Savvy Saturday – Thinking Across Cultures (2)

Continuing last week’s discussion of individualist and collectivist cultures, here are two beginnings of a story that take place in alternate universes. Kiwa is from a collectivist society, whereas Tika approaches life from an individualist viewpoint. Both face similar situations and make similar choices, but their motivations and worldviews show just how important culture is to the way a story unfolds…

Kiwa was not having a good day. First, her younger sister Ika – twelve years old, certainly old enough to know better – actually cried when she fell off her horse, and then refused to get back on and continue practicing with her cohort. Kiwa’s warrior cohort would never say anything to her face, but she saw the embarrassment in Miko’s eyes, heard the formality in Commander Tomo’s voice, felt the discomfort radiating from Shala and Ona and Nato as they drilled with her, and knew that they all shared her shame. Her parents, of course, would be completely mortified. Do you even care about your family? Kiwa could almost hear her mother asking. What if Commander Shoko had heard you? He would never allow a man in his cohort to marry Kiwa if he thought her sister was disrespectable and disobedient.

 Fortunately, one incident wouldn’t be enough to make Jolo and his family back out of the betrothal. Too many gifts had been given, too many stanzas of poetry read aloud beneath Kiwa’s window for passers-by to hear and smile at, for Jolo to want to declare that he had made a mistake in his choice of bride. Nonetheless, given Jolo’s family’s wealth – second only to Commander Shoko’s in the Stone Forest region – his proposed match with a girl whose family still ate only rice for many of their meals had raised more than a few pairs of eyebrows. Kiwa was well aware that she had only been honored with his proposal because of her father’s exemplary record in the third warrior cohort, as well as her own three years of obedient service in the sixth warrior cohort of the Rider Clan. If Ika didn’t learn to control herself, Jolo’s commanding officer might indeed counsel him to back out of his engagement.

Even worse, Kiwa had just received news that Commander Dasho – head over all fifteen warrior cohorts in the Stone Forest – had summoned her by name to report to him immediately. That was where she was headed now. She moved quickly and smoothly down the dirt road, her inner turmoil hidden behind a face as calm as the cloudless sky above. She ignored the chickens pecking for seed around her, and the loud cries of the Trader Clan and Farmer Clan selling their wares from makeshift stalls on both sides of the road. What could she have done to have attracted his attention? She couldn’t think of anything, but no one was called before the commander unless they had performed unusually poorly or unusually well in their duties. The former brought shame to one’s family and cohort and was unbearable to consider. The latter brought honor to one’s family, but caused disharmony in the cohort, and thus was equally problematic. No one liked to drill and fight with someone who had a big head. As Kiwa had been taught from the time she was young, members of a cohort were equal in every way, trained to fight together like finely crafted pieces in a machine. If a piece started thinking more highly of himself than he ought, it ruined the unity of the machine and led to death at the hands of the barbarian raiders from the mountains, and dishonor for the rest of the Rider Clan. No, it was better not to attract attention from one’s superiors, positive or negative. Kiwa swallowed, and forced herself to keep walking. The only thing worse than attracting attention was neglecting one’s duty, and that would be the last thing she would do.

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Tika was not having a good day. Why had opened her blasted mouth again? She promised herself every day that she would learn self-control, and every day she made some smart-nosed response to Jitli’s snide comments that ended with her lying on the metal floor of the station with a new set of bruises. And today, Noto had seen it. That made everything worse – because of course, he couldn’t let her fight her own battles like the liberated female of the twenty-third century that she was. No, he had to be noble and chivalrous and punch Jitli in the face for attacking his girlfriend.

Which, of course, was why Tika loved him. That, and the fact that he could quote Shakespeare while kicking the snot out of a hundred rabid space-dogs. They complemented each other well, she and Noto did. With her expertise in range weapons and his hand-to-hand skills, with her flute sonatas and his sonnets, they were a match made in heaven. Now if only this war would end so they could have the time to actually get married and settle down, everything would be perfect.

Tika sighed. Unfortunately, that wasn’t going to happen any time soon. She looked down at the orders in her hand for the fifth time. They still told her to report to Commander Doshin, head of Space Station Kronos immediately, so she rubbed her aching legs, groaned, and slowly propelled herself out of the infirmary and down the curving steel halls of the station. She didn’t know what precisely had brought her to Commander Doshin’s attention, but it was likely either the fights, or her recent perfect score on the new blaster certification test. Given her dislike of permanent records placed in her file, she hoped it was the latter.

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The adventures of Kiwa and Tika continue next week! Check back for more. Whose story do you empathize with more? What do you think will happen? Post below – I’d love to hear from you!

4 thoughts on “Savvy Saturday – Thinking Across Cultures (2)

  1. Of the two people, I think I empathize more with Tika and Noto by a hair, chiefly because though I agree with and understand Kiwa’s point that pride can ruin a cohort’s discipline, I think that Kiwa and her people are mistaken in feeling that being noted for doing well will necessarily bring pride. Tika is free from this particular mental kink. Of course, I may simply have misunderstood Kiwa’s thoughts. It is possible that these people merely feel that to become proud is a great flaw, not that being noted for superior work necessarily equals pride.
    On the other hand, I do agree that if Ika is in the warrior cohort, she ought to follow orders and not cry in the middle of drill. That is, of course, assuming that Ika had the option to not be in the cohort if she felt herself unsuitable for functioning as a warrior. If that is not the case, her breakdown becomes much more forgivable and Kiwa’s people are behaving idiotically. To use Kiwa’s own analogy, you can’t build a rifle out of sewing machine parts, and you can’t build an army (or at least a good army) out of natural artisans and craftsmen.
    On the third hand, I find Kiwa’s world and culture more intriguing, perhaps because I have found many more interesting fantasy worlds and stories than science fiction worlds and stories.

  2. Thanks for your comments! All the concerns you raised about Kiwa’s culture are definitely valid – for those of us raised in an individualist society. I’m glad they came through in the story well enough to raise eyebrows for those who think differently! Take a look back at last week’s post for the run-down on how collectivist and individualist societies really do think very differently about life.

  3. So, what would a nonconformist in Tika’s culture look like? Total fan-girl copycat? Stalker?

    Looking forward to more stories! Hooray!

    1. Great question! Thanks for asking! In any society, nonconformists are the ones who embrace views with which most people in the society disagree. In Tika’s society, nonconformists would be people who don’t value individualist values as described in last week’s post. They might form communes where love and peace and mutual wellbeing are valued over achievement and personal self-expression. They might be highly traditional individuals who submit their wills to what society, family, or religion tells them to do rather than what they think would give them the most personal fulfillment. Those who choose to let personal dreams die because they are needed by someone else. There are a thousand ways of being a nonconformist in any society, but these are several ways that spring to mind.

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