Cultural Continuums: A Common Language

What is culture? Is it just someone’s language, food, and dress? Does it involve religion, rituals, and rhythms? How would you describe your own culture?

 One definition of culture is given here, but there are many definitions out there: Culture is the range of ideas, beliefs, values, knowledge, and activities of a group of people which are transmitted and reinforced by members of the group.

 As Sioux Falls continues to welcome new Americans and embrace its growing multiculturalism, it can be helpful to explore and start discussions about your own culture and the culture of your neighbor using the framework of cultural continuums. These “ranges” can help us avoid definitive statements, provide some common language, and maybe help us to see that “those people” are not so different from ourselves. We can discover our own cultural preferences and see cultural differences less as “us” versus “them” and more as variations spread out upon a continuum. Everyone is affected by culture and knowing yourself can be an important first step in successful and effective cross-cultural interactions.  

 Below are five major cultural continuums, though more exist and have been researched. Answer the questions below to see your cultural preferences.

 Time Orientated vs. Event Orientated:

Is your day structured by the clock or structured more by events?

   Time-Orientated ———————————————–Event-Orientated 

Task Orientated vs. Relationship Orientated:

Do you place a higher value on task completion or maintaining relationships?


Individualism vs. Collectivism:

Do you feel you define yourself or do you define yourself by your place in a group?


Direct Communication vs. Indirect Communication:

Do you place a high value on honesty and are driven by a sense of immediacy and objectivity in your communication or do you place a high value on respect and courtesy and use language to evoke an emotional response?


Achieved Status vs. Ascribed Status:

Do you feel status, one’s place in society, is something to be earned or is status endowed by one’s family name, age, birth order, wealth, etc?

Achieved Status—————————————————Ascribed Status  

When we place ourselves on a cultural continuum, we can see how “the way we do things” is just one way of doing something. Cultural differences can be a source of misunderstanding and hurtful stereotypes, but they can also be a great source of learning and problem-solving. If you’ve ever had the privilege of experiencing life in another culture, you know the gifts it gave: a mirror for reflection, humility, some funny stories, and new lenses through which to see this big, beautiful world.


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