Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Human Interaction part 2 - cultural taboo

This is another article in the series I mentioned yesterday about human development and behavior.   I find the notion of taboo fascinating.  What is taboo in our culture, and what is taboo in other cultures (they're not always the same).

In this part of the series, the interviewer and main interviewee talk about complex social interaction.  One of the things that the woman brings up is that some conversation topics are taboo.  One she mentions is death


I didn't realize talking about death was a taboo :). 

I believe there are different layers of conversation, times when some topics are okay, and times when they are not.  That's what I've learned over the years, anyhow.  Personally, I've struggled with tact and appropriate behavior for quite some time.

Yet I find that the people I'm drawn to, the people I find interesting are almost always the ones who push that envelope.  Who bring up uncomfortable truths no one wants to talk about. Not in a hurtful manner, of course, that's not easy to be around either. 

It's a balance - and a difficult line to tread.  I have sympathy for people who aren't able to navigate that line - who may be pre-disposed to not see those taboos or effortlessly navigate complex social interaction.

With that said, the cultural taboos I found in Russia were fascinating as well. They were not second nature to many of us (the American students).  Fortunately, some students had been there before and sent us a workbook full of tips.  Some could be considered superstition - but the line between taboo and superstition isn't terribly far.  Things like women were not supposed to sit on concrete or the ground (bad luck).  Or to give an even number of flowers (it meant death). 

I don't know if there were conversation topics that were taboo, I never understood the language or culture enough. 

1 comment:

Freckle Face Girl said...

When I moved to the Middle East and saw how easily they speak about death and how well they handle it, I realized that death is mostly a taboo topic in the US. One of the Arabs I knew lost his 19 year old brother in a foolish car accident. I consider myself a fairly open book type of person and people often share things with me that they usually hold back, but I was shocked by how well they openned up about it.

I do believe that for Mormons it isn't quite as taboo. Mormons say it is because families are forever... I don't know the secret to this topic, but believing in some kind of after life might be the key.

As for other taboo topics, the US is not known for having many. Too many Europeans view us as Jerry Springer-ish.