5: Cultural touchstones

A Thousand Things to Talk About
A Thousand Things to Talk About
5: Cultural touchstones

Today, we’re talking about cultural touchstones. Specifically…

How important is it for individuals of a diverse culture to share cultural touchstones, such as reading the same book in school?

Show notes & links:
Creating Common Ground: Common Reading and the First Year of College from the Association of American Colleges & Universities

The Psychology of Prejudice: Ingroup Love or Outgroup Hate? (PDF), Marilynn B. Brewer

Full episode text

One of the most difficult parts of any sharing – between peoples, groups, or entire societies – is finding and creating a shared language. Fellow trekkies will understand this as the Tamarian language problem – just sharing the words and sentence structure does absolutely nothing if you don’t understand the meaning of the myths, legends, and cultural metaphors that make up a particular “language.”

So is it important for individuals from very different cultures to develop some kind of shared understanding? One argument would say of course, because a shared piece of context makes it easier to get along, or at least to begin the path of understanding.

Yet another argument would say that this shared cultural touchstone is, in fact, a matter of homogenization. That teaching the same things, or sharing the same experiences, reduces the ability of two different individuals to bring unique experiences and patterns of thought to a conversation.