Ever Feel Crazy? Van Gogh and the Blended Culture Person

seeAs a Blended Culture person, do you ever feel crazy? Do you feel that you see things others can’t? Being skilled in multiple cultures is a great asset, a blessing, really. Our ability to see multiple perspectives, multiple realities, is such a needed ability in this world of ours. Very little in life is truly black or white; we need people who can distinguish and navigate—lead us through—the grays. Our world needs Blended Culture leaders, artists, mediators.

Being a Blended Culture person, however, can cause us to feel, well, isolated. Misunderstood. Tired. We might occasionally feel distrusted by those around us. Like too much responsibility for helping others to understand falls on our shoulders. Like we never fully fit in anywhere. Or, if we do, that we are always missing someone else or something else. Always torn.

I was reminded of the Blended Culture experience recently, when I saw the video below. The video uses animation to explain that Van Gogh, while psychotic, was able to perceive something others didn’t—one of nature’s most complex concepts—turbulence, or turbulent flow. Turbulent flow is something that science is only now, 125 years after Van Gogh’s death, starting to understand. Van Gogh painted such turbulence while he was in an insane asylum, no doubt feeling isolated and misunderstood, as so many Blended Culture people occasionally do.

To thrive as Blended Culture people we need patience as well as communication skills. We need to be able to translate what we know, see, and feel so that others who don’t have our multiple perspectives can get a glimpse into other worlds. This is the other huge gift that Van Gogh demonstrated. He was not only able to perceive turbulence when others didn’t, he was able to show us, communicate about it via his paintings, so that the rest of us are able to see it, too! That is the true gift of a Cultural Bridge person!

How does one become a person who builds Cultural Bridges? Using the Cultural Detective Method helps us understand that there are multiple, valid perspectives in any situation and suggests ways to build “communication bridges” across cultural divides. Cultural Detective Online provides low-cost access to more than 60 cultures so you can practice your “bridging skills” and learn to facilitate communication with those who are culturally different.

So the next time you are feeling a bit crazy as a Blended Culture person, seeing “too many” sides of a situation, remember you have a skill—and that you can learn the ability to communicate it to others and build bridges between perspectives!

Je Suis Ahmed! Je Suis Charlie! I’ll Ride With You!

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The Cultural Detective series includes a critical incident entitled, “Danish Cartoon Controversy” (in the Cultural Detective Global Diversity and Inclusion package), about the backlash against cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. We publish it to build understanding of diverse perspectives of the issue and promote meaningful dialogue, healing, and community cohesion.

My childhood aspiration was to become a cartoonist. I practiced for years, and even won a few contests. The events that happened in Paris yesterday, the Charlie Hebdo massacre, feel very close to me, despite the ocean separating Mexico and France. I have tremendous respect for all who fight for freedom of speech AND respect for others, as both, together, are key to civil society.

I stand strong with caricaturists, cartoonists, and journalists worldwide. Here in Mexico where I reside such are far from safe professions. And those who responsibly help us to think more deeply, to see more facets to issues facing us, play a hugely important role in society. Those who use their profession (journalist or imam, cartoonist or preacher) to teach racism, hatred, and disrespect instead of critical thinking and insight, or who promote sensationalism, jumping on the bandwagon of the latest craze or fad to gain viewership, do not respect their own role or power, nor do they show responsibility to the community in which we live.

I love that people throughout the world have risen up in protest against terrorism and defense of the right to free speech. Long live the people! I fear, however, that the “Je suis Charlie” movement will be misconstrued or highjacked as pro-France and anti-Muslim, rather than as anti-terror, as happens oh-so-easily on the world stage. Such is the risk, and complexity, of this media-rich global arena in which communication takes place today.

Terrorism is awful. We can all unite against it. Yet, when terrorists are white, there is not the horrible backlash that there so sadly and predictably is when the terrorists are people of color or Muslim. One more ugly white privilege that I don’t want: I am privileged to not be profiled or publicly disdained, despite the fact that the suspect in the bombing of the NAACP building in Colorado Springs is a homegrown white US American, like me.

AhmedI am, therefore, very encouraged that the #JeSuisAhmed hashtag has risen in popularity with the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag so quickly. Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim, was one of the police officers killed during the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in Paris. The Maroon Colony wrote an excellent piece on why the Ahmed hashtag is so important.

And at what point, will we draw the lines between “freedom of speech” and “hate speech”? At what point do mainstream media outlets, which are largely controlled and written by White people, stop racializing Islam and stop creating humor based on the humiliation of people of color and their culture and faiths? At what point do White people have that moment of self-reflection, without the threat of terrorism to do so?
—The Maroon Colony

I found The Maroon Colony article powerful, but then I read a post by Christoph Jakob on a friend’s wall, and it reconfirmed how very complicated, and in need of thoughtful discussion, this all is:

The person on the second cartoon is the very well respected French Minister of Justice, Christine Taubira. She was compared by a right wing politician to a monkey eating bananas because of the colour of her skin For this comparison he was sentenced and excluded from his party. This started a national debate about limits of freedom of speech and expression. Charlie Hebdo published several cartoons on the topic, always defending 100% Christine Taubira and against all sorts of racism. Mrs Taubira herself mentioned the cartoon during a TV interview and thanked Charlie Hebdo for their support. The name of the right wing party is “rassemlement bleu Marine” thats why in the cartoon the text stays “rassemblement bleu racisme”.

We all stand with the victims. We stand with the need for free speech AND for civil discourse, dialogue, respect, understanding, and community building, not violence. And, I hold out hope that an outcome of the horrible violence can be that we all start to reflect on the inherent bias we all have in our worldviews and communication, myself included.

_79734878_thankyouI am encouraged that we increasingly have voices speaking up, so lucidly, to a minority experience, to the experience of those outside the mainstream power centers. I am reminded of the wonderful #illridewithyou movement in Australia, aimed to stand in solidarity with Muslim neighbors and help them stay safe in the backlash of a terrorist attack. I was sooooo so proud of Australians for that!

Let us stand united, everyone. Do not let the terrorists win, by letting them turn us toward hate, toward division, toward drawing lines between us, towards curtailing freedom of speech in this world of ours. Let us unite against terrorism by binding ourselves together, by learning about and celebrating our differences, by charging ourselves to continual learning, reflection on our own biases and communication, so that, together, we can create a world in which all of us can feel safe, valued, and know that our voices matter.

2014 Year in Review

240_F_71469226_XoKVyVhM4OzQ7CXxB9e3H6myQHfmjOP7The entire Cultural Detective Team would like to thank you most sincerely for being part of our community, and wish you much joy, health and success in the new year!

2014 was a big year for Cultural Detective, as we celebrated our 10th anniversary! We are thrilled to have grown into such a large and talented community of people worldwide, committed to making our world more respectful, collaborative, just and sustainable. Thank you for joining us on this very important journey!

LayeredLensesFinalThis year we were able to achieve another milestone: launching our best-selling Cultural Detective Self Discovery (currently in beta) as part of our Cultural Detective Online platform. This is a huge step forward for our small business.

We are proud that our online tool encourages people to look at themselves and others as beings that are influenced by various cultures, not just nationalities. Now, people are able to explore their individual values as well—their uniqueness—and how they’ve been personally influenced by the cultures around them.

After developing a Personal Values Lens, users can then compare their values with those of any other Values Lens in the online system. This offers a way to investigate aspects of a new culture they might resonate with or find challenging. And it provide a way to strategize about how best to adapt for success cross-culturally, while preserving their sense of self and, also very importantly, their ethics. If you haven’t yet given CD Online a go, you are certainly missing out! Nearly every day I hear a new customer tell me they can’t believe how powerful Cultural Detective Online is, and how affordable. So what are you waiting for?

One additional huge milestone in the CD Online system is the improved group functionality. We are thrilled that users within a group can now collaborate on writing critical incidents and debriefs. Think of the possibilities: your learners working together on cross-cultural stories, told from each person’s perspective! Individual learners can choose to share (or not share) their incidents with the group by submitting it to the group administrator—trainer, coach, professor or team lead. The group administrator can then request the learner to edit the incident and debrief further, or can share the incident and debrief with the entire group. This functionality is transforming the way customers use our system and develop intercultural competence. It is thrilling to witness!

online-learningBecause of these two huge enhancements to our online system, we will be adding a couple of standard webinars to our lineup. As you know, we already conduct monthly complimentary webinars introducing people to this powerful process for cross-cultural collaboration. In 2015, we will add to that lineup by offering a webinar on Cultural Detective Self Discovery, and a second one on Using Group Functionality in CD Online.

The first quarter schedule is live at www.CulturalDetective.EventBrite.com, and additional webinars will be announced throughout the year. One series we are hoping to add will deal with race and power issues, with the intent that by the end of the year we will have some constructive ideas on how to dialogue more effectively with friends, family and colleagues, and how to promote societal change and healing.

Check back frequently and please let your friends and colleagues know about these terrific professional development opportunities. We have people joining our webinars at all hours of the day and night. More importantly and unbelievably, they actually THANK us for keeping them up at 3 am! (We do schedule our webinars at different times to allow for time zone differences, by the way. It’s just that some people are more eager than others.)

In 2014, we added 5000 new readers to our blog, with readers joining us from 167 countries this past year. I find that very encouraging! Our social media reach has grown extensively. Cultural Detective has an active presence on Twitter, LinkedIn (group), Facebook (page), YouTube (channel) and GooglePlus, as well as a Pinterest board of proverbs, several ScoopIt boards, and a weekly Paper.li Intercultural Competence News Feed.

Are you curious what sorts of posts attracted all these new readers? Here is a list of the top ten most popular posts we published this year:

  1. The Nasty (and Noble) Truth about Culture Shock Published in August and already outranking posts published earlier in the year, this post contains a wealth of information, debunks a common myth, and includes free downloadable training materials.
  2. Another Intercultural Research Paper Supports the Cultural Detective Approach Published in January 2014, this post soared to the top of our list and proves you are hungry for research. This study came from Bertelsmann, Stiftung and Fundazione Cariplo.
  3. New Year’s Gift: Oldie but Goodie—The STADIApproach An excellent, tried-and-true design piece, this freebie is still yours for the downloading.
  4. Are You Nice? A guest blog post by Carrie Cameron from May, 2014, recommending to our readers the excellent work of Penelope Brown and Stephen Levinson. Congratulations and thanks, Carrie!
  5. We Are Not (Just) Our Nationalities A very important post from June of this year, we hope each and every one of you will read it and pass it around. None of us has just one story, and Cultural Detective helps us learn about the multiple cultures that influence us, while reminding us we are each unique individuals.
  6. Lack of Diversity Correlates with Religious Hostility This post looks at the powerful results of a Pew Research study and was published in April of this year. If you missed it, be sure to take a look now!
  7. Cultural Detective as a Facilitator’s Magic Tool This guest blog post by facilitator and joke-teller extraordinaire, Tatyana Fertelmeyster, is from June 2014. Congratulations and thank you, Tatyana!
  8. User Tip: Bridging Cultures Offering advice for getting the most out of Cultural Detective, this post was shared with us by long-time expert user Meg Quinn, and just published in October. Congratulations and thank you, Meg!
  9. Clean House and Change the Bedding to Greet the Lava A terrific post that came about because an esteemed colleague, Tim Sullivan, shared the video with us. TERRIFIC training material and an excellent resource on the cultural dynamics of current news! Do not miss this one.
  10. 4 Methods of Learning Culture A short and very powerful excerpt from Cultural Detective Self Discovery, published in early September and quickly gaining in popularity.
  11. Are Emoji the World’s Newest Language A world language quiz and Beyoncé video subtitled in emoji accompanied this post, published in October.

We are thrilled that our blog is now read by over 20,000 people worldwide! We would be proud to showcase the work you are doing to promote intercultural competence, so send your draft article or idea to: blog@culturaldetective.com.

Five of the posts that made it into the top ten list of most-read posts this year were actually written in previous years. Those posts include:

  1. Ten Surefire Ways to Divide into Groups Originally published in June 2013, this post hit its height of popularity in September and October 2014, with over a thousand hits each month—proving that trainers love new ideas!
  2. Five Top (Free and Easy) Virtual Collaboration Tools You May Not (Yet) Be Using Published in November 2013, this post has been a consistent reference tool for our readers ever since.
  3. Can you read this? Originally published in July 2012, this post has slowly but steadily gained popularity every month since. It takes a popular Facebook image created for Spanish readers, accompanied by a similar one created for English readers, and asks you to reflect on the definition of culture and its role in what we perceive. If you haven’t read it, you are overdue.
  4. Research Findings: The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace Published March 2013, this is the post with the most popular video we have ever produced, and presents the findings of the British Council study. Videographers we are not, but even the British Council added our video to their web page.
  5. Want to Feel Ukiuki, Pichipichi and Pinpin? Japanese Food Onomatopoeia One of my personal favorites, this post has gained popularity among our food-related posts, and we know you love food!

From the list above, there are four posts that were not in our top ten for 2014, but still make the blog’s overall top ten list. Those include:

  1. Bicycling in the Yogurt: the French Food Fixation, a terrific guest post by Joe Lurie. If you speak French or enjoy eating, give it a read. Thanks again to Joe for his terrific collaboration in so many ways.
  2. “Belief Holding” as an Intercultural Competence: Religious less motivated by compassion One of my all-time favorite comics and one of my all-time favorite cross-cultural competencies (Michael Rokeach’s Open and Closed Mind), plus the findings of a UC Berkeley study.
  3. Using Film in Intercultural Education I’m very grateful this post is still in our all-time top ten, because it helps me feel our dear colleague and friend Kevin Booker is still with us.
  4. More Cultural Appropriation: The Swastika Also grateful to still see this post up high on the list, because it’s about my all-time favorite critical incident. I shouldn’t play favorites, but I absolutely love this story; it’s just so typical of what happens in Global Diversity work.

Finally, when you write a blog, you love it when someone comments. Otherwise, you can easily get to feeling you are writing in a vacuum. Hearty and heartfelt thanks, therefore, to our most frequent commenters in 2014, each of whom are extraordinary builders of intercultural competence in their own right: George Simons, Vanessa Shaw, Shan McSpadden, Anna Mindess, Jenny Ebermann, and Olivier Marsily.

We look forward to having you join us in a webinar, to reading a guest blog post you might submit, or to dialoguing with you via comments on the blog or social media. Bless you for your commitment to building respect, understanding, collaboration and justice in this world of ours! May 2015 bring you health, joy, love and success!

There is No Such Thing as Common Sense

CDModel&BridgeOrganizations want to hire employees with common sense. Parents want to raise children with good common sense. Universities and schools want to teach our young people to have common sense.

The trouble with the concept is this: my “common sense” is not your “common sense.” What’s common sense to one person is not to another. For example, if a friend stumbles and trips but is obviously unhurt, do you:
  1. Express verbal concern, asking if they are ok?
  2. Pretend you did not notice, to spare any embarrassment?
  3. Make a joke, to lighten the mood and relieve any awkwardness?
  4. Smile or laugh awkwardly, to share the embarrassment with your friend?
Each of these responses can be “common sense” in different circumstances, in different cultures. What if an angry customer calls me? A “common sense” customer service response could include, depending on the corporate culture, national, ethnic or generational culture of the customer service agent:
  1. Doing whatever is within my power, exerting all possible avenues to make the customer happy;
  2. Apologizing and then educating the customer so that they learn how something works and won’t feel frustrated again the next time; or
  3. Telling the customer “no,” as what the customer wants is not part of the contract.

What does the dictionary provide us as the meaning of the term?

Common Sense
noun Sound practical judgment that is independent of specialized knowledge, training, or the like; normal native intelligence.
Origin 1525-35; translation of Latin sēnsus commūnis, itself translation of Greek koinḕ aísthēsis

With such a terrific definition, anyone would want to have common sense. Yet, what is “sound practical judgment” in the tropics (how to stay hydrated and prevent heat and sun stroke) is quite different from “normal native intelligence” in snow country (how to stay warm and find food when it’s cold). Common sense for accountants (income vs. payments needs to balance or be positive) may be quite different than that for sales people (invest now for payoffs later). Sound judgment for women is, fortunately or unfortunately, frequently different than that for men; common sense for a Baby Boomer is often remarkably different than that of a Millennial; and US American society is finally starting to realize that common sense (survival instincts) for a black person is radically different than that for whites.

Common sense depends on where we are, how we’ve been raised, and what knowledge is “common” or shared by members of our communities. Common sense is developed so that we can survive and thrive in the world around us. Thus, common sense is really “cultural sense,” common only to those who share it: those who share a given culture.

Common sense is really “cultural sense,” common only to those who share it: those who share a given culture.

How do we say “common sense” in some major world languages? Might that provide further insight?

     Key: native language, transliteration, “literal meaning”

  • In Arabic: الحِس العام, Al ḥes al ‘aaam, “public sense” or “general sense”
  • In Chinese: 常识, chángshì, or “general knowledge”
  • In French: le bon sense, or “good sense”
  • In German: de gesunder Menschenverstand, “the healthy human sense”
  • In Japanese: 常識, johshiki, or “everyday thinking”
  • In Russian: здравый смысл, zdravyy smysl, or “healthy wit,” meaning you must be crazy not to agree with it
  • In Spanish: sentido común, or “shared sense”

This is why “cultural sense” is a core concept in the Cultural Detective Model. You can see it prominently featured in the graphic at the top of this post, along the bottom edge of the circle. What does “cultural sense” mean, exactly?

Most of us act with the best of intentions on a daily basis. We perform our jobs in ways that we feel they should be done. We treat our co-workers in ways we feel reflect sound judgment. We deal with our neighbors in ways our native intelligence tells us is neighborly. We talk to our children in ways we believe will guide and motivate them, help them become better people. We put our common sense, our cultural sense, to use everyday.

Yet, all too often our actions are misperceived, and our customers, co-workers, neighbors and family members experience negativity in our behavior. They may get angry, frustrated, or disappointed with us. They may be confused about why we do what we do. That is because their common sense, their cultural sense, is different than ours. Their assumptions about appropriate behavior in a given situation are different than our own. Their beliefs about how the world is may differ from ours.

We all aspire to have common sense and to form teams and organizations with common sense. But it is important to remember that establishing shared “common sense” is an ongoing process. Miscommunication and misperception provide opportunities for us to better understand our own values and “native intelligence,” as well as to learn more about the values and native intelligence of those around us.

So, the next time you shake your head at someone’s behavior and wonder if they have any common sense, remember that their cultural sense may just be different than your own! It takes effort, but creating a “shared intelligence” or shared common sense provides a context in which all of us can work, live, and be our best. Regular use of Cultural Detective can help you achieve just that.

Part of the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up.

Cuisine, Culture and Performance

10438640_715299471895885_8128051140435588302_n“A collective. International. Pushing boundaries. Longing to discover new cultures and exchange knowledge. Collaborative. Find your tribe. Exploring the unknown, adapting to uncertain situations, charting new territories to sharpen creativity…”

Does this sound to you like a Cultural Detective? It’s actually taken from the home page of the Gelinaz! website, a collaborative of international chefs doing amazingly creative things. I sooooo want to attend one of their dinners!

Below is a short introductory video to what they are all about:

The group’s tagline is “Cook. Art. Performance.” They last got together at the Villa Panna estate in Tuscany in July for a four-hour, 13-course feast, including a dish with seven varieties of Latin American potatoes, a soup of pig’s blood and chocolate, tripe with wild mushrooms, and crispy pig’s head. Ok, that probably would not have been my favorite meal.

The name “Gelinaz!” pays campy homage to the virtual band “Gorillaz,” who play a fusion of rock, hip hop, reggae, electronica and pop. Like the band, Gelinaz! members combine different genres of cooking in experimental ways. They aim to “build bridges between cuisine and other means of expression,” according to Andrea Petrini, the Italian food writer and founder of the group.Thus far their meals have included Japanese dance, a violinist playing Iron Maiden, and various topless performances.

Gellinaz! reminds me of the myriad of innovative ways you are using Cultural Detective to build intercultural competence in NGOs, communities, faith traditions, at universities, for study abroad, and in multinational organizations. Be sure to share with us your designs and ideas! Together we can change the world.

Global Nomad: Santa (Seriously)

P1210029SantaIn October of this year, walking around after a long week’s work in Vienna, the sight of Santa in a motorized scooter in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral brought a smile to my face and delight to my heart. Who was this guy? And what in the world was he doing?

Approaching the man, I found him quite jolly, and happy to share his story with me. While insisting that his real name is St. Niklaus, he told me that over the past 50 years he has traveled in 81 countries on six continents, hitchhiking over one million miles. He regaled me with stories, joy and laughter, and it warmed my heart to learn that this man is devoted to making the world a better place. Since he is a global nomad and shares our Cultural Detective vision, I thought you might enjoy his story. Maybe you’ve even met this unique gentleman yourself sometime during his world travels.

Santa, or Michael Klein (I learned his real name online), has been traveling the world since he was 29. He was born in Maryland USA, one of 14 children. Michael practiced being Santa ever since he was in elementary school; he loved sharing gifts and candy, and making people laugh. The past few years he has lived in Vienna, after a heart attack, health concerns, and resulting money woes paused his wandering ways. When I met him he was selling postcards of himself in various global locations. I bought one of him with a surfboard in Hawaii, as it reminded me of home in Mexico. Michael doesn’t speak German, at least not very well, but he sure does seem to fully enjoy life in Austria.

Santa urged me to check him out on the Internet, and there I found a campy Advent calendar in video format, with one two-minute episode for each of the first 24 days of December. I embed the first episode below; the link above will take you to all the rest. The calendar was produced by the Vienna Tourist Bureau, so you get to experience some of the sights, sounds and tastes of Wien as you get to know St. Niklaus. What I most enjoy is hearing his stories: what motivated him to pursue his nomadic ways, his value on freedom, how he financed his way around the world, the people he met, the experiences he had, and what his journeys have taught him.

 

How about sharing a story describing some of the quirky, unique people you’ve met during your journeys around the globe? Tell us about those wonderful people who remind us that it is our differences that bring some of the greatest joy to our everyday lives!

Time for a Racism Revolution!

My eyes fill with tears
Bitter, pain-filled, sad-hearted
Flowers in the snow?
***

I am beyond words. As are so many. Racism sucks. It punishes everyone, and has a hugely detrimental effect on society. It breaks my heart to know how hopeless and powerless “ism”s make so many young people feel, in my birth country and elsewhere around this planet. Young people should be feeling passionate and enthusiastic, not alienated.

Racism is a human construct, and WE are the ones who can deconstruct it.

So let’s do it! I type these words habitually. Today, I am not up to it. Today is a day of mourning, of licking the painful wound. I sit at my desk this morning, unable to work. My heart and mind are filled with a confusion of thoughts and emotions. Then, one of my automatically scheduled blog posts is published, on the topic of bananas! I am horrified. How can such a lighthearted topic be published on our blog on a day like today?

Yet, it is somehow fitting. The banana post speaks of world hunger, another societal inequity. This morning I read that the richest 85 people in our world have as much money as the 3.5 BILLION poorest! These billionaires could give away a million dollars a day for the rest of their lives and still not run out of cash! While people go hungry. Just a bit of perspective; I’m not intending to vilify anyone. We are all innocent; we are all guilty. We all have our bits to play. In addition to talking about world hunger, that same blog post shared a training activity designed to help us value our differences. But…

***
“Many black families woke up this morning knowing that the lives of their children are worth less than the lives of white children in America. The deep distrust of law enforcement in their own communities that so many African Americans feel just got deeper last night.”
—Jim Wallis
***

The Ferguson ruling that has me so conflicted today isn’t just about the case itself; it occurs in a larger context. It takes place in a much longer history, one fraught with oppression, misperception, and fear.
  • How can anyone ruling on a case filter out, or factor in, how society has taught a white police officer in a given suburb to see, perceive or feel about an unarmed black youth?
  • Would Michael Brown be dead had he been white? We punish African Americans every day for society’s larger guilt, the guilt that we, collectively, are plagued with given our history and our choices.
  • Would the ruling have been different had Officer Darren Wilson killed a white youth? Whites reap the privileges every day of living in a society with our history and choices, whether we experience it as privilege or not.
  • Violence is wrong, burning buildings and looting is wrong; but we can surely understand the frustration born of feelings of outrage that provoke such violence, after decades of failing to understand, failing to empathize with the pain, and a collective unwillingness to change. There needs to be a release to decades of built-up tension. People seek justice, it is human nature.

***
”A riot is the language of the unheard.”
—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
***

o001_hand_10***
“Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer.
I do not want my son’s death to be in vain.
I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change
that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.”
—Michael’s Brown’s father
***

This morning in my failure to be able to get my work done, I came across a wonderful tool on the USA’s Public Broadcasting System website, called Race: The Power of an Illusion. You may know that race has no genetic basis. Did you know that there is more variation within a race than between races? And that race is a modern construct? Racism evolved to justify social inequalities as “natural.” Please, bookmark the tool and spend some time clicking through and learning with it. I found it very helpful.

***
“Indifference to injustice is
more insidious than the injustice itself.”
—Cornel West
***

There were several pieces I read this morning, amidst the welcome cacophony, that helped me make some bit of sense of what’s happening, that helped me glimpse a constructive path forward.

  1. One of my favorites, as usual, was written by Jim Wallis, author of God’s Politics. It is entitled A Sad Night for America, and focused a call to action to subject our criminal justice system to the requirements of racial justice. “How law enforcement interacts with communities of color raises fundamental, legitimate issues that must be addressed by the whole nation if we are to move forward. The changes we need in both policies and practices must now be taken up in detail. Our neglect has led to anger and hopelessness in a new generation, but their activism will also help lead us to new places. It is indeed time to turn Ferguson from a moment to a movement.”
  2. If, like me, you are white, or born to a privileged socioeconomic bracket, class or caste, there is a terrific article that you might find helpful: 12 Things White People Can Do Now Because of Ferguson. While I consult most of the resources noted therein, it is important to actually read them, to reflect on them, to make personal sense of them, on a regular basis. Only then can we have a hope of living our beliefs and convictions. I’d also encourage you to subscribe to Cultural Detective Online, to examine your personal values via CD Self Discovery, and to overlay those personal values with those of different ethnicities, nationalities, ages and religions.
  3. Finally, I found sense in Barbara Francella’s article, Skittles and Race in the Workplace. Short, to-the-point, and frank, I found it an excellent empathy piece. An organization can not get the best work out of an employee if that person has to leave a major percentage of who she is outside, before entering the workplace.

May we listen to one another, value one another, hear each other’s experiences as “truth,” and work together to build societies that are ever more just, equitable, and sustainable.

Linked to the My Global Life Link-Up at SmallPlanetStudio.com

Bananas!!! Training Activity and Nourishment

images

Click on the audio player above to listen to the “Banana Boat Song” by Harry Belafonte as you read this post.

“Vitamin A deficiency is probably the third largest public health problem in the world,” according to James Dale, Director of the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities at Queensland University of Technology in Australia. “Somewhere between 600,000 and two million children die every year of Vitamin A deficiency, and another million or so go permanently blind. We’ve relied on supplements for a long time to fight malnutrition,” but supplements can be expensive, and many people don’t want to take them.

Stephen Buah, a researcher at the same institution, chimes in, “Ugandans consume about 1.5 kilograms of banana a day, so we’re talking about 400 to 600 kilograms a year. A recent health survey has actually shown that up to 30% of children in Uganda are Vitamin A deficient, and a similar figure goes for women who are pregnant.”

Enter a new project to bio-fortify the East African Highland cooking banana, a staple in the Ugandan diet. Our bodies convert beta-carotene to Vitamin A, so the idea is to increase the naturally occurring beta-carotene in the banana through bio-fortification, using a Papua New Guinean banana. The project has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation since 2005, and the “super-bananas” have just been cleared to begin human trials in the USA.

You may firmly believe that GMO foods are not the answer to world nutritional deficits, or you may applaud this effort. Either way, the project involves cultural twists and ramifications, as such projects always do. This is the interesting part for a Cultural Detective.

Beta-carotene-heavy "super banana" is very orange

Beta-carotene-heavy “super banana” is very orange

Our challenge is that the beta-carotene-heavy “super banana” is bright orange inside. This could prove an impediment to Ugandans and others adopting it into their diets and using it in their traditional dishes. Here are some thoughts from a recent article in Scientific American:

“…bananas are more than just a food staple in Uganda; they are part of the cultural fabric. The Ugandan word for food is actually the same as the word for a traditional meal made of the stewed banana: matooke. Physical attributes of the fruit itself are particularly important to Ugandans, so altering the fruit could have social consequences. For example, when matooke is prepared properly, it obtains a certain yellow color. If you are a woman who prepares matooke of the incorrect color or texture for your husband, you can be beaten.”

“Furthermore, when we asked what trait farmers would like to see most improved about their crops, they consistently selected nearly every other trait before nutrition.”
—Matthew Schnurr, Dalhousie University, Canada

There are many challenges to making sure everyone gets enough nourishment; cross-cultural understanding and communication are one of them. We applaud those who are taking on these challenges and building bridges to enhance access to healthy food and clean water.

Speaking of bananas, I heard about an activity recently that I think might be helpful to you. If anyone knows the original source of the activity, would you please share it with me, for citation here? Thank you. The instructions and debriefing below are my own, based on the idea of exploring how people peel bananas.

bananaActivity: The Banana Peel

Objectives:
Learners will discover that:
  1. Many of us go through life believing that “our way” is “the way” to do something. We often fail to investigate—or even notice—if there are other approaches to performing a task (such as peeling a banana).
  2. “Common sense” (e.g., how to peel a banana) is really “cultural sense,” common only to those who share the same learned patterns of behavior.
  3. “My way” is not the only “right way” and, in fact, may not be the “best way” for the purpose.
  4. Having alternatives, diversity, and knowing more than one way to do something are assets.

Procedure:
This is a terrific activity to conduct prior to a break, or mid-afternoon when learners may be hungry. After making sure your learners have no banana allergies or other restrictions, give each of them a banana.

Ask your learners to peel their bananas and hold onto the peels. Let them know they are welcome to eat the bananas, as well.

That’s it—quick and simple! Remember, the key to experiential learning is the meaning-making that takes place during the debriefing.

Debrief:
The debriefing is the most important part of any learning activity. It is where sense is made of the experience.

  1. Ask learners how they peeled their bananas. Have a few people share.
  2. Ask learners how they learned how to peel a banana. Who taught them? When? Where? Explain to them that this is how culture is learned. Culture is our “common sense,” the template (learned behavior, habits) for how we make decisions and interact with the world.
  3. Ask learners if everyone in the group peeled their bananas in the same way. Encourage learners to look around and discuss. Usually there will be, at minimum, two different ways learners peel their bananas, particularly if you have an international or multi-ethnic group. Many people peel from the stem end, but others peel from the “top,” as illustrated in the video below.
  4. Ask learners if they realized that others were peeling their bananas differently than they were. If they did not, why not? What “blinded” them to seeing the difference? What assumptions did they make?
  5. Ask learners if they think their way of peeling a banana is better than another way. You can ask a couple of learners to speak to this, even setting up a debate if appropriate for your context. You can even make a list of pros and cons of the different methods of peeling. Be sure to note that people tend to be perfectly happy with the way in which they are used to peeling a banana. It’s the same with culture. We think “our” way of doing things is the “right” way or, often, the “only” way. Then, we discover there are other ways of doing things.
  6. Summarize main learning points, e.g., that differences provide us alternatives and add interest to life. Rather than feeling threatened by difference or resisting it, asking people to “fit in,” we can learn from differences and choose the best ways for our team, family, or organization. In a sense, we can create a “third culture.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed the activity, as well as the info on the super-banana. If you have a favorite cross-cultural training activity that you use in conjunction with Cultural Detective, please share it! We’ll be happy to credit you and link to your page. Together, we can build intercultural competence, justice, and respect in this world of ours. Thank you for being with us on this journey!

The Almadraba: A Dying Cultural Tradition?

almadraba10Every May, thousands of Atlantic bluefin tuna (atún rojo) swim through the Strait of Gibraltar at over 30 miles per hour to spawn in the Mediterranean. And for 3000 years fishermen have intercepted the large tuna in a fishing tradition called the almadraba in Andalusia and tonnara in Sicily.

The almadraberos are often sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons of almadraberos, and feel a brotherhood with their fellow fishermen. They tend to be proud and tough, with a strong respect for history and the sea. They catch the tuna by putting out a maze of underwater nets that the bluefin swim through until they reach a final pool, el copo (diagram of a net, below).

LA ALMADRABA

Tuna swim east to the Mediterranean, going through various areas of the net until they reach the “copo,” where they are hoisted up out of the water.

Once the copo is filled, the fishermen circle their boats, working together to haul the huge net to just a few feet below the surface—the levantá del atún, or “raising of the tuna.” There are so many tuna jumping around in such a shallow space above the net that it creates the illusion that the water is boiling.

At this point the copejadores assume the treacherous task of jumping down into the net to hook and hoist the often 1000 pound-plus tuna, whose tails may be longer than the fishermen are tall, into the surrounding boats. Most copejadores have suffered many injuries over the years: broken knees, ankles, wrists, and noses. Some people call the practice slaughter, equating it to what they perceive as the savagery of bull fighting, while others perceive it as a noble tradition.

PESCA-ALMADRABA

So what is endangering the historic almadraba tradition?

  1. Tuna have been overfished: there are half as many bluefin tuna in the Atlantic as there were 39 years ago. Some almadraberos report that they used to catch 1000 tuna a day, whereas now they are lucky to catch that amount in an entire season. The Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (thunnus thynnus) has been listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN’s “red list”) since 2011. But conservationists do not generally blame the almadraba for the species’ decline.
  2. Technology such as sonar tracking and huge vessels have brought stiff competition to traditional fishing methods such as the almadraba. Most research that I have seen in a web search equates overfishing to the larger, high-tech vessels and, ironically, to tuna farming—fishermen catch the young bluefin and then fatten them up in farms—rather than to traditional fishing methods such as almadraba.
  3. Do you like sushi? Japanese regard the cold-water Atlantic bluefin as the best fish in the world for sashimi, and atún rojo has turned the southern Spanish coast into a gastronomic destination. With prices for bluefin in Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish auction higher than ever (you’ll remember one fish sold for $1.8 million in 2013), demand has skyrocketed, which has resulted in the overfishing.tuna2_l

Video of the raising of the nets:

Video of how the almadraba nets work, and a bit of history and geography:

Video of the levantá del atún, right through to the filleting of the meat:

What traditions in your culture are in danger of extinction? How do we determine if it’s time to let go of a practice and flow with the changing times, or hang on to our ancestral practices? And, what makes a tradition a tradition?

Remember How We Used To Celebrate? Culture and Holiday Rituals

image002

Photo from Martha Stewart

Below is a guest blog post by Carrie Cameron, co-author of Cultural Detective Russia.

Another year of enjoying Halloween in the USA just passed. Each year, I notice a bit more shifting of the traditions. For example, commercial haunted houses are proliferating; they seem to be a way for teenagers and young adults to express their Halloween fervor. These days, children don’t only go trick-or-treating around their own neighborhoods as when I was a kid, but often their parents will drive them to neighborhoods that are known to celebrate the evening more vivaciously. Many houses and yards are decorated more and more elaborately every year, probably analogous to the Olympic-grade “competitive” Christmas decorating seen in some parts of the US these days. It’s not just a jack-o-lantern on the porch anymore! And, living in Texas, I have noticed that, over the last five years or so, Mexican Day of the Dead-style imagery has become very popular and even somewhat trendy. (Sometimes I want to remind people that Christians already have two days of the dead, forgotten by many: All Saints’ Day on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2.

I look forward to Halloween and all the fall and winter holidays every year. Like most people over the age of, say, 30, I have fond memories of the way holidays were celebrated when I was a child, and contrast these memories with the way the holidays are celebrated today. But I never realized how intensely emotional and culturally bound these personal representations of holiday traditions are until I participated in an intercultural panel discussion of holidays, years ago, at a SIETAR meeting (Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research).

modernmarketingjapan.blogspot.com

Photo from modernmarketingjapan.com

The discussion began with an Anglo-American woman telling the story of how the practically sacred—for her—ritual of decorating the Christmas tree was misunderstood by her Japanese immigrant husband. He saw it as merely one more task in the holiday preparations, like wrapping gifts or putting lights on the house. She didn’t understand his apparent indifference because the tree-trimming ritual was such a fundamental part of her assumptions about Christmas. This triggered an argument that neither of them really understood. This same woman was shocked to find out, sometime later, that one of her closest friends from a similar background also viewed tree-trimming as a task, rather than a pleasant ritual.

Photo from the Long Beach Post

Photo from the Long Beach Post

Next, an African-American man related how his grown children had begun to insist on celebrating Kwanzaa, which he definitely wasn’t interested in. After a couple of years, he began to accept and enjoy it, and Kwanzaa eventually became an important new part of their family life together.

Photo from dawn.com

Photo from dawn.com

A Pakistani man told of how he felt excluded from the apparent “universal” joy of Christmas. He struggled to understand why small gifts were presented to children in socks—didn’t that seem unhygienic? (This upset some of the Christians in the group.) He also shared his feelings about the “universal” joy of Eid, and how that deep down, he couldn’t really understand the indifference of his US American friends and colleagues when Eid came around.

A Mexican-American woman found it puzzling how many Anglo-Americans celebrated Easter as a seemingly frivolous children’s holiday. To her, it was a solemn occasion. The Asians saw New Year’s as a time to be with family, rather than at the most glamorous or wildest party of the year. (Do any of the US Americans remember having a family New Year’s Day dinner, or do you still celebrate the holiday in that way??)

But for everyone in the room, the most touching moment was when a woman told her story of growing up mainstream Christian in the US, and how her parents converted to another sect when she was about ten years old. The new sect did not permit Christmas to be celebrated with gifts, decorations, feasting, and parties—it was a serious and purely religious event. As she told of how she and her brother had suddenly become walled off from all of the traditions, activities, images, music, and food surrounding their previous understanding of Christmas, she began to cry, having never had the chance to consciously mourn and articulate this loss. All of the hearts in the room were breaking for her: same holiday—different symbolism. At that moment, I realized just how truly profound a part of our being our cultural symbols of the holidays are. They are irrational, deep within us, and sometimes the source of surprisingly intense emotion.

Having the opportunity to verbalize, compare, and process these intimate personal and cultural meanings was a tremendously valuable experience for everyone in the room. Going beyond the “face value” of the symbols to their significance was a powerful bridge-building moment, and I think we all felt the universality and peace of the holidays a little more brightly that year.

Post-script: As I was writing this, I received a text from a friend in Japan about a “peanut bird wreath.” It was accompanied by a photo of a woman wearing a pin that consisted of a silver pine cone, a yellow ribbon, and a cluster of peanuts in their shells. My knee-jerk reaction, seeing the word “wreath” and a silver pine cone, was that this was some kind of Japanese interpretation of a Christmas item. I immediately thought, “The ribbon is not supposed to be yellow, and peanuts have nothing to do with Christmas.” A few moments later I received a follow-up text informing me that they were at the Bird Festival. Gomen nasai. I guess I am a cultural being!