Steve's personal weblog

Interesting flotsam on programming, Java, .NET, Configuration Management, and the geek lifestyle.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

TDD and Multiculturalism While reading Jeremy's blog, i happened across this link. A very good post on TDD, but what I found interesting was this section on multiculturalism.
I think I could have accelerated the TDD assimilation process if I had a mentor who could have clearly bridged the gap between what the Java folks were saying and my own experience. In truth, I just didn’t have the code skills and experience to be able to identify with the issues that these folks were talking about and readily solving. I knew they were accomplishing something; I just couldn’t map that something to my own experience. It’s like learning a foreign language and finding words that represent concepts that the English language doesn’t even recognize. It’s not a linguistic division, it’s a cultural division. I can "speak" Java, but I don’t claim to understand the poetry or humor. For this, you've gotta be much more than multilingual. Multilingualism is just the road sign that might tell you how far away you are from the on-ramp. Multiculturalism is when you merge with the traffic as an inconspicuous, well-integrated part of the whole. I got lots of experience in multiculturalism from growing up in Montreal. In case you might have missed it, Montreal is in that massive chunk of the Canadian Shield called Quebec where the official language of the land is French. I learned to "speak" French as a kid. It didn’t occur to me that I had never laughed at a French joke until I was about twenty-five. I was rolling in tears in belly laughter from a quip that a band mate had just fired off before I realized that something quite significant had happened. I had crossed a subtle, invisible line from multilingualism to multiculturalism. I had spent enough time immersed in French Canadian culture by spending so much time with a group of east-side, unilingually French guys that I had gained an innate sense of what makes certain concepts more significant than others, and how those things become irony and humor in the right context. At that moment I also realized that Quebec's linguistic battles could ramble on forever. Much of Montreal's population is bilingual, but few bother to immerse themselves in each other's culture and in each other's concerns. Only a relatively small portion of the population would ever gain an innate understanding for the concerns of the other. Bi-lateral understanding would hinge upon this kind of depth of awareness. It felt like we were doomed. Not just because so few people had given themselves the opportunity to become bicultural, but because so few people had actually become aware of the differences that were so subtle to perception, yet so profound in effect on behavior. Without the understanding that multilingualism is just the tip of the iceberg, the potential for progress would always be stuck in the muddlings of separatism.
A great analysis - really 'getting' someone else's culture leads to a whole new level of understanding of them. And when you further realize that each of us is a member of many cultures, it starts to boggle the mind. I'm a member of the white culture, man culture, american culture, english speaking, geek, liberal, etc. etc. Sometimes when we don't understand each other, it is because of cultural impedance mismatches. The whole "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" idea is derived from this. Men and Women are from different cultures, even if they share other cultures. I wonder if "understanding a joke in that culture" is a good yardstick to measure mutliculturalism?