[Foundation-l] Cultural awareness and sensitivity

Delphine Ménard notafishz at gmail.com
Tue Jun 8 10:36:54 UTC 2010

On Tue, Jun 8, 2010 at 9:30 AM, Lodewijk <lodewijk at effeietsanders.org> wrote:
> Dear Michael,
> on one side, thank you for bringing this up - I had for example no idea of
> this interpretation, and couldn't even have imagined it probably.
> On a more general note, how do you think this problem could be approached? I
> assume that you can understand that someone uses a word in a different
> meaning than the one you brought up, and this is something that is happening
> all the time of course - I have experienced it several times. Translating or
> writing in a non-native language can be a tricky thing (For example, calling
> someone "black" would be considered highly offensive in the Netherlands,
> where negroid is apparently offensive in the US), but even within one
> language there can be different interpretations. Do you see a way that
> people can consider this? Do you see here a task for the writer, or rather a
> message for the reader of messages that there might be another meaning in it
> than the offensive one you might read at first?


> So although I do agree that we should be careful with cultural differences,
> I do not think that we can avoid possible "lynching"-issues (as in, how the
> word is used) because we can't expect everybody to be have a major in
> English. I think it is rather likely that these offenses are actually more
> often the other way around, where non-natives consider something as
> offensive, but will not speak up about it. Not so much because Americans or
> Brits are so harsh (well, some are) but because of the numbers - there are
> numerous more cultures compared to the few that have English as a native
> tongue.

Hmmm. On the specific "lynching issue", I have to say that I must
disagree with you.  I believe it *could* have been avoided. There are
times when "going public" (ie. answer on the list) about things that
shocked, bothered, or angered us is possibly the least effective way
of "communicating".

To give a personal "assesment" of the lynching issue, I understood
Mariano's first post as sarcasm, and it did not shock me much
(Spanish, French, maybe close enough in the first place?). I came to
realize with Michael's post that this might be a poor choice of words,
but did not really understand what I perceived as a really strong
reaction to what to me was actually a rather funny comment. However,
Mariano's following reaction as well as Yaroslav's came across to me
as unecessarily aggressive and actually shocked me in what I perceived
as a lack of consideration and altogether rather nasty answers.

But then, this is me. A woman, French, living in a country that does
not speak my mother tongue, reading in yet another language not my
own, with my background (cultural, social, educational etc.). In the
end, the above considerations are a result of all that. And my take on
this is that everyone actually reads this list, a discussion page, an
email, whatever, with their own background, their own consideration.
Which is fine.

But which I believe isn't fine any more when things are erected in
semi-accusatory statements about one's culture, understanding (or lack
thereof), origin or such.

I believe that such things should be first cleared in private. Not so
much to keep them out of the "public zone" as in "you can't talk to
people in public", but rather as a sign that we are probably all
fallible and would rather double check with the person involved what
their intent really was before we actually

As such, while I fully support Michael's concern that cultural
awareness (or lackthereof) is one of the critical problems Wikimedia
projects are facing, and that it should definitely be addressed, I
found the transition from usability to cultural awareness via lynching
somewhat strange. But ok, why not.

The problem I see here, is that Mariano's reaction, while probably
understandable, failed, in my opinion, to tackle the real problem
Michael was (at least the way I understood it) trying to point out ie.
"we at Wikimedia often lack cultural awareness skills and that is
maybe why we're having this whole long, at times aggressive discussion
about interlanguage links". and we started getting personal. And
Lodewijk, in pure Lodewijk fashion, tried to cut short the personal
things, thank you Lodewijk :).

So here are tricks I learned a long long time ago, which I believe
might apply here.

In a conversation, there are four steps: "What I think, what I say,
what the other hears, what the other understands". And between what I
think, and what the other understands, there are usually many worlds.

So what derives from this is that as a listener, before I react to
something that shocked me with strong words, I try to make sure that
what I understood and what was meant are the same thing.
As a speaker, being criticized for whatever I've said, I avoid going
"gosh, you really don't understand anything" but rather go for the
"hmmm, maybe I expressed myself wrongly in the first place" approach,
and reformulate. Reformulate is the answer, especially in public
forums, to avoid going all flame and personal.

It is a hard thing to keep in mind at all times, I find, but I've also
found it makes communication much easier, when applied.

All of this rambling really to say that while cultural awareness is a
very important thing, it rarely helps if basic communication skills
are not taken into consideration. Reformulating and making sure we've
understood is one of them. And it is, in my opinion, even more
exacerbated in a diverse cultural background, and when the common
language is not everyone's mother tongue.



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Intercultural musings: Ceci n'est pas une endive - http://blog.notanendive.org

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