No metaphor is complete, but every metaphor offers a fresh point of view when we are trying to understand something that seems complex. Soooo, let's explore the metaphor of weather as a new path to understanding culture. Why? There are a dozen reasons:
- The earth’s weather, like human culture, is a vast system, a system of systems.
- Like the weather, cultures change regularly. We can perceive periods of stability and seasons of change. Weather and cultures experience fluctuations within normal ranges as well as times of radical disturbance, even catastrophic interruptions.
- Despite common complaints about heat and cold, ultimately everyone experiences the weather and culture in their own way. Our health may depend on how we deal with either. There are things we notice and things we ignore. There are bits we like and dislike, days to stay home and days to venture forth.
- Some people expatriate to or from the sunshine, some stay put. The same is true of the mobility choices within as well as outside of one's cultures. Weather has been an important descriptor of human moods as well as a determinant in human migration, genetic distribution and cultural dissemination since the origin of the various human species.
- Some days are clear, others cloudy. Likewise, our perception of cultural narratives and values may be well understood while others remain, well, foggy.
- Cultural narratives and proclivities may be measured by their frequency and effects. We might assign them a temperature or a wind speed.
- Prediction of weather and culture can occasionally be spot on, often close to, and sometimes far off the mark. Perhaps both meteorologists and interculturalists share the same credibility challenges?
- Weather and cultures may dictate what to wear, how to dress and how to look, what is food and drink and what is not, what is in-season and out-of-season. They may work hand-in-hand to formulate function and fashion.
- There are places where the weather seems more unpredictable than in other places. When we visited Dublin for our last SIETAR EU congress, we were advised, "If you don't like Irish weather, wait five minutes." Some climates and cultures are rather rigorous and constant, others flexible and erratic.
- There is climate shock and culture shock. Unexpected surprises can show up in exposure to both climate and culture. It's easy to slip on the footpath if you are from a culture where ice is only found in the freezer. Whoops, didn’t you know there is something called sunblock, Whitey… or should we call you Pinkey now? Will you change your name to adapt?
- Acclimatization and acculturation pose some of the same challenges and may not happen in a single lifetime.
- The weather affects us and we affect it by our beliefs and activities. One might speak of culture as a socially constructed ecosystem, with similar risks of sustainability and degradation.
What’s your weather like today? What’s your culture like today? What else do you see in this metaphor?
Coming soon, some tips on how to explore the cultural climate and climate change…
Image: Even alligators expatriate to higher ground in a hurricane.
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