Trust across cultures

As said in an earlier, in fact my previous post ;-), the range of topics possible to discuss when having read Cherryh’s Chanur books are many and varied. One of the ones most often talked about is gender. Therefore I’ll let that thread rest. Maybe I’ll pick it up later. But for now I’ll reflect on another topic – that of trust.

Take eight different species, three of them not breathing oxygen and one of the oxygen breathers an intruder. Even so the four resident oxygen breathers are very different from each other – from different planets, and thus from vastly different cultures. It should be obvious to us as readers to appreciate the differences, but instead we fall into the trap of anthropomorphising. Or at least I do. Repeatedly.

And what happens is that despite the characters too knowing about these differences, and in some cases learning about the at the same moment as the reader do so, they have troubles with understanding and interpreting each other. It becomes clear to the reader that language is a cultural construct, something that resides within the culture, and not every expression translates very well. Rather the opposite, and it is visible in the pidgin language shared between the hani and their mahendo’sat allies. But it is also obvious in the clashes between groundling or station bound hani and their spacer kin – culture can change within a species as well, culture is in constant evolution – it is the means by which we handle our reality.

It’s almost that the truly weird kif are easier to understand because they are so alien anthropomorphising is not an issue.

So while the hani captain Pyanfar ought to trust her two mahen “friends” Ana and Jik she doesn’t. This is partly because she realises they have been meddling and manipulating, both her and others, and it isn’t until the next to last book that we learn the reason for their behaviour (conditioning), and maybe we don’t exactly understand how their society functions until the next to last chapter of that fourth book.

Are these issues unique to a pretend universe? I think not. Cultures here on our planet places value on different things and behaviours. Immigrant parents don’t understand their kids who have grown up in a different society not only because the surrounding culture is different from what their parents grew up with but because they are younger, and culture and society are fleeting, almost as chimeras. Even waster gaps exist if you look on a greater scale, between and across continents.

How can we expect trust when we can’t even talk to each other without misunderstandings? How can we expect trust when one bows to the other only out of fear? How can we expect trust when one thinks he’s more valuable than another, just because he’s of a different colour or religion or, indeed, only wealthier?

Valid questions. Because I think trust is essential when humans deals with each other – without trust politic society wouldn’t hold.

Will it?


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