• Cara Cilento

Breaking Cultural Barriers

Updated: May 2

I never shy away from diverse characters, and I am constantly breaking cultural barriers on the way. Why? Because look at all the things there are to include: All cultures have shared manners, customs, beliefs, rituals, ceremonies, laws, ideas, thought patterns, arts, tools, social institutions, religious beliefs, myths and legends, knowledge, values, a concept of self, morals, ideals and accepted ways of behaving. PHEW! Did you get all that? It is a lot to digest, yet all these things make us who we are. They give us a great sense of pride, self worth, and foundation, yet they leave room for improvisation, an essential piece to breaking cultural barriers between people which is the space I write from.

Breaking Cultural Barriers With Improvisation

Improvisation is key to writing about people from different cultures than our own. It provides the flexibility to share our minds. It allows us to be inclusive of people no matter where they are from, their backgrounds, their history, and all the things I listed above. You know what else makes breaking cultural barriers possible? Diverse literature and writing lots of it.

In diverse literature, such as mine, the written word is used for breaking cultural barriers. How do I do that? I use strategic improvisation. Let me explain, improvisation allows you, the reader, listener or speaker, to gather bits and pieces of thoughts and ideas, put them together in a way so the listener understands even if either of you do not share any common ground. That is improvisation. As a professional storyteller, I use strategic improvisation. I pick each character or story element with care, sensitivity, and firsthand knowledge of their qualities. After I complete my manuscript, it is read and re-read by beta and sensitivity readers who also have firsthand knowledge of the character’s nuances, their culture and even their circumstances. Then and only then can I say I successfully built the common ground for the characters, myself and you, the reader, to stand on. Get it? I strategically picked the best words, circumstances, body language and events to share while your ability to connect with my manuscript is the final verdict on how well I improvised, made something completely new out of something I already had.

Now, does that mean everyone will agree with my depiction? Of course not! But that’s where we go back to plain old improvisation. Improvisation allows you to accept everyone's different and may not follow all the tenets of a religion, culture, ceremony etc. Strategic improvisation allows me to write books about those character specific nuances with grace and acceptance, therefore providing a place of openness and mutual respect. Which, by definition, is breaking cultural barriers.

Breaking Cultural Barriers Without Improvisation

Without strategic improvisation, it would be impossible to build a bridge between you and the characters. Like dominoes, if there is no bridge between you and the character, then there will be no connection between you and the story. For you, the story would be flat and lifeless. Therefore, it’s important for you, the reader, to understand the meaning of the character’s words, the meaning of the character’s body language, and the meaning of the character’s actions. Subsequently, it is paramount for me, the professional storyteller, to represent diverse characters accurately. If I don’t then words and actions will create a misunderstanding between you, the story, and myself. This conflict stops breaking cultural barriers and continues to propagate them.

So, let’s do an exercise. Think about a character from a book you read. If that character took you to lunch, what could you expect them to share about themselves? What are some things they would talk about? What would you share about yourself? How would you explain who you are, especially if your culture is foreign to the character’s? If you can anticipate the contents of the exchange, then the professional storyteller did a great job breaking cultural barriers and giving you the knowledge you need to flex your improvisational skills.

Reading diverse literature not only starts breaking cultural barriers, but it translates into everyday lives. It fosters camaraderie, knowledge, self inspection and self acceptance...and to me, that's a treasure to find between 300 pages of any kind of book.

Check out my book! It's available here: Say Cheese! The World is Watching

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