What is Privilege?

Today a diversity and inclusion colleague I highly respect posted a link to an exercise in which participants line up side-by-side and then take a step back for each type of privilege they have not experienced in their lives. 35 types of privilege are listed in the article, and a short video about it is below. It’s a powerful exercise, filled with potentially transformative learning.

It’s also an exercise that I’ve had several successful people tell me over the years was a traumatic experience for them. Why? Because, experiential learning activities require proper debriefing! The woman in my story was actually told, when she was standing alone at the back of the room, “See how inclusive our company is? Even someone so lacking in privilege can be successful here!” Exactly the opposite of the desired outcome for the exercise!

The meaning we make of our experience is in the debriefing! It takes a skillful facilitator to speak up to a CEO, but ethics and learning require it be done.

Please join Daniel Yalowitz (vice-provost for graduate education at the SIT Graduate Institute) and me for a five-day session at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication, “Gaining Gaming Competence: The Meaning is in the Debriefing,” and/or a one-day session, “Gaming Agility: Getting More Out of Our Tools.”

We look forward to seeing you there, and to working with you to build inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and justice in our workplaces and communities!

The Wedding Quiz

800px-Indian_wedding_DelhiConsider this: it is your wedding day, and you are a young bride-to-be. Your family and friends have been planning for this event for months. Just as the ceremony is about to begin, your future husband has a seizure. What do you do?

  1. Immediately stop the wedding and accompany your future husband to the hospital.
  2. While your future husband goes off to the hospital, explain to your guests that there will be no wedding today, but everyone should enjoy a nice a party since they are already here and there is plenty of food and drink.
  3. Everything is prepared, so just select another man from among the guests in attendance to be your new husband, and go on with the wedding.

I didn’t make this situation up, rather it is something I read in the Times of India, “Groom unwell, bride weds guest in fit of rage,” which really made me think about my own reaction to the story and my own cultural assumptions.

This wedding took place in India. It seems that the bride–to-be and her family had not been told of the medical condition of the groom prior to the wedding. So when the groom had an epileptic seizure, she decided, right on the spot, to marry another guest at the wedding. Although faced with an unexpected and upsetting situation, the bride-to-be didn’t make a rash decision, but one based on long established tradition. However, to appreciate the logic of the situation requires a major shift in thinking by those whose main values related to marriage are derived from largely individualistic western values and practices.

The action made cultural sense to the bride and her relatives because the man she decided to marry was someone she and the family already knew well: her sister’s brother-in-law. From their collectivist point of view, hers was a very reasonable choice. A marriage in South Asia is not just a joining of two people, but a public recognition of mutual duties and obligations, which impacts possibly hundreds of people on both sides. That is why many marriages in South Asia are arranged—such an important event is too serious to be left to only two people. Family honor is involved, and it is the duty of the larger family and lineage to make an appropriate investigation of the groom’s side. Since the man who was to be the groom fell ill, and neither he or his family had revealed his medical condition to the bride, it was considered a sufficient breech of trust that the marriage could not proceed.

However, there was a cultural solution available. Since the newly designated groom was someone the family already knew well, and he was present, willing, and not yet married, the wedding could continue. It is not uncommon in South Asia for sets of sisters to marry sets of brothers over time because it is thought that the bonds between kin groups will be stronger because of those ties. Further, it is relatively common that if a wife dies, the bride’s family would consider it proper that the deceased woman’s sister might marry the widower. After all, the family is familiar and such a wedding would preserve the links between kin groups. Anthropologists call this kind of arrangement “sororate” marriage patterns.

Of course, in our story, when the bride’s former husband-to-be returned from the hospital, he was not pleased that his intended bride was now someone else’s wife. There is a bit more to the story, but I’ll let you track it down, if you are curious.

What was interesting to me were people’s reactions and interpretations—unfortunately, they aren’t currently available, but I took screen shots of the “comments section.” The range of opinions ran from total support of the bride’s actions, to shock that someone could make such a life-altering decision so quickly. Here’s a sampling:

  • “Very unfortunate incident and shame on the bride.”
  • “Good luck groom”
  • “Hats off to this brave lady…my salutes”
  • “The girls did the right thing. In fact, the girl’s family should sue the boy’s family for hiding his medical condition before they agreed to the marriage.”
  • “poor man…guess he can cope with this embarrassment.”
  • “Sad incident. The groom’s family is at fault keeping the bride’s family in the dark about the groom’s epileptic attacks. What followed after the groom fainted is really unfortunate. The bride’s family must also share a part of the blame for not making exhaustive enquiries before finalizing the marriage. The bride was lucky to find her match at the same wedding venue and got married happily.”
  • “Why parents keep such info under the carpet is a shame for parents and the youth of this century. They should have the courage and the conviction!”
  • “A bold lady…The bridegroom party got a fitting reply for not disclosing the medical condition of the boy…”
  • “How can a person take such an instant decision about her life?”

This is such a great incident to illustrate the Cultural Detective Method. What seems like an irrational action from one person’s view, can seem perfectly reasonable from another perspective. Not that I would recommend choosing a spouse this way! (Wow—that really reflects my US American perspective!)

india wedding

Welcome Back! I guess…

It’s that time of year—summer study abroad programs beginning, returning students headed home, along with travelers returning after brief overseas summer vacations, not to mention those expats who are moving back in time to find a place to live and enroll their kids in school for the fall.

Yup—it’s the time of year when those of us who stayed home are likely hear how much better things are elsewhere. So while we are delighted that our beloved sojourners are returning, there is frequently a bit of anxiety as we begin looking forward to the adjustment. What to do?

First, be prepared. Understand that everyone involved—the returnee, friends and family at home, the organization for which the returnee works or school where she or he studies—all need to recognize that the transition of the person returning home begins well before the actual arrival home. Leaving new friends and colleagues, withdrawing from what have become familiar patterns of behavior, saying goodbye over and over again—these are hard things even if you are looking forward to returning home. While a major goal of “re-entry” is to integrate the recent intercultural experience with life at home, we should expect these transitions take some time, and will be better dealt with by acquiring a bit of knowledge and planning about the process.

return_purchWe suggest you log into your Cultural Detective Online subscription and take a look at the ideas included in the package, The Return. While offering advice and guidance mainly directed toward the business professional returning home after an overseas assignment, there are pearls of wisdom that are applicable to any “returnee” situation. The Challenge Lens looks at different areas in which adjustment issues, both personal and professional. For example, the returnee often find that family, friends, and colleagues are not as interested as the sojourner thinks they should be in his or her experience. Things that happened at home during the time away can be more exciting to those who stayed home than are photos of new friends and places that were visited. Knowing this in advance gives an opportunity for both sides to adjust and make allowances for each others’ behavior.

coming_homeCraig Storti’s highly rated book, The Art of Coming Homeis another useful resource for you and your returnee. Craig writes in a practical and easy-to-read manner, that is theoretically well-grounded, and full of valuable tidbits. Reading Craig’s book will not only help the returnee feel less crazy, but will help those surrounding the returnee understand the complexity of the transitions involved and provide ideas for smoothing the re-entry experience.

Speaking of smoothing the re-entry experience, be sure to check out “Twelve Tips for Welcoming Returnees Home,” part of the free online resource, What’s Up With Culture? Bruce La Brack authored (see Section 2.5.1). One of the most important tips: “Understand that most returnees are, in some ways, different than they were before they left home.”

And isn’t that the point of an intercultural experience? If the returnee was just the same as before he or she left, would it not be a big waste of time and money? Whether we are a family or an organization that sent someone overseas, we have an expectation that the exposure to other cultures and languages will result in the sojourner gaining new skills and attitudes—including acquiring broader perspectives, different ways of seeing the world.

However, sometimes we, unconsciously, still expect that the other hasn’t really changed, and are therefore surprised when this is not so. Being prepared to welcome home a returning friend or loved one, but also being ready to find that they have undergone important changes and may have acquired new ideas is one key to insuring a smooth transition home for every one involved.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

Development or Displacement?

ICIJFormed at the end of World War II to help develop countries torn by war and poverty, the World Bank is dedicated to improving the lives of the world’s poorest: to getting them clean drinking water, housing, food, and basic services like electric power. It is a challenging and complicated mission.

The Bank loans $65 billion annually for what have become increasingly large, high-profile projects such as dams, pipelines, and power plants. Projects of this magnitude can displace whole communities and wreak havoc on the natural environment. Sometimes providing water or energy to a city can drastically reduce the quality of life of rural farmers and fishermen. While the Bank has a clear policy of “do no harm” to people or the environment, all too often the Bank’s projects do negatively impact the environment and the lives of the very people the Bank was designed to help.

“Over the last decade, projects funded by the World Bank have physically or economically displaced anestimated 3.4 million people, forcing them from their homes, taking their land or damaging their livelihoods.”
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)

Complaints about the World Bank are nothing new; protests have taken place throughout much of my adulthood. Just a couple of weeks ago the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists added data to fuel the fire when it released the results of a year-long research project involving more than 50 journalists from 21 countries. They analyzed thousands of WorldBank records, interviewed hundreds of people, and conducted on-the-ground investigations in Albania, Brazil, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Kenya, Kosovo, Nigeria, Peru, Serbia, South Sudan, and Uganda. They titled the report, “Evicted and Abandoned: The World Bank’s broken promise to the poor.”

The report states that the World Bank has “regularly failed to enforce its rules, with devastating consequences for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet.” The most common hardship suffered by those in the path of “progress” is lost or diminished income. Forced relocations involve millions; they can rip apart kinship networks and increase the risk of illness and disease. Resettled populations are more likely to suffer unemployment and hunger, and mortality rates are higher.

“From 2009 to 2013, World Bank Group lenders pumped $50 billion into projects graded the highest risk for ‘irreversible or unprecedented’ social or environmental impacts — more than twice as much as the previous five-year span.”
International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)

What causes such a well-intentioned mission to go awry? When the Bank is filled with so many people who are dedicated to serving others and making the world a better place, why do the systems become dysfunctional?

  1. Bias is a human reality, and partnership is tricky. All too often, well-intentioned efforts to serve result in the world’s poorest and most historically oppressed suffering even more. Partly that is because we don’t validate what local communities know, and lenders want “experts” in the lead on projects. No matter how committed the Bank might be to partnering with local communities, bias runs deep and it’s an enormous challenge to be sure the expertise, experience, concerns and insight of all involved are heard and valued. It is a reality ripe for Cultural Detective and other intercultural tools, wouldn’t you say?
  2. Greed and glitz, blind capitalism, and the appeal to ego (and to continued funding) of the big, dazzling projects. Major infrastructure projects look good on a dossier or resumé, and they help ensure that member states will pony up the money to support the Bank’s efforts. According to the Evicted and Abandoned report, a 2012 internal audit found that projects in the Bank’s pipeline triggered the Bank’s resettlement policy 40 percent of the time—twice as often as projects the Bank had already completed.
  3. The gap between international funders and national and local governments. The Bank negotiates with those in leadership positions, who themselves may not only have the welfare of the people at heart. Or, there may be different leaders who control different regions or areas, and who consider an agreement with the national government not worth the paper on which it’s printed. Cultural Detective West Africa includes a critical incident on this very topic of negotiating with national governments when it’s local chieftains who control the territory.
  4. Corruption. Corruption can exist at all levels, including soldiers who have been known to beat, rape, and murder in the course of forced evictions. The Huffington Post reports: “’There was often no intent on the part of the governments to comply—and there was often no intent on the part of the bank’s management to enforce,’ said Navin Rai, a former World Bank official who oversaw the bank’s protections for indigenous peoples from 2000 to 2012. ‘That was how the game was played.’” While there are cultural variations in whether we hire those we know and trust or whether we have public, transparent job calls, there is a line beyond which corruption must be called corruption. For example, relocating poor villagers without restitution so that your son-in-law can own an elite oceanside resort is clearly not true leadership. The Cultural Detective series has some powerful critical incidents about the effects of cronyism and how to honor preferential treatment for family, while also ethically honoring one’s goals, as well as incidents dealing with bribery and other ethical issues (Cultural Detective Global Business Ethics).
  5. The world stage is shifting. There are new development banks on the world scene, competitors to the World Bank, that often don’t have the same social standards. Many say that this is leading to ever-lower standards, and disregard for the people and environments that “development” seeks to serve.
  6. Changing a large dysfunctional system is far from easy, no matter how well-intentioned even a top leader is. I’ve seen this in many of my clients over the years, and in a few corporations I’ve worked in as well. Many felt hope when Jim Yong Kim took over as president of the World Bank in 2012. A Korean-American physician known for his work fighting AIDS in Africa, Kim Yong became the first World Bank president whose background wasn’t in finance or politics. Twenty years earlier, Kim Yong had joined protests calling for a shutdown of the World Bank and accusing it of valuing economic growth over assistance to the poor. Despite expected improvements, “an internal survey conducted last year by bank auditors showed that 77 percent of employees responsible for enforcing the bank’s safeguards said they think that management ‘does not value’ their work. The bank released the survey in March, at the same time that it admitted to poor oversight of its resettlement policy,” according to the Huffington Post article. A 2014 World Bank internal review found that in 60 percent of sampled cases, Bank staffers failed to document what happened to people after they were forced from their land or homes, and 70 percent of the cases sampled lacked required information about whether anyone had complained and whether complaints were resolved.

In my opinion we need the World Bank, just as we need the United Nations. For all their foibles and failures as human-run entities, their missions are crucially important. Incorporating cross-cultural best practices into the manner in which projects are managed, meetings are conducted, and decisions are made is a critical first step. Developing intercultural competence in the Bank’s staff and local partners in an ongoing, sustained manner, can make a major contribution to preventing the devastating downsides of development projects.

Ah Ha! I knew it! Bilingualism does pay!

benefits of being bilingual

“Not only are bilingual young adults more likely to graduate high school and go to college, they are also more likely to get the job when they interview. Even when being bilingual is not a requirement, an interview study of California employers shows that employers prefer to both hire and retain bilinguals.”
—Rebecca Callahan, Associate Professor of Bilingual/Bicultural Education, University of Texas at Austin

Those of us who work have worked in and around international education think that learning more than one language is good for people. We think it helps open up the mind to other possibilities, other cultural points of view. We also believe that the “code switching” involved in speaking multiple languages helps develop skills that are useful in social situations and beneficial in keeping the mind sharp.

However, for years no data existed that supported the benefits of being bilingual. And for a long time in many US educational settings, children who did not speak English as their first language were not encouraged to keep their bilingualism. Why would you need a second language when you learned English? The benefits of being able to speak more than one language were not generally recognized in the US.

I was excited to read about some new research by Rebecca Callahan, Associate Professor of Bilingual/Bicultural Education, University of Texas at Austin. In a recent article in Quartz, she writes: “Speaking more than one language may confer significant benefits on the developing brain. Research has now shown that bilingual young adults not only fare better in the job market, but are also more likely to demonstrate empathy and problem-solving skills.”

What does this mean? For study-abroad students, it might encourage them to know that the effort spent in learning and using another language has long-term economic benefits—you are more marketable! This is, of course, in addition to the eye-opening, mind-expanding, life-altering experience of living in a culture different from your own.

For children of immigrants and refugees, it means that making an effort to retain their parents’ native language is beneficial. In reality, many immigrant and refugee children in the US serve as interpreters and cultural bridges from an early age. They are forced to be bilingual—learning English to be successful in the school system, while speaking another language at home. I remember one Cambodian mother telling me, through her son, that if she learned to speak English, her son would forget how to speak Cambodian now that he was here in the US.

“Currently, researchers have begun to use data-sets that include more sensitive measures of language proficiency to find that among children of immigrant parents, bilingual-biliterate young adults land in higher status jobs and earn more than their peers who have lost their home language.

Not only have these now-monolingual young adults lost the cognitive resources bilingualism provides, but they are less likely to be employed full-time, and earn less than their peers.”
—Rebecca Callahan

For many in the US educational system, acquiring a second or third language is not as highly valued as it is in many other parts of the world. I am always impressed (and a bit jealous) when I am around people who can switch among languages—often because they were required or encouraged to learn multiple languages when they were in school. And for a nation of immigrants, it seems strange that only one-in-four US American adults are conversationally proficient in another language, according to a recent Gallup poll. It reminds me of the old joke, so true that it is embarrassing:

Question: What do you call a person who speaks four languages?
Answer: Quadrilingual.

Question: What do you call a person who speaks three languages?
Answer: Trilingual.

Question: What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
Answer: Bilingual.

Question: What do you call a person who speaks one language?
Answer: An American!

Of course, this challenge isn’t just limited to US Americans. In an article last year in The Guardian, Vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, Leszek Borysiewicz, pointed out that one in six children in English primary school do not have English as their first language. He noted that their first languages:

“…are real languages: living languages that give people a huge insight into culture and give the children who can speak them additional opportunities.

Isn’t that what education is about – enabling every child to achieve the maximum potential? What I’d love to see is an emphasis that this is an added value that that child has, a talent, and we should aspire to allow other children who may be monolingual to strive to become as bilingual as they possibly can be.”

An article about a study conducted by researchers at University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, indicates that merely knowing a second language can result in higher earnings. The researchers say that the results of their study, published in the journal Canadian Public Policy/Analyse de Politiques, has implications for bilingual policy in Canada:

“Efforts to promote French in the ROC [rest of Canada] should be continued, not so much because of the earnings advantage that bilingualism confers, but because it results in many social/cultural/political benefits, strengthening the fabric of Canadian society and serving as an example to countries torn by ethnic, religious and linguistic divisions.”

The cultural flexibility inherent in knowing two languages is a valuable ability and a resource to be cherished. If we are to move toward intercultural competence, we need the ability to think outside of our cultural box and explore other ways of seeing the world.

That is what we try to do with our Cultural Detective packages—provide insight into another view of the world, a small glimpse into a different cultural reality, a chance to perhaps understand, just a little, how others see us, and how to work together more effectively.

Are You an Expert?

Clients want to hire experts. Are you an expert? I hope not! At least, not in the sense many of us traditionally think of “experts.”

Cross-cultural service providers need to be deeply competent in a variety of disciplines: intercultural communication, learning theory, the context of the organization or community, the people involved, etc. However, even though clients frequently push us into the role of “the expert with the answers,” assuming that role tends to be the wrong approach to building intercultural competence. That’s probably why I find the video below so amusing, and why Cultural Detective Facilitator Certifications focus on facilitation competence rather than information delivery.

Sure, cross-cultural effectiveness may require that we know how to tie a sari correctly, bow appropriately, or kiss the expected number of times. And we need to know the business at hand, e.g., the requirements of virtual teaming or methods of procurement—the specifics of what we’re involved in. It may require that we know how to draw red lines, as in the video. These things require information—a positivist approach. There may be a single “right” answer.

Most often, a client tells an expert what he wants, and then hopes the expert will simply “make it happen.” No need for the client to get overly involved; just leave it up to the expert. When a client (or student) asks an expert a question, they want a clear, specific answer—not “it depends.” Yet, in cross-cultural situations, so much does depend. “Correct” answers are contextual: how well do you know someone, are you meeting them socially or professionally, what country and region are you in, what social strata? Do you want to build market share or gain return on investment? Are you new to a market or have you been there for decades? What’s your reputation? A relativist approach allows for cultural and contextual differences—key to effectiveness and appropriateness.

While both positivism and relativism have their place in developing cross-cultural competence, the real change-maker is in a constructivist approach. The Japanese may generally do something a certain way, but that doesn’t mean an expat, immigrant, or visitor should or must do it that way. People need to find their way of being successful in a new environment—a way that works for them personally. True intercultural effectiveness requires client engagement, along with expert guidance.

Take my friend Doug. He is US American, and he has a loud and infectious laugh that he regularly engages in with a wide-open mouth and a slap on his leg. Most definitely not common Japanese practice, right? So, when he goes to Japan, do you take a positivist approach, and teach him a Japanese-style laugh? Will that be the key to his success in Japan? Do you compare Japanese laughter to US American laughter, or his friends’ laughter to his? In Doug’s case, when he moved to Japan he didn’t really adjust his laughter at all. His laugh is a core part of who he is, and most Japanese colleagues and friends love him for it. Sure, they may have been surprised at first. But his laugh is genuine, it’s him, and they understand that. Doug was highly successful in Japan, perhaps despite his loud laugh, but more probably, in part, because of it. He adapted his style in other ways.

Such is the constructivist nature of intercultural competence. Together, we co-construe, we “construct” our shared experience, and through that, we make sense of our relationships. Cultural Detective takes a constructivist approach. Yes, the CD Method contains elements of positivism (Values Lenses) and relativism (Worksheets), too, but they are used with the goal of learning about ourselves and others, and creating bridges that will enable each of us, and our organizations and communities, to be our best.

“The wise man doesn’t give the right answers,
he poses the right questions.”
—Claude Lévi-Strauss
French Anthropologist, 1908-2009

In dealing with a client that wants an “expert,” the clue to remember is what kind of expert you are. Effective intercultural facilitation is difficult, and we as facilitators do not have the “answers.” The “answers” reside in the client, the team members, community members, or key stakeholders. Our job is to bring the answers out, help make them known, help refine them so they are real and workable, and so that they enable intercultural effectiveness. This requires a high level of expertise: to help the client look inward and develop the answers themselves, when they are looking for a “magic” solution from an outside expert.

Learning opportunities to acquire good, effective intercultural facilitation skills are often hard to find. We are pleased to offer workshops that will help you gain and improve facilitation skills useful in intercultural contexts. Our Cultural Detective Facilitation Certification workshops are quite popular with both new and experienced facilitators, who always learn more than they expected. Three opportunities are scheduled this year:

  1. pre-conference of the SIETAR Europa Congress in Valencia, Spain,
  2. As part of the Summer Institute of the International Educators’ Training Program (IETP) at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada,
  3. And at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC) in Portland, Oregon, USA. Click on any of the links above for more information or to register.

In addition, Daniel Yalowitz and I are offering a course at SIIC, “Gaining Gaming Competence: The Meaning Is in the Debriefing.” This experiential workshop focuses on current best practices and theories for creating, facilitating, and debriefing meaningful intercultural games, activities, and simulations. This is an excellent opportunity to gain a wealth of information in a short period of time. More information can be found here: http://www.intercultural.org/11.php.

Please join us for one of these upcoming events, to hone your intercultural facilitation skills to an “expert” level! In this way we can accomplish our shared goals of spreading intercultural competence to build understanding, collaboration, equity and justice in our world.

Join Us at SIETAR Europa in Valencia!

Logo_updatedHave you registered for the SIETAR Europa conference in Valencia, Spain May 21-23? The conference is the leading gathering of interculturalists in Europe, and is attended by many professionals from around the world. It is known for the quality of presentations and the intellectual exchange.

“This congress welcomes all those whose life and work puts them at the interface of cultures, from the perspectives of economy, society, and education with the aim of reshaping intercultural discourse, questioning our current cultural paradigms and exploring new thinking to help us navigate complexity in our emerging global world.”
—SIETAR Europa

Since our founding, the Cultural Detective Team has been committed to transparency, professional development, and vetting by our peers, and this congress will be no exception. Cultural Detective will have a huge presence at the congress, and we sincerely hope to see you there!

Firstly, Tatyana Fertelmeyster will conduct a Cultural Detective Facilitator Certification on May 18th and 19th. So many of you who live in Europe ask us for European-based certifications, so here is your chance! This is the only one scheduled in Europe this year. Attendance is limited, so please register early.

Also on May 19th, Pari Namazie and I will have the pleasure of conducting a pre-conference workshop, heavily based on Cultural Detective tools, entitled Blended Culture Identity, Global Ethics and their Value for Leadership and Teaming. I am very excited about where this workshop will take us. Ethics and authenticity are of crucial importance to cross-cultural leadership and teaming, and are too often overlooked.

A third CD-based session will be held on Saturday, the 23rd May at 10:00: Firearms in US Society: a Case Study about the Role of Interculturalists in Polarized and Politicized National Conversations, by Jeffrey Cookson and myself.

You’ll find pre-conference and concurrent sessions by Cultural Detective authors Marie-Therese Claes, Patricia Coleman, Heather Robinson, Catherine Roignan, George Simons, Jolanda Tromp, Rita Wuebbeler, Tatyana and myself, plus sessions by CD translators, certified facilitators and partners. We look forward to meeting you or reconnecting with you in Valencia!

Learn more about the city of Valencia.
Take Cultural Detective author George Simons’ diversophy® quiz on Valencia.

“If you act like a ripe plum, bats will eat you.”

(Proverb submitted by Lamar Gaye, Minnesota, USA, to BBC NEWS Africa website, Africa’s proverb of the day, 29 December 2014)

I so love proverbs—they give a view into a culture that cannot be obtained through any other source. They are tiny stories, gems in the midst of daily life. Although often I only read them in translation, they still provide valuable insight into my own and other’s values and worldviews.

Imagine my delight when I found a collection of African proverbs, contributed by folks from all over, to a site by BBC NEWS Africa. Featuring proverbs sent in during January 2015 and December 2014, I think you will find at least one that delights you or provides fresh insight into a situation.

800px-Monkey_family_in_moss_tree

By Irvin Calicut (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

“Monkeys do not advise their young ones to be careful on trees. They just remind them of the distance to the ground.”
—Sent by Geoffrey Kosgei, Nairobi, Kenya to BBC NEWS Africa website, Africa’s proverb of the day, 5 November 2014

Did you know that buried within each Cultural Detective package are proverbs and sayings to illustrate the culture’s core values? We periodically convert some of these to graphic format and share them on social media, archiving them on the Cultural Detective Pinterest board and Facebook page. Our authors have fun remembering what their parents or grandparents said to them, and often are surprised when they find out they were each told the same thing—or a close variant of it—even though they grew up in different circumstances!

These “childhood messages” often echo in our minds for years and continue to influence who we are today. We may even find that our core values are reflected in those proverbs and sayings that were shared by important people in our past. Our popular package, Cultural Detective Self-Discovery, uses our favorite proverbs and sayings as one method to investigate our own personal values. Cultural Detective Online now includes Cultural Detective Self-Discovery, which allows you to build your own Personal Values Lens—just as beautiful as the others contained within our series—using a variety of investigative methods.

Of course, there are books with collections of proverbs, but the ones I like best are those that I happen upon in everyday speech. Keep your ears open and let us know what gems of wisdom you hear—from yourself and those around you!

Cognitive Dissonance or Duality?

Either OrShall we, as team members or neighbors, do something “my way” or “your way”? When in Rome, do we do as the Romans do, or as headquarters wants us to do? As organizational effectiveness consultants, diversity and inclusion practitioners, or as intercultural trainers, educators and coaches, so much of what we do is to help people learn to manage differences. “Either-or” thinking is appropriate when there are answers that are independently correct. Do we need to get to the top of the mountain? A helicopter, hiking, tram, or driving are all possible “correct” solutions to our problem. What shall we eat for our lunch together? We both may enjoy sushi, tacos, or lasagna; a choice is probably much better than eating them all in the same meal. Solutions to many of the issues that face us in daily life, however, involve the interdependence of two or more “right” answers. Children should learn to share and to take care of themselves. A new business may need to build market share (which requires ongoing investment) and get a return on its initial investment. An NGO needs to follow global protocol and provide services in a locally appropriate manner. A teacher needs to correct students and encourage them. These are not either-or choices; the “correct” answer involves “both-and” thinking—the type of thinking that Ash Beckham discusses in the video below. But such thinking—holding contradictory ideas simultaneously and accepting them both as “correct” and even “necessary”—is often distrusted. It is sometimes seen as evasive or indecisive. George Orwell coined a name for it with a very negative connotation: “doublethink,” which was the result of brainwashing by the state in his novel, 1984. “Both-and” thinking requires more effort, and involves mental and sometimes also emotional stress. Thus, we get the term “cognitive dissonance.”

“Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.” —wikipedia

That’s why the work of interculturalists and diversity and inclusion professionals is so very important. Working or living together effectively involves give-and-take; it is a process. There is not one “right” way and one “wrong” way. Sometimes we may do it your way, sometimes my way, and hopefully, many times, we are creating better, more innovative, effective, and enjoyable ways to do whatever it is we need to do, by using the unique talents that all of us have to offer. And that, of course, is what Cultural Detective is all about—learning how to collaborate and work together, while recognizing that there are often many “right” ways to get things done!

Part of the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up

How Storytelling Affects the Brain

brainOnstorytelling OneSpot

I was recently tweeted this graphic, which research shows me is taken from a larger infographic on content marketing on OneSpot. https://www.onespot.com/blog/infographic-the-science-of-storytelling/

Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of both teaching and entertainment. It is the way history was traditionally recorded, how values were inculcated, and how families and neighborhoods bonded.

Storytelling is the core around which Cultural Detective is based. While the Cultural Detective Method is grounded in extensive intercultural theory, using Cultural Detective for development, learning, conflict resolution or team building involves listening to, telling, reading, or otherwise interacting with stories, or, in detective parlance, incidents. The debut of Cultural Detective The Netherlands involved a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception in Amsterdam, during which professionals acted out critical incidents for those attending. Trainers have turned their training rooms into theaters, acting out the stories in the Cultural Detective series with the learners. Why so much emphasis on stories?Why?

Let’s start by watching my interview with Kelli McLoud-Schingen, one of our CD team members, who is a professional storyteller and actress, as well as a dynamite diversity practitioner and interculturalist.

Storytelling does, indeed, link the head, heart and mind—an integration that is key to the development of intercultural competence. Interestingly for those working across cultures, however, science is now finding that stories help us to better understand others’ intentions and relate to one another better! My experience has shown that stories can help us to develop empathy, particularly with those very different from ourselves.

“There was substantial overlap in the brain networks used to understand stories and the networks used to navigate interactions with other individuals — in particular, interactions in which we’re trying to figure out the thoughts and feelings of others.

Scientists call this capacity of the brain to construct a map of other people’s intentions ‘theory of mind.’

Narratives offer a unique opportunity to engage this capacity, as we identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and track their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers.”
—Dr. Raymond Mar, York University, Toronto

Furthermore, stories allow us to “practice,” even if in our own minds, how we might respond under various circumstances. Stories can “take us” to India, China or Brazil, and help us imagine ourselves in an interaction there, so that when we actually visit, it’s not as strange or confusing. Stories are a form of mental, rather than computerized, simulation.

“The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. Keith Oatley, an emeritus professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto (and a published novelist), has proposed that reading produces a vivid simulation of reality, one that ‘runs on minds of readers just as computer simulations run on computers.’”
—Annie Murphy Paul, The New York Times, “Your Brain on Fiction”

Finally, analyzing stories enables the learner to look at real people in real situations, in all their complexity—personality, age, gender, ethnicity, religious tradition, nationality—rather than as one-dimensional generalizations or stereotypes.

If you have not yet subscribed to Cultural Detective Online, or attended one of our complimentary webinars, you are missing out on an incredibly robust and affordable tool that includes hundreds of stories to support your learning! We hope to see you there soon!