UNSPOKEN CONVERSATIONS: Exploring dynamics of culture in hidden bias

People talk to themselves all the time. They carry on a constant inner conversation while listening to the radio, watching television or reading the paper or online. We don’t know what they say to themselves about the messages we give them.

If we were talking directly to them, we could ask questions and listen “actively” to their responses. Through the media, however, we rarely know who they are personally, to say nothing of knowing what goes through their minds as they take in what me send. So, we guess. We try to construct a message that will reach them. We weigh words and images to avoid “red flags” and “red herrings.” We want them to track in the direction we intend.

If we could know more about the conversations people have with themselves, we could create more effective messages. This analysis will help.

We are born into a Prevailing Conversation carried on by the people about us-our parents, family, neighborhood, etc. We learn our inner language and our culture via the images, meanings, feelings, beliefs, and values that our inner conversations contain from what people around us say and do. We talk to ourselves as others have talked to us. We have no other choice. It is our Primal Conversation about who we are and what the world is like.

Many men, for example, were born into a Prevailing Conversation which states, “Women are the weaker sex,” or, “Women need men to look after them and protect them.” This becomes their Primal Conversation about women.

This conversation is automatically present when the word “woman” is mentioned and shows up spontaneously and mostly unconsciously when men are called to interact with women. They interpret new situations in the light of their Primal Conversations along with conversations derived from them.

So, for example, when a daughter is about to go off to summer camp, dad has a different Derivative Conversation with himself about her than he might if his son were about to do the same thing, e.g., “I wonder if Amy will be OK and can take care of herself,” or, “Will the environment be ‘safe’ for a 14-year-old girl?”, – compare with, “Camp is good for boys– makes ‘em self-reliant,” or “It’ll be a great adventure for him.”

Unexamined, our Primitive and Derivative Conversations become the active and automatic “prejudices” or “biases” with which we listen to and “understand” what others say to us and the “reality” out of which we act.

As individuals grow and mature, particularly in a pluralistic environment, they are challenged with other Prevailing Conversations of a new time and place. They begin to create new or Alternative Conversations for themselves, which both allow them and force them to make choices about how they will understand others and act toward them.

For a man such an Alternative Conversation might be, “Girls are as intelligent and capable as boys and can have similar experiences as they grow up.” Obviously these conversations function in the same way in women, although women’s Primitive Conversations may say different things because they as children were spoken to differently that men were.

When we speak to people either directly or through the media, we can ask of ourselves and our sources of information:

  • What are the Primitive and Derivative conversations of our audience likely to be, given the Prevailing Conversations both of the time and place in which they have grown up and in which they are now immersed?
  • What Alternative Conversations will they be challenged to accept for themselves or to defend themselves against, given,
    1. the various new conversations that are prevailing in our society, and
    2. what we are now saying to them.

When we have constructed our hypothetical answers, we can aim our message at our audience and try it out. We can then test our hypothesis by getting feedback from a sample of the population we are reaching. Such feedback can be had, even informally, by questions that ask people to share the conversations they have been having with themselves. Here are samples of such questions:

  • What did … mean to you?
  • What came to mind when you read …?
  • What did you tell yourself when you saw …?
  • What would you have liked to have heard or seen instead of …?
  • What sort of discussion did you have with yourself about the pros and cons of …?
 Dr. George F. Simons is an international intercultural communications consultant who is now researching the relationship between human and electronic communication. Reach him at:
Dr. George F. Simons
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F-06210 Mandelieu la Napouletél +33 4 92 97 57 35
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Skype: gfsimons
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©1985. George F. Simons

Am I still US American? If so, how much?

Autoethnography is storytelling that connects us with ourselves & our world & then shapes both. Recently I started to do this for a project in which students JAMK are creating acculturation aids for migrants. I found it essential that they should reflect on their own stories regarding their personal & cultural unfolding. So I had to ante up. The account linked here is one look at my own story from a crossing cultures perspective, which I hope stimulates like sharing.

Next week Susan Salzbrenner & I will do a workshop on careers in intercultural work, a profession, which some say is on its way to extinction; others see it as critical to future collaboration. In any case, we hope to help students look at their own stories and draw from them the resources they need to make decisions and go forward. Of course this implies that both of us need to ante up and tell our own stories to model what we are asking them to do. Still working on that.

Art speaks in us and through us

Besides my work with Diversophy® game and intercultural specialisation of consulting and training, I have found joy in writing poems. To me, poems and stories call us into them, and remind us of who we are and of our connection with each other. I usually publish my poems on daily basic through my LinkedIn account. Up to this point, I have been blessed with inspiration and fortunate with encouragement by colleagues & friends, so that I successfully produce three flip books, three collection of all my poems: Summer Song, Autumn Harvest and Winter Wondering.

Changing season effect from spring to summer, lightens up in me a thought of sharing these reflection poems here. After all, this site does need to be ‘freshen up’. Summer will arrive soon before we realise it and so, let me also join the flow of excitement.

Summer Song. Collected Poems and Prattle.

Summer Song poem

George Simons.