Saturday, October 15, 2005

Life and death decisions - how long does it take to understand a high context culture?

The other morning, I listened to an interview with Lt. General David Petraeus. The General had recently completed an eighteen month assignment as head of training for the new Iraqi army. He previously served for a year in Iraq as commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division.

What struck me about the interview was the brevity of General Petraeus tours and those of other military officers. ‘How long is long enough?’ is the question these tours of short duration raise in my mind.

Developing or transitional societies, like Iraq, Afghanistan, and the country I know best, Sri Lanka, are what anthropologists sometimes call ‘high context’ societies. Interpersonal relations and a sensitivity to subtle cultural cues play a far more role that in the United States (though American University, too, is a high context culture). Understanding what is going on and getting things done depends on whom you know and especially whom you can trust. Trust is essential because formal institutions and social safety nets are so much more fragile. In many circumstances your life can depend, quite literally, on whom you can trust.

As some readers will know, I have been studying about, writing about and visiting Sri Lanka for eighteen years. I have lived in the country for extended periods of time. I have friends I can trust and who trust me. These trusting relationships reflect shared confidences and mutual understandings that have grown up over years. Every time I visit Sri Lanka I ‘peel another layer off the onion.’ I see something that was previously invisible. I understand something that was previously opaque.

I wonder how much General Petraeus and his colleagues can possibly know about Iraq after being there for such a short period of time under such artificial circumstances. How well equipped are they – really – to be making the life and death decisions for which they are responsible?


Blogger The Coupon Guru said...

I liked your india online shopping blog. I found this india online shopping site while browising... Check It Out !

5:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, you have a great blog here! I'm definitely going to bookmark you!

I have a christmas gift site/blog. It pretty much covers gift ideas for christmas related stuff.

Come and check it out if you get time :-)

8:04 AM  
Blogger shopping-mall said...

Hey, great blog! Keep it up.

I have a online music shopping site. It pretty much covers online music shoppingrelated stuff.

Come and have a look if you get time :-)

7:40 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home