The idea of communicating effectively nationwide is an appealing concept, although many do not consider the differences that occur between the cultures and how to be respectful of them. James Neuliep described culture in three parts: an indefinable group of people, similar values and beliefs, and verbal and nonverbal ques. This definition helps one to better understand culture, stating how vital intercultural communication is in society to help reduce conflict and communicate efficiently. When debating the significance of cultural communication in today’s society, one must consider the importance of stereotypes vs. ethnocentrism, cultural representation in national media, the difference in value dimensions and how they apply to each distinct culture, and how negative stereotypes directly impact communication between cultures.
Stereotyping is defined by the Collins Dictionary as such, “A fixed general image or set of characteristics that a lot of people believe represent a particular type of person or thing”. For example, there is a widespread stereotype throughout America that Indonesian people are poor and isolated from the outside world. Ethnocentrism is when one culture sees themselves as superior to others, and hold themselves at the highest standard of comparison for every other culture. Another example would be if one were to judge another culture based on the values or standards that were in place in their own culture. It is an unfair bias to immediately classify another culture as wrong just because it differs from what one is used to. (“10 Examples of ethnocentrism…”, n.d.)
Voice of Baceprot, an upcoming metal band created by three teenage girls, challenges the stereotype that Muslim women in Indonesia should be submissive and unassuming. They have endured much criticism from their families and community, including death threats, but continue to pursue their passion and challenge the conservative norms existing throughout much of Indonesia (Cochrane, 2017). There are multiple ways Indonesian culture is represented in the media. One example is The Simpsons clip, which illustrates the stereotype that all Indonesians are Muslim. In the clip, a man is brought up to speak. At the end, he corrects himself saying, “After all, we are all children of Allah, I mean God” (Indonesia on The Simpson’s, 2014). The character had to correct himself because to speak of the God in Christianity would be looked down upon in their culture, and dangerous in their community. The second example of cultural representation is the comic referenced below. This comic represents an incident claiming that the judges working with the cases of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran asked for bribes to negate a convict’s potential death penalty sentencing. This comic points to corruption in the Indonesian legal system, and paints a negative light on how crime is handled in Indonesia.
The picture on the left is an example of an Australian auction, painted as colorful and cheerful, while the right example is labeled “Indonesia” and is dark and gloomy. The sign below the judge’s platform states, “Judges demanding bribes from prisoners to avoid the death penalty.” This shows an interpretation of a stereotype in the culture, as represented in United States media (Under the corrupt, 2015). Whether one is aware of it or not, each culture has its own value dimensions. In Indonesian culture, the people are prone to indulgence, as seen by the comic described above. The judge can be seen as a representative for the country as someone willing to accept bribes from prisoners and compromise his moral values for the sake of personal gain. This shows a lack of restraint on his part, and represents the country of Indonesia as one who seeks indulgence over restraint.
The second value dimension is Indonesia’s level of uncertainty avoidance. Uncertainty avoidance is classified as participation or acceptance of taking risks. For example, if a country has a high uncertainty avoidance, they are not accepting of risks. Reversely, if a culture has a high uncertainty avoidance, they are more approving of those who may take risks. In the mass media stereotype example shown in the Simpsons clip, low uncertainty avoidance was seen. The speaker mentions that we are all children of Allah, and then immediately corrects himself and changes his speech to say we are children of God. This is a bold move, as speaking about God in a predominantly Muslim country is almost unheard of, and can get put you at risk for negative feedback and violent reactions from the adamant Muslim community. Value dimensions show the different sides of Indonesian culture.
Since the country of Indonesia is so different from what American culture may be like, it may sometimes be hard to relate and communicate with the people there. For example, there is a stereotype that most people believe that everyone living in Indonesia is a conservative Muslim, as stated by Lexi’s uncle, John Liles, who currently lives there. This stereotype may leave American’s distant from the culture, and not wanting to interact with the people residing there as there is such a negative view of what the Muslim people are like. When in reality, “Most locals will walk around wearing jeans and a t-shirt,” (Putri, 2017) while still being practicing Muslims. This negative view of a culture is another example of ethnocentrism, as many people are bias towards their own culture, and ignorant to how the rest of the world is, and the cultures that they have. Mass media provides another outlook on how different stereotypes affect communication interculturally.
An article in The Jakarta Post recounted the events that happened on September 28, when a tsunami and an earthquake struck the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. “On Wednesday, the Palu Meteorological Agency in Central Sulawesi said the region had been rocked by 30 earthquakes daily over the last four months,” (Heriyanto, 2018). When asked why the Indonesian community stayed, John Liles said that many factors come into play, such as finances and transportation that many people do not have. The stereotypes placed upon the Indonesian community are detrimental, and inhibit other countries from trying to understand their culture and backgrounds.
In conclusion, there are many factors that come into play when discussing intercultural communication. The country of Indonesia is often seen in a negative light, as negative stereotypes hinder other cultures from trying to understand them. United States media paints Islam in a negative light, causing Americans to be afraid of them, instead of showing the positives of the religion and how small the percentage is of radical Islamists. Intercultural communication can be enhanced by multiple factors including stereotyping vs. ethnocentrism, mass-media representation, personal connections through communication, and value dimensions and their meanings.
If one were to consider and respect the differences between cultures and try to see things from their perspective, the world would be a much happier place, and miscommunication would not be such a prevalent issue in society. Communication can always be improved, it is our job to be self-aware and constantly push ourselves to be more progressive and understanding of other’s beliefs and religions. Although one may not agree with another’s culture, it is not one’s place to judge or decide what is right and wrong, all we can do is a try to understand where they’re coming from.