Heidi Trautmann

Heidi Trautmann Column 20 - Let’s talk about culture and…communication


One of the modern very frequently chosen academic disciplines is ‘Communications’ focusing on how humans use verbal and nonverbal messages to create meaning in various contexts, with other words, the impact of those messages on human behavior. When you read this, what comes to the tip of your tongue? Advertising! How can I best prepare my message to be accepted by the reader/viewer/listener.

In the agenda of the faculty are sub-disciplines with research programmes concerning all interrelations such as family and gender communication; international and intercultural communications, language and social interactions, actually all niches of human existence and its reactive behavior are covered and studied.

An image forms in my head of a cat and a mouse in a cage watched by scientists if their behaviour changes with the change of outside influences, change of food, will they get mad at each other or will they sign a peace contract. Seen from this angle not a bad idea at all considering our daily home problems or those of our neighbouring countries, isn’t it?

What is communication in its basic meaning, it is for sure not advertising. It is the wish to understand the other and to be understood. Where communications ends, there is cold war, silence; or hot war until everything is destroyed. Tabula rasa and then perhaps they can start again communicating.

The first impulse is to be wanting to know somebody, to know the people of a country, out of curiosity, and thus I approach the other person or many persons and ask them who they are, and then I will probe into this person full of interesting data with my questions; with the data I receive I can fill the blank page about this person and when I do this with many persons I get a vague image of the people of the area I am living in. In order to get there you need to be listening attentively and not start to disturb the flow by delivering data yourself; that will end in confusion and no results; my time will come to fill the other person in with my data, if he/she wishes so. I have often witnessed conversations which run parallel to each other, where one person just waits to have the other person finish the sentence to start delivering one’s own words. This is not communication. Whoever the persons are, parents, teachers vs. kids, couples, politicians (very doubtful),  trying to communicate, they must be open for each other, technically speaking: turn the receiver fully open in the direction of the other person, only then the data delivered can be processed properly. This is hard even impossible for people who have a preset opinion, they close their receiver or turn it towards themselves, reflecting and reassuring themselves.

But not only the processing of words help to get to know a person, it is the touch and the probing with your eyes, taking up movements, temperature, colours, texture, surroundings and habits, teaching you a lot more. Often people exclaim: Oh I didn’t know that person at all, there is such depth I had never imagined. Often is prejudice the reason to pass by a person or act without  sensitivity.

However, there are ways of communication where our naive trust is being misused. The word is mighty, also images are. When the data gained by research projects are being used to adapt a product or project in such a way that the audience falls for it, we call it advertising or even manipulation.  A frightening idea, but it so happens every day in the electronic media without our realising.

We can be more careful but it should not make us give up communication with our fellow citizens. We have friends who are traveling and living on a sailing boat just as we did some years ago; the woman of the couple has a marvelous talent of communicating and a lively curiosity. The results she enters in her travel blog and shares it with her friends. So I saw her one day here in North Cyprus approaching a shepherd who sat under a tree staring into the vast depth of the mesaoria. She sat with him for an hour, talked to him in her little Turkish, shared an apple with him; she said: I wanted to know what he thinks when he sits there, I wanted to see what he sees when he sits there for hours. Before parting she gave him a small-sized American flag as a souvenir. That is exchange of culture in the true sense of the word, isn’t it? It makes me smile whenever I think of it.

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