Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Father Oleksa on Culture and Bagpiper Plays Alaska Flag Song

Talking about cross-cultural communication problems isn't easy.  No one does it more effectively than Alaska's Father Michael Oleksa.  With lots of stories about his own German-Russian background and his wife's Yupik background and his many stories of teaching around Alaksa, he uses humor and a lot of thoughtful insight to get audiences to see how embedded our own cultures are in our brains and that there are reasonable alternatives to what we've grown up believing was 'the correct way' in any number of situations.

[UPDATE 9pm - Whoops.  I forgot the photo of Father Oleksa.  Here it is.]

He spoke today at the Alaska Federal Executive Association's Civil Rights Committee had its Multi-Cultural celebration Wednesday at Loussac Library. 

There's no way I can convey all he said, but I can give his overview of culture.  If it makes sense - you should try to find an opportunity to hear him spell it all out.  If it doesn't make sense - you should try to find an opportunity to hear him spell it all out.

Basically, he offered three definitions of culture:
  1. Your view of the world - your culture's stories about how the world works
  2. Your 'ballgame' of life - every culture has rules about how to play the game of life.  He discussed the conflict between his mother's German and father's Russian sense of time.  One was strictly tied to the clock, the other was more flexibly related to the natural flow of things.
  3. The story into which you were born - these are the family stories you grew up with, which slowly get added to over your life, not necessarily in any chronological order, and not necessarily told the same way by everyone.
He pointed out that most people aren't really aware of the first two.  We tend to know these things subconsciously.  Only the third one is something that people can articulate.  For that reason, he suggested that people from different cultures ask each other about their grandparents' stories as a way of starting to understand each other.

Father Oleksa's website lists his videos and writings and audio, but isn't clear about how to get hold of them.  Communicating across cultures [videorecording] / is available at Loussac Library.  I promise you the videos will be wonderful to play for your family. They are NOT dry and boring. You'll smile and you'll gain insight.

After Father Oleksa spoke, we heard an example of cross-cultural fusion - Dan Henderson of the Alaska Celtic Center played the Alaska Flag Song on his bagpipe.

I learned that bagpipes were brought to the British Isles by the Romans and were banned for 75 years after they were declared a weapon of war by the British.

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