Journal of Intercultural Communication, issue 4, 2000

James Leigh

Implications of Universal and Parochial Behavior for Intercultural Communication


Human behavior is striking for it is the same and yet different. Many common behaviors are displayed by humans around the world whatever their race or ethnic heritage. And yet there are also unique parochial behaviors among various peoples. That is behaviors that are bound to a particular culture or ethnic group in their locale or milieu. Of course the interaction of different cultures may lead to common cultural phenomena and behaviour across various human groups - hence for example, TV, blue jeans and hello are just about ubiquitous.
Human behavior is largely rooted in one or both of the following:

  • Biological heritage
  • Cultural heritage
    Universal behavior, that is shared by humans around the world therefore, is based in human biological inheritance passed on through the generations of all mankind. Alternatively, behavior that is different among the various groups of mankind, is developed in our learned behavior from our social and physical surroundings.
    It should be no surprise therefore, to see that the interaction of diverse parochial behaviors across cultural borders often lead to unintended misunderstanding - even conflict. This misunderstanding may appear as the received meaning of the various exotic behaviors' messages are found offensive, even if they were not meant to be so.
    In this paper, first of all human behavior that is universal will be looked at. Then a comparative-culture view of learned parochial behavior will be taken of various unique and culturally bound behaviors. However, the overall thrust of the paper is practical. From the insights gained of human behavior, some empathy-based practical communication techniques for effective intercultural communication are listed. With their application, intercultural offence may be minimised, and co-operation and understanding maximised.

    Back to Intercultural Communication
    Back to the Immigrant Institute