Cultural Intelligence

I. The Fundamentals of Cultural Intelligence

Cultural intelligence is a matter of one’s sensitivity to the dynamics and mechanics of social convention which includes a particular society’s ethos, mores, and taboos. It is something that comes naturally and hence automatically or spontaneously in the case of a native inhabitant as s/he develops her/his consciousness–and self-consciousness as well–in the course of her/his physical growth and mental maturation.

Cultural intelligence manifests itself in one’s ability to adapt her/himself in a society’s regular states of affairs. To be culturally intelligent is to be normal in the context of one’s social location. Normalcy, in this sense, is measured in terms of how a person “toes the line” of accepted standards of social behavior. To be accepted, i.e., to be normal is to be correct in the performance of public acts. Correctness is, therefore, a condition that promotes cooperation and harmony in one’s relationship with the rest of the people in society. In other words, it is a situation where one shows a careful attitude of not getting involved in controversial actions that generally tend to rock the boat of society, so to speak.

One facticity that stands out in the present consideration is the reality that humans are not born to start a society, much less create a new culture. The truth of the matter is, we are born in a society that has long been in existence and whose cultural apparatus has likewise been functional with a high degree of stability for a considerable period of time.

II. Appropriating Cultural Intelligence in a Non-native Milieu

The most realistic situation where cultural intelligence is very much needed and thus useful is when one gets into a social encounter in a community where s/he is basically an outsider, whether as a short-term guest or a migrant. This state of affairs requires both sensitivity and the ability to fully understand certain social behaviors and practices that define the culture of that community. In this connection, one needs to exercise her/his sense of adaptability and get into the process of actually fitting her/himself into the socio-cultural context of the community. What recurs at this point is the objective to establish harmony with the local folks and avoid as much as possible actions that could rock the boat and at worst court disaster.

When one is a non-native and s/he wishes to linger longer in a community, it is her/his significant duty to blend well with the locals and do her/his best to win the confidence and goodwill of people who are generally closest to her/him in regular encounters. The locals while getting confident with you in their presence is proof enough that you are accepted and respected and could even end up to be a favorable point of treating you as one of them. You are therefore successful in getting integrated into the community and you owe this to your cultural intelligence.

Failure to pragmatize one’s cultural intelligence leads to isolation. This condition is not only true in the context of an individual person but could be observed in a wider context as in the case of a “ghettoized” sub-cultural group. These are immigrants who simply want to live their own lives and settle in a society that is basically alien to where they originally came from. In the present location, they have brought with them their own unique traditional beliefs, practices and standards that are by and large incongruent to the cultural infrastructure of the new social setting. Conflicts within a spectrum of events from the pettiest to the most hostile, even violent, are not an impossibility because it is expected every now and then that provocative behavior on both sides of the contending parties can erupt.

III. Rationality in the Exercise of Cultural Intelligence

Cultural intelligence is not totally and absolutely couched in unquestioning obedience and silent acceptance. The issue of social adaptability as an exercise of cultural intelligence should always be reckoned within the parameters of the rational and more practically, the reasonable.

This particular point of interest is raised because there are certain cultural beliefs and practices in various societies that defy and reject rationality. Their existence since time immemorial doesn’t give an iota of justification to say that they are morally right. Using the universal criterion of human flourishing, cultural intelligence draws us to test such cultural beliefs and practices in light of the following factors:

1) Amelioration of suffering
2) Resolution of Conflict
3) Promotion of Happiness

When a cultural belief or practice doesn’t match up with at least one of these norms, cultural intelligence dictates that such belief or practice is worth rejecting. Among these are sadly found in Islamic culture like child marriage, harsh and inhuman punishments like hand amputation in cases of robbery, 100 lashes in cases of adultery and fornication and decapitation and stoning to death in cases of what their so-called Shariah court has determined as heinous crimes. These are all social control measures within the ambit of Islamic culture that capitulate rationality and ought to be denounced. Female genitalia mutilation is another dehumanizing practice in some African societies that has to be likewise condemned and absolutely declared immoral.

IV. Conclusion

In the final analysis, cultural intelligence is an exercise of one’s innate ability to respect the morally right beliefs, practices, and standards of certain social orders. Moreover, cultural intelligence is also an active use of human rationality to judge which cultural beliefs, practices, and standards ought to be preserved and which are candidates to be thrown out in the garbage bin of ill-refute and condemnation.

(c) Ruel F. Pepa, 26 February 2019


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