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Defining values

This week we focus on values, what they are and how they are expressed across cultures, whether traditional, modern, Eastern or Western.
[Steve Kulich] This week, we move from talking about who we are to what we value. [CHI Ruobing] Values are often considered a core element of culture. It refers to what is important, what is desirable, and what is our guiding principle for life. [Steve Kulich] Of course values can exist at individual levels of what we ourselves think is important, but we want to talk about cultural-level values– those shared ways of thinking about life, about meaning, about what’s important to a group of people, our expectations as a group, and so on. [CHI Ruobing] For example, filial piety is a very important traditional value of the Chinese. It means to respect and honour your parents.
It has been practised in many countries that have been influenced by Confucianism. [Steve Kulich] In a similar fashion, Western philosophy has influenced many cultures to cultivate self-reliance or independence at a very early age. These examples provide some illustrations of certain types of cultural values. [CHI Ruobing] We could further understand the cultural values with an illustration of an iceberg. As you may know, the tip of an iceberg is visible but only constitutes a small portion of it. [Steve Kulich] Most of the main part of the iceberg remains hidden below the surface. We’re not able to observe it directly, and yet it’s the larger and more important part.
[CHI Ruobing] And a value actually is one of the elements that are hidden below the surface. [Steve Kulich] Edward T. Hall, one of the founders of the field of intercultural communication, made this quotation. “Culture hides much more than it reveals. And strangely enough what it hides, it hides most effectively from its own participants. [CHI Ruobing] And because values are often hidden from us, we would like you to do an exercise to find out what your values are.
We focus this week on values — what they are and how they are expressed across cultures, whether traditional, modern, Eastern or Western. Like the iceberg metaphor, values are a hidden part of culture and should be carefully considered.

As we explore the topic of cultural values this week, the main questions we seek to answer is, “How can I clarify my own values and better understand yours?” Or for intercultural encounters, “In what way do values influence how or what we communicate?”

Since the late 19th and early 20th Century as the modern world became more interconnected, people became more acutely aware of how cultural differences affect social behaviors and interaction within groups. In an article that you’ll read for this week, we’ll review how scholars like Émile Durkheim, Ferdinand Tönnies, Max Weber, Franz Boas, and many others began suggesting constructs, categories or taxonomies to try to describe the ranges of values that seem to influence people most. This line of research continues actively today through the work of Geert Hofstede, Shalom Schwartz and others. It has also been a key focus of the SII at SISU over the last 20 years.

We hope that this week’s content will help you better understand the continuing relevance of values to your life and ongoing intercultural interactions. Values, whether investigated at individual or cultural levels, usually represent the deeper, less visible aspects of culture (like the bulk of an iceberg). It is important to take time to reflect on what they might be and how they influence us.

The next step asks you to make a list of some of your most important values.
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Intercultural Communication: Dynamics of cultural identities in global interaction

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