When we talk about people having the same cultural background, we mean they have a shared history. Not necessarily in terms of actual experiences (though it can be—witness the cohesion between people who have lived through the same event, for example), but that over their lifetimes they have accumulated various adages, ideas, and norms.
Mostly, these operate on a subconscious, background level; affecting your behaviour, but not something you explicitly think about. This is why culture-shock can be so significant—everyone involved is taking certain things for granted, so any differences aren’t recognised until it is too late.
Something I find interesting is that a lot of these ideas are based on metaphors—explaining how one aspect of the world works by equating it with another. Metaphors are incredibly valuable, but they are never perfect. It can be amusing (or, occasionally, worrying) to delve into these metaphors and explore their limits. How far can you stretch this comparison before it breaks?*
One concept that I’ve been pondering lately is that of “love”. (Huge topic, I know. 🙂 ) Specifically, a couple of the common metaphors that attempt to express some aspects of it: a battlefield, and a lottery.
You may know of the song Love is a Battlefield, but it’s not the only place the concept crops up. For example, couples going through difficult times may be encouraged to fight for the relationship. Both metaphors capture the unpredictability/lack of control experienced by those in the throes of passion, as well as the sense of there being something one hopes for. People talk about “winning” or being “lucky” in love.
As usual, however, these metaphors can be troublesome when over-applied. When love is viewed as a prize/goal, people start getting frustrated; they feel they’ve “bought enough tickets” or “fought hard enough”, as it were, that they “deserve” to win something. An unreasonable focus is placed on the end result, not on the process of actually getting to know another human being (which, you know, is the point).
Similarly, the danger of the battlefield metaphor is that it’s ambiguous who the enemy is. It should be the vagaries and difficulties of life that make it hard to find time to devote to each other, but it can all too easily be assumed to be the other person (with predictably disastrous consequences—you should be cooperating, not competing).
So, I guess my point is that it’s worth stopping occasionally to think about how you’re viewing something, and considering whether the metaphor you’re using actually applies.
Do you have your own examples of misapplied concepts?
* Some, not very far at all. For example, the quote “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I think I understand what is intended, but there’s more wrong than right with this concept.