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.

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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!

 

Mapping the World

http://www.clker.com/cliparts/D/v/4/h/a/X/globe-map-hi.png

“A surprisingly large number of the world’s cities remain unmapped. Nobody knows exactly how many, but cities of more than a million people in the developing world get by every day without an accurate map. Development staff in those cities trade photocopies of photocopies, scrawl the names of landmarks on post-it notes, use satellite images that lack street names, or just ask locals.”
—Chris Michael, The Guardian, 6 October 2014

Many of us, myself included, take accurate street maps for granted. Although we know services such as Google Maps can be wrong, generally our GPS or satnav will get us to where we want to go. But in many less affluent, large cities of the world, no maps exist.

An article I read in The Guardian recounted the difficulties that Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has encountered in working with patients from areas that weren’t mapped. It is hard to trace the spread of a disease if there is no map of the area, or if patients can’t tell you where they live.

There is, however, an exciting, innovative project to create a free and open map of the entire world. Missing Maps works through a team of volunteers to map the most vulnerable places in the developing world. “The point of the project is that the maps will all be open source,” says Missing Maps coordinator Pete Masters. “It will be illegal for anyone to charge anyone to use them—meaning local people will have total access to them, not just to look at, but to edit and develop.”

Missing Maps supports the OpenStreetMap project, which features local knowledge and a community of volunteer-contributors from a diversity of fields that includes professional cartographers as well as enthusiastic mapping amateurs. According to the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) website: “OpenStreetMap is a project to create a free and open map of the entire world, built entirely by volunteers surveying with GPS, digitizing aerial imagery, and collecting and liberating existing public sources of geographic data. The information in OpenStreetMap can fill in the gaps in base map data to assist in responses to disasters and crisis.”

Why is this important? The lack of accurate maps in a humanitarian crisis can impede assistance, and even hinder the making of decisions about the best response. That’s where the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) comes in—they act as a “bridge” between the OpenStreetMap Community and humanitarian responders. In the event of a crisis, HOT searches for existing data and then contacts humanitarian organizations responding to the crisis to determine their needs. This is a critical function, as HOT can then mobilize their community to focus on a specific area.

HOT can both coordinate remote workers for map digitalization and also train locals in mapping their communities. Having maps available will assist not only in times of crisis, but also in planning for building new infrastructure. Here is a visualization of the response to the earthquake in Haiti by the OpenStreetMap community.

I was struck at how this “bridging” done by HOT is so similar to the cultural bridging people learn through the Cultural Detective Method. It is like there are two cultures: the “mappers” and the “responders”—each with its own values, behaviors, and communication styles. What HOT does is to make sure the “mappers” are meeting the needs of the “responders” in a way that enables responders to understand and use the information. Both have good intentions, but without the “bridge” HOT provides they might never connect, let alone connect in a way that is so beneficial.

Often, people who are able to build cultural bridges are looked at by others as resources. What many people don’t realize is that sometimes the person adept at building bridges across cultural divides does not have culture-specific knowledge on which to rely. Rather, they have a set of skills that facilitates communication, beginning with suspending judgment and listening.

That’s the kind of resource HOT is. It doesn’t tell the responders where to go or what to do. It asks humanitarian organizations what maps and data they need to do their jobs, listens to the answers, and then this amazing group of volunteers gets to work. To learn more about this project, please read the entire article here.

And join us to learn more about the Cultural Detective Method and developing skills to build cultural bridges. Remember, we host free monthly webinars to get you started—access registration information here.

Lampooning Leads to Apology for Sensationalism

2015.1.27.BF.COMMInaccuracies in journalism are of increasing concern to me, as is the idea that so many consumers of communication media fail to use their critical thinking skills, and, rather, believe a sensational report without checking facts. Journalists can easily fuel people’s worst fears, feeding an “us vs. them” mentality. I spoke about this in my recent Charlie Hebdo post.

If we are to create a world for ourselves in which we respect, understand, and value one another, one in which we are able to cooperate in sustainable ways, we need accurate and thorough information on which to base decisions. We need to be able to discern “gray” areas, and think things through from different perspectives.

On a slightly divergent thought track, I occasionally marvel at how powerful the visual arts, comedy, movies, and performances are in generating a paradigm shift in the general population—the sort of paradigm shift that is needed if we are to develop intercultural competence. I feel that news media should help us think things through by gathering facts, but all too often, it is the arts that help inspire us to do so.

Recently, a post crossed my desk that brings these two ideas together for me in a salient way. One of our Cultural Detective series’ authors—Basma Ibrahim DeVries—shared a link on Facebook to a story that resulted in truth telling. A major news outlet was forced to admit its multiple errors and publicly apologize for their inaccuracies, perhaps, in part, stimulated by a French television comedy show—Le Petit Journal!

Fox News interviewed someone who presented as fact that there are “no-go zones” in Europe—places in which Islamic law supersedes local law and non-Muslims fear to go. “No-go zones,” viewers were told, included the entire city of Birmingham, England and a half-dozen key areas of Paris. Fox also made various other claims, which met with widespread criticism from the likes of British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the threat of a lawsuit from the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.

Le Petit Journal was quick to offer its humorous and yet informative rebuttal. Below is a clip of the show, in French with English subtitles.

I live in Mexico, and over the past five years I’ve experienced the negative impact that sensationalism and inaccurate, biased reporting can have on a country and its people.Often, this media bias is not confronted.  In this instance, however, Fox actually issued four separate apologies in one day for portraying Muslims in a negative light.

“Fox News took time out of four broadcasts on Saturday to apologize for four separate instances of incorrect information that portrayed Muslims in a negative light.
—CNN

Once Fox News apologized, our French comedy show, Le Petit Journal, had to gloat, of course. They lampooned Fox with great gusto while munching on super-sized popcorn and soda. Click on the link to view the video.

I am happy to hear that Fox News was forced to apologize for their biased and false “reporting.” I am grateful to know that the public expression of outrage and humor can still have some effect, however fleeting it might be. If, like me, you’d like to read more about the poll Fox cited, that one in six French citizens support ISIS, you might reference a much more insightful piece about it, published by the Washington Post.

The Cultural Detective Method helps people separate facts—what people see and hear—from interpretations, or what the facts mean to a person observing them. Our values influence how we interpret the facts—the meaning we give to the situation. Given personal and cultural differences, the facts may mean different things to different people. This is normal and to be expected. However, what we want from journalists is, to the best of their ability, the specific details and essential data necessary for us to understand a situation more accurately and thoroughly. Situations these days are often complex rather than clear-cut. Reporting on complex realities is difficult in the best of circumstances, and we applaud those ethical journalists who work to make it happen.

Thank you for accompanying us on this journey to build intercultural competence. Together, we can build international understanding, respect, and justice.

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!

#MyGlobalLife Link-Up

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.