The galaxies of the universe are controlled by the same laws. This is not true of the cultural worlds created by humans, each of which operates according to its own internal dynamic, its own principles, and its own laws_written and unwritten. Even time and space are unique to each culture.' There are, however, some common threads that run through all cultures, for we all share the same basic roots.
In essence, any culture is primarily a system for creating, sending, storing, and processing information. Communication underlies everything.2 Although we tend to regard language as the main channel of communication, there is general agreement among experts in semiotics that anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of the information we receive is not only communicated nonverbally but occurs outside our awareness.
It is the conflict between the two worlds of verbal and nonverbal culture that does much to explain Bateson's3 theory of the double bind, Sullivan's4 theory of disassociation, much of )ung's5 theory, why Zen6 (which enhances the acquired) is so difficult for Westerners (who glorify the learned), and why Native Americans like the Tewa of New Mexico (in whose language the words for learning and breathing are the same) have so much trouble mak
ing the shift in school from acquisition to learning. One would have to search far and wide to find a facet of life exempt from the pervasive influence of this fundamental difference.
Far removed from the philosophers' lofty ideas, the tacit-acquired side of culture includes a broad range of practices and solutions to problems with roots in the common clay of the shared experiences of ordinary people. In spite of this distancing from the academic, I have observed repeatedly that if people fail to attend to these basic unstated rules of behavior and communication, it is impossible to make the culture work.
"Making the system work" requires attention to everything people do to survive, advance in the world, and gain satisfaction from life. Failure can often be attributed to one of the following:
Cultural communications are deeper and more complex than spoken or written messages. The essence of cross-cultural communication has more to do with releasing responses than with sending messages. And it is more important to release the right response than to send the "right message."
We humans are guided by two forms of information, accessed in two distinctly different ways: type A_manifest culture_which is learned from words and numbers, and type B_tacit-acquired culture_which is not verbal but is highly situational and operates according to rules which are not in awareness, not learned in the usual sense but acquired in the process of growing up or simply being in different environments. In humans, tacit-acquired culture is made up of hundreds and possibly thousands of microevents comprising the corpus of the daily cycle of activity, the spaces we occupy, and the way we relate to others, in other words, the bulk of experiences of everyday life. This tacit, taken-forgranted aspect of culture, a natural part of life, is the foundation on which my research of the past forty-five years rests.
My work with acquired culture grew out of the study of transactions at cultural interfaces.7 The study of an interface between two systems is different from the study of either system alone.
For my purposes, working at the interface has proved fruitful because contrasting and conflicting patterns are revealed. It tells as much about tacit-acquired culture as it does about manifest culture, and it is frequently the only way I know of gathering valid cultural data on the out-of-awareness, virtually automatic tacit-acquired side of life.
There is always a time when people are doing something without being aware of what they are doing. In fact, the practice of analytic psychiatry is built around this process. Yet, despite the hundreds of thousands of hours devoted by psychoanalysts and anthropologists to the study of change from levels of awareness to awareness of the fact that awareness has changed, little is known about what happensirom the inside when great cultural changes occur, such as when human beings frst became aware that language and talking were something special. Each time this state of awareness is reached, along with it comes a greater appreciation of the self and of the possibilities for the future. This combination seems to be aufficient to motivate people to unusual efforts to solve the massive problems which lie ahead.
Because a great deal is now known about language and so much is taken for granted, it is difficult to imagine what it would be like to stand on the edge of the recognition of language as a system that evolved over many thousands of years. What is even more difficult to imagine are the consequences of this new knowledge and the new analytic and communication skills that are seen only in their incipient form. At times like these everything begins to change. The parts shift around, as does the spotlight of emphasis, which points away from matters which were once thought to be important and toward emergent forms. It is a bit like what occurs in the transition from childhood to young adulthood but on a much grander scale. The world opens up and with it, new responsibilities. It is quite apparent to me that the world is currently in the midst of one of these big shifts in awareness' I believe there is something to be gained if we know more about the processes unfolding around us.
To gain perspective on what is going on, I must review a tiny fraction of our past when similar boundaries were being crossed. My purpose is to provide a feeling for the process of discovery as new awareness unfolds in a succession of revolutions in the way we in the West view the world.8Revolution 1: The Evolution of Language
The first of the great revolutions occurred when our ancestors were physiologically and neurologically able to talk, which was about 100,000 years ago.9 With the beginnings of language established, the base for the distinction between learned information (type A) and acquired information (type B) was laid down. Up until that time most of what was known in order to survive was obtained through the process of acquisition. Acquisition occurs without awareness and there is no way it can be stopped except by eliminating all sensory input. Young mammals acquire a mastery of the environments into which they are born, and human children, in addition, acquire language as well as the unstated paradigms of their culture on their own. This is true even for deaf children. If these two steps do not occur, the remaining learning process, which is in words, cannot proceed. Acquisition is not restricted to the early part of life but continues throughout life.
Revolution 2: The Discovery of Language
as Language (Metalanguages)
My own reconstruction is that after about 90,000 years, during which time language and culture evolved from their primitive state to that of highly complex systems of communication on many levels, some rather bright but not too well adjusted types who were different and who liked to look at things and ask questions, realized that there was something unusual about talking. It was a complete, working system which was discovered, like a jewel Iying in the sand of a spring, but it had been there all the time. Talking wasn't like anything else that human beings did. In fact talking was something quite remarkable. Until that time,talking had been taken for granted as a natural part of life but not particularly special, not worthy of examination or study witha potential far beyond the process itself. It was a tool that couldbe used. If our ancestors were anything like their more sophisticated_but not necessarily more intelligent_descendants, they asked questions like "Why study this 'noise made by the mouththing' that happens between people?" As we shall see under "Revolution 5: Words Are Used to Craft Ideas," when this sort ofquestion is asked, strange things happen, such as the crafting of.new languages. Indeed, to cope with this insight it was necessary to invent a new language, a metalanguage_a language for talking about language, including a vocabulary to distinguish between linguistic events such as words and symbols. All this took a long time_four to seven thousand years_which is not nearly as long as the time that transpired between fully developed speech and prespeech.
It was no time at all before the third revolution occurred. There had to be ways of keeping track of all the complexities of language, because otherwise these wise people would have spent too much effort plowing the same ground over and over again. Writing systems were evolved. And what a revolution that was! From that time on, anything was possible. The word transcended time and space.
In the context of the Greco-Roman past of the West, Solon (the seventh century B.C. Athenian) was an unusually insightful law giver. Realizing that the cases which people brought to him fell into categories and that the decisions he made were far from random events, he began classifying his decisions as a way of helping others. The law at that time was like English common law, rooted in the soil of the acquired culture of the times. Solon was the first anthropologist. In fact, all of the world's "law givers" from past to present can be viewed as practicing anthropologists.
Today I am suggesting the outrageous idea that, instead of expanding our horizons, the Greek philosophers_beginning with the elaboration of Socrates and Plato's word-centered paradigm_ may have actually built a wall cutting us off from an important part of our selves. In the process, they created an unbridgeable gap between the cultural unconscious (type B) and the manifest culture of words (type A). In so doing, they set in motion the processes attacking the very foundations of identity.
Plato, believing that the result of the dialectic and its logic represented the ultimate and only reality, distinguished between what ordinary people did_events, behaviors, and ways of thinking which seemed an automatic part of life_which he called doxa and the rigid rules of the logic of the dialectic. Only the ideas in philosophers' heads, expressed in "properly constructed" statements, were thought to be relevant to guiding the citizens. This belief set in motion a process ending with the concept that only well-crafted ideas expressed in words are real, whereas people and what they do were dismissed as hardly worth noticing.'_
This split has been with us ever since, even in anthropology, a science which is, with rare exceptions, based on what we have been told in words and much less on what people did and took for granted. Only in the descriptive linguistics of Edward Sapir and later in the field of sociolinguistics do we find a direct examination of cultural data without reference to preconceived ideas or hypotheses. Alfred Korzybski," of course, made a valiant effort with his studies in general semantics. He made the point that there is an unbridgeable gap separating the word or symbol and the event, and that the map is not the terrain.
Freud, Jung, Sullivan, and the others are so recent and well known that there is no need to elaborate further on either the content or the structure of the new world they opened up, a world which is still unfolding before our very eyes.
Like the discovery of the unconscious, the discovery of culture is recent. First described by Louis H. Morgan in 1877 and by Edward B. Tyler'2 in 1881, the concept of culture has only recently begun to be known beyond a small group of practitioners. Culture is the medium evolved by the human species, the one which characterizes the human species while at the same time differentiating one social group from another. While the distinction between overt and manifest culture was popular in the 1 930s, the interpretation of the entirety of culture as a system of communication did not appear in print as a systematic theory of culture until 1953.'3 The differentiation between learned and acquired culture is even more recent. I have developed the examination of various facets of acquired culture under the conceptual heading of Nonverbal Communication in some thirteen books.
Up to this point I have reviewed our species' discovery of its extensions_not the material extensions'4 but primarily the extensions of the central nervous system_centered around the process of communication in words and writing, as records of what is going on in the head. I wish to turn now to those nonverbal expressions of culture of which humanity has only recently become aware_the other 80 percent to 90 percent of our communicative acts. These acts are the ones responsible for the greatest distortions in understanding between peoples_distortions traceable to the fact that sign)ficant, meaningful acts are read as projections of one's own culture rather than as expressions of another culture.
If there is a message I want to convey, it is that humans must also take into account the existence of "out-of-awareness" features of communication. When interacting with each other, it should never be assumed that we ever achievefull awareness of all the implications of any communication. This is because there are not only context factors that are seldom, if ever, pinned down but there are additional sources of distortions_cultural and psychological_in meaning as people interact with one another
Unfortunately, the job of achieving understanding and insight into other people's mental processes is much more difficult and the situation more serious than our political leaders care to admit. What makes the current world situation doubly dangerous is the failure on the part of our leaders to take into account the deeper levels of cultural differences and their effect on the way in which different people see the world.
Culture hides much more than it rc-veals and, strangely enough, what it hides, it hides most affectively from its own participants. Years of study have convinced me that the ultimate purpose of the study of culture is not so much the understanding of foreign cultures as much as the light that study sheds on our own. There is a feature of culture which, until recently, was unknown and, as a consequence, unanalyzed. I refer to the tacit frames of reference, the rules for living which vary from culture to culture and which can be traced to acquired culture.
It is axiomatic that dissonance in interpersonal and intercultural relations is inevitably traced to perturbations in the perceptual-communicative process in one or both of the tacit or explicit levels of culture. I first became aware of this dimension of culture while working for the Department of State during a trip through Latin America and the Middle East. Mixing it up with my compatriots in a wide variety of situations, I became aware that instead of a simple artifact for planning and scheduling activities, time was being read as a kind of language. Furthermore it was assumed that this language of time was universal and had the same sign)ficance to South Americans as it did to North Americans. The most critical, observable situations centered around waiting times in offices when appointments had been made.'5 Even ambassadors would be kept waiting. It appeared that status, the importance of the business, and even insults were all being communicated by the length of the waiting time. It was quite evident that not only were the Latin American diplomats not as prompt as the North Americans expected them to be, but that their entire system of time was different from our own. Further research revealed that the different time systems permeated or influenced virtually every facet of life (a characteristic which was also discovered in their handling of space). What I learned in South America followed patterns I found later in other cultures in other parts of the world. While it is not practical to give a comprehensive view at this time, the two basic types of time are relevant to this discussion.
There are many kinds of time systems in the world, but I call the two basic time systems monochronic and polychronic time. Monochronic time means paying attention to and doing only one thing at a time. Polychronic time means being involved with many things at once. Like oil and water, the two systems do not mix.
In monochronic cultures, beginning in England with the industrial revolution, time is linear_comparable to a road extending from the past into the future. Monochronic time is divided quite naturally into segments; it is scheduled and compartmentalized, making it possible for a person to concentrate on one thing at a time. In a monochronic system, the schedule takes priority above all else and is treated as sacred and unalterable.
In monochronic cultures, time is perceived as being almost tangible: people talk about it as though it were money, as something that can be "spent," "saved," "wasted," and "lost." It is also used as a class)fication system for ordering life and setting priorities: "I don't have time to see him." Because monochronic time concentrates on one thing at a time, people who are governed by it don't like to be interrupted. Monochronic time seals people off from one another and, as a result, intensifies some relationships while shortchanging others. Time becomes a room which some people are allowed to enter, while others are excluded.
Space is closely related to time in some cases and quite different in others. As is the case with time, space falls into a wide variety of slots. Today I will deal with one_personal space.
At an even more abstract level than time and space is the effect of context on meaning. Context is a slippery but highly sign)ficant subject which has confounded social scientists and linguists for years. Rather than take the traditional road to situationally determined context, I chose another route, based on observations of interpersonal transaction across a wide variety of cultural interfaces that took account of how information was handled. The result was a scale with high-context communication at one end and low-context at the other.
A high-context (HC) communication or message is one in which most of the information is already in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicit, transmitted part of the message. A low- context (LC) communication is just the opposite, that is, the mass of the information is vested in the explicit code. A high-context example is twins who have grown up together and can communicate more economically (HC) than two lawyers in a courtroom during a trial (LC), or a mathematician programming a computer (LC), or two politicians drafting legislation (LC), or two administrators writing a regulation (LC). In general, highcontext transactions are more on the feeling, intimate side while the low-context ones are much less personal and oriented toward the left brain. It is also relevant that shifts from high- to low-context signal the cooling of a relationship, while a move up the scale signals increased familiarity and usually warming, for example, forms of address from "Professor" or "Doctor" to using first names.
The context generalization, drawn as it is from observations of behavior, has proved to be quickly recognizable as a pattern in a wide range of cultures. Germans and North Europeans in general can be said to operate lower on the context scale than the Japanese or the Tewa of New Mexico, for example.
I should mention that while the ideas expressed here are relatively simple, differences of the sort I have described are far from trivial and can be found in such everyday situations as the differences between words and numbers. An unusually perceptive friend who is bicultural_North American and Latino_solved major conflicts between the New York headquarters of a corporation and its South American subsidiaries. He sorted out these two channels so that when New York wanted information from the field, the numbers people got numbers and those who wanted words got their information in words. Until then, people weren't getting what they needed.
I would now like to explore further the point about communication as information. Information provides the basic patterns for the organization of life. This may mean that life is information and vice versa. In cells we know disorganization as cancer. But what happens when people can't reach each other? We call it i~getting through" to someone. When we realize that a communicative impasse has been reached, it is a signal that we are at the end of the line, that the only remaining options are force, withdrawal, banishment, or abandonment. In fact, a communications impasse is one of the chief causes of war. Yet war, regardless of who "wins," has never been an answer. While there are plenty of failures to learn from, I think more can be learned from success in overcoming blocks in communication.
Consider the situation of Helen Keller who, because she was both blind and deaf, lacked the generous quantity of acquired knowledge available even to the Deaf;'6 as a result she often behaved like a frustrated, infuriated animal until her teacher, using language as the instrument, found a way to give order to her energy. A colleague of mine, William C. Stokoe, spent years analyzing the communication system of the Deaf. And it wasn't until he was able to produce the first American Sign Language (ASL) dictionary'7 that the Deaf movement took off, leading to the demonstration that Deaf behavior, instead of being chaotic, was a well-organized culture built around its own system of communication. Until Stokoe's breakthrough, Deaf culture was synonymous with the rest of the unknown, tacit sides of culture.
Though there has been a massive amount of research on A type culture_word culture_it is the B type_unconscious culture_ that we need to know more about. There is a growing awareness that we are just at the point where humans were when they first became conscious of language. While we do not as yet have a system of notations on which to build a dictionary for the acquired, nonverbal side of culture, 18 there is already a solid beginning.
Little in this world is more frustrating, exasperating, or maddening than confrontations in those situations where one is dependent on others. I am thinking of recognition, advancement, economic survival, skills of any sort, understanding, insights into self, love, and all relations with other human beings. The situation is analogous to that of a middle-aged neophyte confronting for the first time our demanding word-processing software without a guide or tutor. But in real-life situations of relations with other people, the complexity is infinitely greater. The problem is always how to get the other person, or the culture, or the machine to produce for you_to release the desired responses. Consider these situations: making a friend with a foreigner or with someone of the opposite sex, getting a job or an advancement, negotiating an agreement, settling a dispute, selling a product at home or abroad. The "silent language" of equal opportunity involves much more than legalese.
Throughout my life, I have been struck by the disparity between A and B types of reality. And because the A type is explicit and highly visible while B is not, I devoted my energies to describing and explaining B. Having observed that it is hard to understand something you have not experienced and since few people have had my experiences, I have come to the realization that there are some things to be said about A which I had, until recently, minimized in my thinking.
In addition to such relatively small differences separating word people from numbers people, as mentioned above, there are the more pervasive ways in which information is processed, stored, and retrieved. For example, those who grew up under the aegis of Western culture live in two worlds: one acquired, the other learned. One is tacit with automatic responses, and the other is explicit and quite technical. One is a synthesis, and the other is linear. One is a whole, the other is fragmented and compartmentalized so that the left hand really does not know what the right hand is doing (and this is a metaphor to be taken quite seriously). One comprises real-life events that are disparaged, the other is largely invented, yet is extolled and treated as real.
What are needed now are bi- and tri-cultural translators_not that there aren't a lot that are not being used_for every significant interface in the world today. In addition to the translators we need knowledge and skills for their selection and use.'9 At this time, what I have referred to as acquired culture_though it is vividly real for those who have been brought up in different cultures_is not seen as culture at all by most people in the world. In fact, it is often perceived only as an aggravating personality trait. An American black woman I once interviewed in Beirut said, "I used to be married to one of these fellows and we had a lot of trouble. I thought it was him. But over here they're all that way."
Recognition of the acquired side of culture places a heavy burden on each and every one of us. It means relinquishing the special part of ourselves which gives us permission to put other people down. It means extending ourselves to include others in the same envelope of awareness. It means recognizing others as simply different, but not inferior. And most of all, it means being accepting as well as nonjudgmental.
None of this is easy because it is an individual matter, one which cannot be legislated. People may not be like us and we may not be like them. But in these very differences lies the future success of the world. I say this because world problems have ballooned to the point where they are unmanageable by any single group. Each person in each group has been endowed with skills_ many of them unique_enabling them to cope with the special problems they have faced in the past. As a species, we have evolved ourselves and achieved multiple talents in the process. We need to be able to evolve ways that allow us to make use of them all. But in order to do so it will be necessary to come to "rips with the reality of acquired culture and the associated fact of nonverbal communication. Unfortunately, we have yet to realize that our most prized possessions are the differences differentiating the people of this earth from each other.
Although the word is bandied about, the people of this earth are now in the early stages of discovering that there is a hidden language of identity_the identity of our true selves, selves which have lain hidden under a cloak of words. It is possible to look ahead and see an age in which the peoples of the world will soon develop new tools for reaching each other's minds and psyches. It is important to remember, however, that insight and understanding are not synonymous with wisdom. Wisdom, while here for some, is unfortunately still over the horizon for most of us.
Nevertheless, it is my conviction that the human world, much like the earth itself, even though desecrated, is still a treasure trove of hidden resources. The surface of discovery has only been barely scratched. I say this because the peoples of the world have endowed me with great riches, taught me much about myself, expanded my horizons, and presented me with a world and a self that had aufficient gnostic reality to make a believer of me. I have the knowledge that the worlds of other people are real, that life itself_although confusing at times_is lawful, and that below or behind surface impressions there is order. Furthermore, there are many others like myself, most of whom have grown up in more than one culture. Most of us remain lonely until we meet someone else who also knows that other people are real and not the paper cutouts that those who do not know make them out to be. This kind of loneliness is impossible to describe but is experienced as a kind of hunger_a hunger for the lost part of the self longing to be reunited.
I will close now with an example of what it can mean to discover the hidden reality in one's self and in others.
The sister of one of my French friends married an American mining engineer. The couple and their young son settled in a medium-sized Colorado mining town. Since the mother didn't want her son to grow up without speaking her native tongue, she spoke to him only in French. One day he approached his mother with a serious expression on his face, wanting to know why it was that the two of them spoke differently fronn everyone else. She tried explaining to him that they were speaking French and that French was a language and that English was another language. All of this was to no avail. The whole notion of language treated in a vacuum, as it were, was too illusive, too abstract, unreal. Then his mother, being an intelligent woman, understood the problem and at the first opportunity took her son to Montreal. In a flash, he and his mother, whom he had experienced as alien and separated from all others by a process he did not understand, were now members of a new community_speakers of the French language. Everything fell into place and what had been a puzzle was now a door opening to a new world.
My point is that type A_word culture_and type -unconscious culture_are both languages and that type B IS a language of the past, the present, and the future that, like the boy who was led through the door to new understanding, is part of culture and of ourselves as well.
: Einstein said that time is what a clock says and that anything can be a clock: the rotation of the earth, the moon, and other rhythms. It is still possible to use Einstein's definition, as long as it is kept in mind that each culture has it own docks.
The world of communication is divided into three parts: words, material things, and behavior. Words are the medium of business, politics, diplomacy. Material things are usually indicators of status and power. Behavior provides feedback on how others feel and includes techniques for avoiding confrontation.
3 Gregory Bateson, "The Message: This Is Play," in Group Processes: Transactions of the Second Conference (New York, Josiah Macy, Jr. Foundation Publications, 1956); Gregory Bateson, "Minimal Requirements for a Theory of Schizophrenia," in AMA Archives General Psychiatry 2, (1960): 477-91.
Harry Stack Sullivan, Conceptions of Modern Psychiaty, 2d ed. (Washington, DC: The William Alanson White Psychiatric Foundation, 1947).
6 Erich Fromm, Daisetz T. Suzuki, et al., Zen Buddhism andPsychoanalysis (New York: Harper ~ Brothers, 1960); Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery, translated by Richard Francis Carrington Hull (New York: Vintage Books,1971).
8 A different set of revolutions in awareness unfolded in other parts of the world. In Japan and China, for example, the world is not sacred as it is with us, with the result that there is an entirely different mindset.
See Philip Lieberman's detailed and original work, The Biology and Evolution of Language (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984); Philip Lieberman, "On Human Speech, Syntax, and Language,"Human Evolution 3, nos. 1-2 (1988): 3-18.
" Alfred Korzybski, Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics, 3d ed. (Lakeville, CT: International Non-AristotelianLibraryPublishing,1948).
|3 Edward T. Hall, TheAnalysis of Culture (Washington, DC: American Council of Learned Societies, 1953); Edward T. Hall, The Hidden Dimension (1966; reprint, New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1982); Edward T. Hall, Beyond Culture (1976; reprint, New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1981); Edward T. Hall, TheDance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time (New York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1983); Edward T. Hall, The Silent Language (1959; reprint, New York: Anchor/ Doubleday, 1981).
'4 "Extensions" are just that. When an organism uses something outside of itself to supplement what it once did only with the body, it is extending itself. Examples are a spider's web, a bird's nest, a knife (extending the teeth), a telephone (extending hearing), languages (extending certain aspects of thinking), institutions, and cultures. Once an organism evolves by extension, the rate of its evolution increases.
Rather than being separable, humans and their extensions constitute one interrelated system. The difficulties with man's extensions arise when the extensions are identified with the processes that have been extended and become rigid. For example, when written language is considered primary and spoken language an "adulterated version," the second generation extension (written language) has been confused with what is in reality the primary extension_speaking. In this case, what was once a tool_writing_has supplanted the very function it was supposed to assist_speaking.
' Time as expressed by culture is such a vast complex of activities and interpretations of behavior that one or two examples cannot possibly communicate what time as a cultural system is all about. My book The Dance of Life is a brief introduction.
Deaf is capitalized by those hearing-impaired people who recognize themselves as members of a cultural group.
_ William C. Stokoe, "Sign Language Structure: An Outline of Visual Communication Systems of the American Deaf," Studies in Linguistics, Occasional Papers 8 (Buffalo, NY: University of Buffalo, 1960), William C. Stokoe, Dorothy Casterline, and Carl Croneberg, A Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles (Washington, DC: Gallaudet College Press, 1965).
'9 The rules for the use of translators are the same as those for interpreters, but even more rigorous. The individual who employs either must concentrate on his or her counterpart, choosing an individual who has the greatest likelihood of being able to establish and maintain rapport with the least amount of distortion (noise). See Edward T. Hall, West of the Thirties: Discoveries among the Navajo and Hopi (New York: Doubleday, 1994).