What is it that makes intercultural communication, especially about sensitive issues, difficult?

I can think of many reasons – and I’d be interested in also hearing your thoughts. As one of many of the difficulty, I think the following pattern frequently occurs:


When people get defensive about sensitive issues they often make generalizations and give labels intended to attack the credibility/image of another person or group (e.g. derogatory slurs – which are too abundant to name them all – or terms such as worthless, “evil”, bigot, and so on). In an emotionally vulnerable state – instead of isolating conversation to specific aspects of an issue or policy that they disagree with (while generally having respect for the people involved), too often people make sweeping generalizations that do little good (even for their own cause) and usually only end up doing more to alienate groups and polarize differences. In this kind of an environment people tend to minimize their own faults (and if they admit them at all, justify them through some sort of blame) while at the same time over-emphasizing the negative in the other side.


These kinds of interactions are painfully evident internationally in disagreements between China and Japan, arguments between various racial groups in South Africa, and the controversies between Sunnis and Shiites, Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East, the so-called “war on terror”, and the list goes on and on.

In the U.S., this kind of pattern has contributed to an increasing divide between liberals and conservatives (as seen in unfair over-generalizations by either side of controversial political figures such as Hillary Clinton or George Bush).

Historically and recently inter-religious discussions also prove difficult.

So it is not surprising what happens when you combine religion and politics. It easily becomes evident why religion and politics are two issues that usually are omitted from polite discussions.

I’d like to look at recent online discussions about politics and religion, and briefly compare them to some larger international issues. I want to also consider the interesting dynamic that occurs with Internet communications; one aspect of which is how people can anonymously post comments regarding sensitive issues. Additionally I’d like to question to role of existing media and entertainment sources in existing interpersonal and intercultural relations.

I’m very interested in other people’s thoughts on the pattern that I speak about.

  • Do you see the same pattern?
  • What, in your opinion, contributes to it?
  • What do you think are the best approaches to mediate such conflicts?
  • How can disagreements about issues be productive instead of destructive?
  • What has been the role and impact of the Internet?
  • What has been the role of media and entertainment sources in either propagating or dismantling stereotypes, etc.?

To be continued…