Early in our nation’s history, white settlement of the Americas began a long-standing tradition of misunderstanding and hostility between Native American tribes and United States society. Intercultural communication barriers lent themselves to assumptions and intolerance, which led to warfare, bloodshed, and the eventual destruction of an entire culture’s traditional ways of life. Today, stereotypical representations of the “cowboys and Indians” of the 1800s continue to perpetuate hurtful misconceptions that further thwart attempts at understanding between the cultures.
One motion picture, released almost two decades ago, served to demonstrate how a thoughtful, respectful approach across cultural boundaries might have resulted in a more peaceful exchange of understanding and appreciation for differences among peoples. As its main character strives to understand a new people he has never before encountered, Dances With Wolves (Wilson & Costner, 1990) leads viewers on an ongoing exploration of intercultural communication and the overcoming of communication barriers.
During one of Dunbar’s early encounters with the Lakota, he engages in an experimental exchange at his fort in which Kicking Bird and a hotheaded young warrior named Wind In His Hair, among others, join him to initiate communication. Experiencing what Beebe, Beebe, and Redmond (2008) call “different communication codes” (p. 103), Dunbar and his visitors find themselves unable to understand each other’s languages.
Because Wind In His Hair carries feelings of suspicion and scorn toward the white man at the fort, he displays feelings of cultural superiority toward Dunbar-what Beebe, Beebe, and Redmond refer to as “ethnocentrism” (p. 103)-through his derogatory comments to his Lakota companions, which Dunbar cannot understand. Differing languages prevent Dunbar from speaking directly to his visitors to determine their motives, and Wind In His Hair’s sense of superiority over what he sees as a foolish white man prevents him from readily responding to Dunbar’s good intentions.
While their different communication codes prevent the members of the group from asking questions of each other to obtain information, as Beebe, Beebe, and Redmond (2008) suggest, Dunbar and Kicking Bird gain initial understanding of one another’s desire to communicate by observing one another’s gestures, facial expressions, and reactions. Their mutual patience and willingness to “tolerate ambiguity” (p. 113) allow them to work through the language block to learn about one another by watching and clarifying through nonverbal means until they reach an unspoken understanding.
For instance, vexed by the language barrier, Dunbar begins to demonstrate items from his fort, such as a coffee grinder, that catch his visitors’ interest and allow him to appeal to their senses of humor as he engages in some silly behavior. Even the hostile Wind In His Hair is won over by the discovery of fresh coffee and sugar to go with it. Another pivotal scene in Dances With Wolves (Wilson ; Costner, 1990) depicts Dunbar, Kicking Bird, and Stands With a Fist as the three meet together for the first time in the Lakota village, after Stands With a Fist has recovered from her injuries.
Earlier exchanges inform the viewer that Kicking Bird is fascinated with Dunbar and has pressured Stands With a Fist to act as an interpreter to learn what she can from the white man in their midst. Stands With a Fist is reluctant to do so because she fears a return to the white world, and she clearly approaches Dunbar while “assuming differences” (p. 107), or believing she has nothing in common with him, as Beebe, Beebe, and Redmond (2008) explain.
In addition, Beebe, Beebe, and Redmond’s concept of different communication codes also plays into this scene due to Stands With a Fist’s limited memory of the English language and Dunbar’s inability to understand the Lakota exchanges between Stands With a Fist and Kicking Bird. These factors combine to add a great deal of tension to the exchange because Stands With a Fist’s fear of Dunbar’s differences is explicitly demonstrated through her reserved behavior toward him, and Dunbar infers that she is uncomfortable but not the reasons why.
Dunbar and Kicking Bird attempt to seek information about one another by asking questions and listening carefully to the answers. However, their efforts are thwarted by Stands With a Fist’s initial reluctance to create what Beebe, Beebe, and Redmond (2008) refer to as a “third culture” (p. 111), in which the three could create an atmosphere of acceptance and find common ground upon which to learn about each other. Stands With a Fist could have acted as a more effective facilitator by using her prior knowledge of white culture to “develop mindfulness” (p. 13) of both Dunbar’s and Kicking Bird’s backgrounds to help them understand one another and answer each other’s questions. Although the motion picture ends with a sense of certain doom for the Lakota people at the hands of white civilization, Dances With Wolves (Wilson & Costner, 1990) served to illustrate for millions of viewers the roles sensitivity and mutual respect can play in matters of intercultural communication. The film not only expounded on the joys and affirmations to be found in exploring other cultures but also demonstrated the dreadful consequences of intolerance and prejudice.
Dances With Wolves lives on as a cinematic commentary on the nation’s gross mishandling of an era that could have ended in friendship and understanding, rather than bloodshed and death. All that could have made the difference is the concept of patient, mutual effort toward intercultural communication. References Wilson, J. (Producer), ; Costner, K. (Director) (1990). Dances With Wolves [Motion picture]. United States: Orion Pictures. Beebe, S. , Beebe, S. , and Redmond, M. (2008). Interpersonal Communication: Relating to Others (5th ed. ). Allyn ; Bacon. Anderson (Josh Hamilton) travels to India to train his replacement, but no one there can pronounce his name. Instead, everyone calls him “Toad”. Outsourced is a modern day comedy of cross-cultural conflict and romance. Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton) spends his days managing a customer call center in Seattle until his job, along with those of the entire office, are outsourced to India. Adding insult to injury, Todd must travel to India to train his new replacement. As he navigates through the chaos of Bombay and an office paralyzed by constant cultural isunderstandings, Todd yearns to return to the comforts of home. But it is through his team of quirky yet likable Indian call center workers, including his friendly and motivated replacement, Puro (Asif Basra), and the charming, opinionated Asha (Ayesha Dharker), that Todd realizes that he too has a lot to learn — not only about India and America, but about himself. He soon discovers that being outsourced may be the best thing that ever happened to him. http://outsourcedthemovie. directtrack…