Cultural Silos

I was reading a book the other day and it was talking about how various people in a large organization get into “silos,” that is to say, unaware of other people’s points of view.  The word “silo” always makes me hesitate, because I grew up on a farm, and I have a lot of first-hand experience with actual silos.

That said, let us redefine the term:

An extremely common problem we have these days is the issue of people becoming extremely specialized in one narrow field of study.

In my own professional background, in studying music performance to the degree that I had to in order to be a professional, I developed an entire social milieu and language that was only spoken within this narrow circle of other professional musicians.  It is actually very common for the dialect of “shoptalk” to become a dominant language model.  Many people are virtually incapable of carrying on a conversation with someone outside their professional milieu beyond the basic, “how’s the weather?”

If you spend 12, 16, or 20 or more years in one intensive professional “track,” it is not reasonable to think that you would have general social skills.  How can you get them if you never interact meaningfully with people outside your “silo” of professional training and experience?

The lack of a more in-depth common language is a reflection of a lack of common experience, or least our perception of it.  Sad to say, there are people who profit mightily from factions battling one another, and so they are constantly fanning the flames of cultural and political xenophobia.

There is a lot to be said for being highly skilled and specialized, but there is also a lot to be said for being able to communicate with people who are different from yourself.  I notice that people who are brokers of goods and services always seemed to make more money than the people who actually make or provide goods and services.  I once worked for a guy who, when asked about dealing with a client whose political views were the exact opposite of his own, said, “well, his money spends just as good as everyone else’s.”

I could sit and just say “someone ought to do something about this,” but I have no patience for such things.  Instead, I am writing a series of articles for various professional associations lately, and I’m calling this series, “People Skills 101.”  I’m realizing that there is way too much idealistic claptrap being tossed about, and very little realistic sharing and general acceptance of the good, bad, and general imperfection that exists within all of us.  There is way too much propaganda and manipulative symbolism that is skewing our perceptions of ourselves.  If your basic math is bad, the buildings you design will fall down, and if your people skills are based on flawed concepts, the institutions you try to create will also fall apart.

We live in a fractured cultural landscape where we have less and less perceived positive common experience.  This makes it harder and harder to manage conflict, or communicate with customers of a different age, sex, race, or nationality.     As an artist, it is my job to seek the truth of the human condition.  No matter how different you may be, there are many basic things common to us all, and these things need to be reaffirmed.  In a text-message world where one can easily withdraw into a fantasy online gaming reality, I think it is becoming more important than ever that we learn some basic social skills.  I don’t see them being taught anywhere, so I guess I’ll start here.

© Justin Locke


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