Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Cultural Assumptions and Communication

A panel of judges recently threw out two cases that attempting to prosecute men held at the Guantanamo Bay internment camp. Court materials submitted by the prosecution referred to the defendants as enemy combatants. According to the the judges who heard the cases the defendants needed to first be classified as unlawful enemy combatants before they would here the cases in question. An army official stated their understanding was that all enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay are unlawful. But according to the judges who heard the cases there is an important difference in the two designations. The law at issue treats unlawful enemy combatants different from enemy combatants.

This incident provides a great example of how cultural assumptions can develop within an organization. Every organization or group has a culture or shared set of ground rules. These ground rules govern how a group functions, member behavior and how the group should perceive and interact with the outside world. The perception of the army official in the above cited incident was all combatants are unlawful so labels aren't important. The judges who heard the case didn't share the same perception. One definition for communication is the sharing of meaning. How can you share meaning when you aren't speaking the same language or giving words the same definition? We need to be conscious of our perception or assumptions in any situation. We need to also do our homework and be aware of the assumed reality of other communication partners.

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