community cultural patterns also come out in the film through worship and people’s beliefs. In Lily’s community, nothing is said concerning worship whatsoever.
Therefore, presumably most of the people in this (Lily’s) community are atheists. Nevertheless, to the August’s community, worship forms part of their lifestyles; the honey containers bear the image of Virgin Mary.
Back in the August’s house, there is also the statue of the ‘black’ Mary where people from the community come to pray during turbulent times. For instance, Zach’s mother prays before the black Madonna when Zach disappears from home. Zach finally comes back even though May has killed herself because of Zach’s disappearance.
The Lily’s community bears a unique characteristic of people running away from sour marriages and poor performing families. Those running away normally have little instinct of coming back.
In a conversation between Lily and her father, the father says, “…your mother was packing to go away and never return back to us” (Prince-Bythewood, 2008).
The mother wanted to ran away from problems in her marriage and family other than solving them. In addition, Lily and her caregiver run away from the unloving father and when the father finds her in August’s house, Lily refuses to go home with him and this prompts her father to give August the permission to take care of her.
Verbal and non-verbal intercultural communication
Placing the long statue of Virgin Mary in the living room signifies and conveys the message that the family believes in one true God. This phenomenon non-verbally shows that, members of the community worship a heavenly being whose mother was Virgin Mary.
On verbal communication, Lily looks straight to her father’s eyes and says, “People who tell lies like you should burn in hell” (Prince-Bythewood, 2008) which shows boldness and sincerity of the heart; in fact, Lily is tired with her father and so she simply puts her feelings plainly.
To some communities, it is a taboo to talk straight to the eyes of elders especially parents but Lily’s culture seems different. However, in August’s community, things are different; people write the things disturbing them in pieces of paper and paste them in cracks of a wall that typifies a notice board.
People like May die out of frustration which would have otherwise been solved by speaking out of her mind if the culture allowed such. The forms of communication highlighted in the two scenarios, relate to the acculturation and the adjustment theory of intercultural communication in that, Lily and Rosaleen, from a different culture adjust their cultural patterns to fit in August’s culture.
On a more general overview on the economic growth globally, many modern multinational and multicultural organizations are now in existence comprising employees from different diverse communities.
In such organizations, therefore intercultural communication becomes of great importance. Acceptance, understanding and appreciating other cultures in these organizations creates a sense of belong which culminates into friendship, togetherness and good performance.
As Lusting & Koester observe, “The international business world contains a mix of diverse cultural backgrounds and work experiences resulting in the demand to know what the other culture is all about” (2010, p. 279).
Good Intercultural relations created by good intercultural verbal and non-verbal communication among the different cultures in these organizations would help good business performance and economic targets realization.
Cultural differences do exist between different communities and these differences in most cases cut across all communities and societies locally and internationally.
Cultural patterns strengthen the cultural values and beliefs, which comprise the cultural identification of a particular community. The differences in the cultures across communities call for a clear understanding of the cultures before one can interpret an experience to avoid cultural biasness and frustrations because different things mean or signify different issues in different communities.
Furthermore, in businesses and work places, cultural differences remain an important aspect of concern because signals in one culture might imply something different in another culture.
Lusting, M., & Koester, J. (2010). Intercultural competence: Interpersonal Communication Across cultures (6th Ed.). New York: Allyn & Bacon.
Prince-Bythewood, G. (Director). (2008). The Secret of Bees. [Film]. USA: Fox Searchlight Pictures.