Alone, Asian, Atheist in the Middle East

Obey-Middle-East-Mural

Middle East! Turn around and look East! (Obey Middle East Mural, Shepard Fairey)

Many of you followed Phuong-Mai Nguyen’s journey through the Middle East, as written live right here on the Cultural Detective blog. Last year in Estonia, Mai, the co-author of Cultural Detective Vietnam, keynoted the SIETAR Europa congress. In that speech she shared the ten lessons (‘commandments”) she had learned after almost a year of living in the Middle East after the Arab Spring. Her remarks have now been republished by The Islamic Monthly, and I’m confident you’ll be eager to read them.

As Mai tells us, her learning “touches on threats of Islamism, the tendency to self-victimize, and the need for all of us to establish a genuine relationship with moderate Muslims in the West.” The full article reprinted from her speech contains some of her powerful photos as well as her personal learning and viewpoints. 

The ten lessons she learned from her journey include:
  1. Thou shalt not watch TV
  2. Thou shalt stay thyself
  3. Thou shalt empower thy man
  4. Thou shalt fear God
  5. Thou shalt turn around
  6. Thou shalt break free
  7. Thou shalt seek guidance
  8. Thy land shalt be named
  9. Thy land shalt be named again
  10. Thou shalt acknowledge my new identity

Please, read her remarks and let us and Mai know what you think! I have been fascinated by the fact that she chose to make this journey, and the opportunity to view such an experience through the eyes of a Vietnamese woman.

Best, Dianne

 

We Are Not (Just) Our Nationality(ies)!

Who of us is a single story? As Chimamanda Adichie so eloquently told us, insisting on a single story is to “flatten” one’s experience. While I am USA born, it definitely irks me when those I know, often interculturalists, insist on defining me purely through that Lens. Yes, I am US American; I claim it. I have also lived overseas half my life; surely that has had no small influence on who I am today? I’m a woman, of a certain age, a mother, a friend. I’m in a committed relationship, I own a small business, I am an immigrant.

We are many things, and different aspects of our identities rise to the fore depending on the context. Shouldn’t intercultural competence enable us to get to know ourselves and others in the fullness of who we are? Two-and-a-half years ago I wrote a post on this blog about the many layers of our cultural identity.

Today, I am very proud to say that Cultural Detective Online makes it very easy to look at how real people interact in real situations, and to reflect on how our many cultures might be influencing us (or others) in a given interaction. Did I react that way because I’m a Mom? Because I’m a Baby Boomer? Or just because I’m me? Cultural Detective Online is a cross-cultural effectiveness tool that doesn’t reduce us to a single story, but rather encourages us to get to know ourselves and others as fully and wholly human. Take a look:

Remember, Values Lenses represent the core values of entire societies of millions of people; they are not intended to be used as yet another “box” into which to stereotype individuals. Try using a Values Lens to gather clues as to why someone may have responded in the the manner she or he did. Then, with perhaps a little more understanding about the other’s positive intent, you can engage in a more effective dialogue, and learn to collaborate more enjoyably and productively.

How do you use the multiple Lenses available to you within CD Online? How often do you upload stories from your everyday work or life, and purposefully learn from them? What creative things are you doing with Cultural Detective Online to further your intercultural competence? We would love to hear your experience!

Transforming Lives: Education as an Alternative to Violence

AUN “The youth in Nigeria are beginning to speak—some with violence.
They attract attention. But others are also speaking.
The question is, is anyone listening to this plea
for western education, for training, for reform, for help?”

—Margee Ensign, President, American University of Nigeria

With all the grim news coming out of Nigeria these days, I thought you might want to hear about a little-known educational bright spot in the country: the unique programs offered at the American University of Nigeria, founded in Yola (capital of Adamwa state) in 2005 by the country’s former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar.

Despite Boko Haram’s year-long campaign of terror, including kidnapping over 300 girls from a school, murdering family members, burning villages, and displacing thousands of people, most families still desire an education for their girls and their boys, says Margee Ensign, President of AUN. And AUN provides it.

Both the university’s valedictorian and its graduating class speaker this year are women. The university is one of the leaders in the interfaith peace initiative. It has hired and trained more than 500 female and male security guards to protect the campus and its housing, offering each of them a free education. AUN facilities include a nursery school, primary and secondary school, in addition to the university itself. It recently dedicated a new library that has received international accolades for its efforts to create the finest e-library in Africa.

“Security comes not from our security force, but from our development and peace efforts,” Margee reports. In one of the poorest places on earth, AUN has a program to teach local women literacy and entrepreneurship skills, to enable them to generate income for their families. The university’s Peace Council has created 32 football and volleyball “unity teams” for young people to play in tournaments year-round. None of the young people have jobs, over half have dropped out of high school, and 10% have not even completed elementary school. Sports team members study a peace curriculum focused on building understanding and tolerance. The unity teams help ensure that these youth stay active and involved in their communities—making them less vulnerable to recruiting by terrorist groups like Boko Haram.

This kind of creative programming doesn’t happen by accident. Margee is a tough, dedicated, innovative, and tireless educator. Her extensive experience in administrative and faculty positions in universities in the USA (including Columbia University in New York, Tulane University in New Orleans, and the University of the Pacific, Stockton, California), and her interest and experience in international development in Africa, make her well-prepared to be president of AUN.

“I met with about 80 women in the [AUN entrepreneurship] program…They wanted to learn English, Nigeria’s official language, so that they could read to their children. In modern education, they knew, lay the only hope for the future.”

Margee relishes the challenges of working across cultures. She has embraced the local community culture, while building a university culture that retains important aspects of the US educational experience. After all, this is why parents are sending their children to college at AUN. She’s always recruiting—looking for people with just the right skills, willing to give their time and talent to join the international faculty and staff at AUN, a growing academic community in Nigeria.

The Cultural Detective Team believes it is possible to help make the world a better place through our actions. Yet, it isn’t always easy! Cultural Detective: Global Teamwork investigates some of the challenges involved in managing culturally diverse teams in today’s global environment, even if working in the same geographical location. What is the task? How do we form and maintain a high performing team? How do we manage the terrain or contexts in which team members work? How do we choose the right technology to support the team? How do time and space affect communication? Add culture to this mix, and it is even more complex! These are just the beginning of the challenges Margee faces each day—and she loves it!

All around the globe, dedicated, competent people are working to make a corner of the world a better place—often, not the corner of the world in which they were born and raised. Yet, they are motivated to share their skills in multiple arenas and diverse geographical locations. You probably know people that match this description—or are you one?! We’d be delighted to share their stories or yours with our readers!

With all the doom and gloom in the news, it is good to remind ourselves that generous people are doing wonderful things in difficult circumstances. A recent article written by Margee and published on the BBC.com website offers an often overlooked perspective on the area better known for the rampages of Boko Haram. We invite you to read Margee’s entire article here: “Nigerians defy terror to keep learning.”

Estereotipos: entre el bien y el mal

(English follows Spanish)
La subjetividad es tan inherente al ser humano como lo son sus propias emociones. En el alma mezclamos de manera inseparable la voluntad, el intelecto y la emoción; y según cada una de estas “sea alimentada” podremos actuar de una manera u otra. De hecho es por esto tan famosa la llamada Inteligencia Emocional, que no es otra cosa que alimentar el intelecto y la voluntad para controlar las emociones (y que Daniel Goleman me perdone por hacerlo parecer tan simple).

Por nuestro lado, y digo nuestro porque aquí es lo que nos reune, la Inteligencia Cultural (CQ) busca entonces alimentar “el conocimiento” , la “aprehención mental de las diferencias” y modelar el “comportamiento” entre las culturas.  Obviamente el comportamiento se nutre de nuestras emociones y por ende de alguna manera querámoslo o no se relaciona con nuestra subjetividad.

Sin embargo, como si fuera parte de un círculo vicioso nuestra subjetividad cambia según alimentemos el conocimiento y nos dispongamos a aprender y aprehender. Sí hay que conocer y disponerse a conocer, además de buscar fuentes de información diversas… variadas y paradójicamente, objetivas.

Los estereotipos sin duda alguna son uno de los principales desafíos en nuestra interacción intercultural. Para algunos es el bien… la bendición y el llevar consigo ese pre-juicio (pre: adelantado…inferido…establecido… no cuestionado) que les abre puertas y que les da acceso a una serie de oportunidades negadas para otros.

Ejemplos de esto hay muchos. Podríamos comenzar por las diferencias de género y por ende los pre-juicios alrededor de hombres y mujeres para el desempeño de oficios y responsabilidades. Aún es una realidad latente que hombres y mujeres no recibimos la misma remuneración al realizar/ejecutar la misma tarea y ocupando la misma posición.

Nelson Mandela es tristemente célebre por luchar contra el Apartheid y entregar su vida por demostrar que el color de la piel no interfiere con lo que somos o podemos ofrecer. Los prejuicios sociales se dramatizan entre el amarillismo y el realismo trágico en miles de tragicomedias y novelas reflejando una sociedad estereotipada.  No hay que dar muchos detalles de lo que significa tener un nombre de ascendencia árabe y musulmán en los Estados Unidos luego del 9/11.

Y así hay otras tantas, como la que vivo cuando me discriminan por el lugar donde nací. Entonces los estereotipos se convierten en una especie de estigma, de etiqueta, de prejuicio sin sentido y sin razón. Aunque parezca irreal cuando vivía en Londres a una compañera del college le prohibieron hablar conmigo “peligro es colombiana” y en 1998 buscando un lugar para vivir, llegué a uno de los suburbios a una casa donde lo primero que me dijeron: es usted familiar de Pablo Escobar?

Al final no importa lo bueno que cualquiera nacido en este país pueda tener. Lo malo es la nube negra que nos acompaña, nos limita, nos cierra puertas y lo peor, muchas veces tristemente habla por nosotros y enmudece nuestra voz.

Hay problemas, tal vez más que en otras latitudes… tal vez menos y más publicitadas. Los estereotipos se vuelven peligrosamente en contra de todos, y nos llevan al facilismo de generalizar y el derecho sesgado del absolutismo puro. TODOS los nacidos son, o TODOS los hombres, TODOS los musulmanes, TODOS…. y no! No todos ni todas somos iguales, si bien es cierto tenemos rasgos y características compartidas, el absolutismo es negarnos la posibilidad de nuestro valor como individuos… lo que somos más allá de lo que otros dicen que somos o debemos ser.

(English translation by Dianne Hofner Saphiere)

Stereotypes: Between Good and Evil

Subjectivity is as inherent to humans as are our emotions. In our souls we inextricably mix intellect and emotion, and we behave in one way or another depending on which one we feed. That which is famously called “Emotional Intelligence” (EQ) is, in truth, nothing more than feeding the intellect and controlling emotions (forgive me, Daniel Goleman, for making it seem so simple).

In our field, and I say “our” because it is what brings us together, Cultural Intelligence (CQ) seeks to feed “knowledge,” “mental appreciation of differences,” and to model “behavior” across cultures. Obviously behavior is influenced by our emotions and therefore, like it or not, it relates to our subjectivity.

However, as if it were part of a vicious cycle, our subjectivity changes according to how we nourish knowledge, and we can become better able to learn and comprehend. Yes, it’s necessary to know and to be ready to learn, to search for diverse sources of information — varied and, paradoxically, objective.

Stereotypes without any doubt are one of the major challenges in intercultural interaction. For some it’s the good; the blessing to take with them prejudice (established assumptions and inferences that are not questioned) that opens doors and gives them access to a series of opportunities denied to others.

There are many examples of this. We could start with gender differences and the prejudices surrounding men and women’s abilities to perform jobs and responsibilities. We live with the reality that men and women still do not receive equal pay for equal work or when occupying the same position.

Nelson Mandela is sadly famous for fighting Apartheid and devoting his life to demonstrating that the color of one’s skin does not interfere with who we are or what we have to offer. Social prejudices are dramatized between sensationalism and tragic realism in thousands of tragi-comedies and novels representing a stereotyped society. There is little need to give details surrounding what it means to be a Muslim man of Arab descent in the USA after 9/11.

And there are many more, like those I live with when people discriminate against me due to where I was born. The stereotypes become a type of stigma, a label, of mindless and irrational prejudice. Although it seems surreal, when I lived in London a college friend was prohibited from talking with me because I was “the Colombian danger,” and in 1998 when I was looking for a place to live, I arrived at a suburban house where the first thing they asked me was, “Are you related to Pablo Escobar?”

In the end, it doesn’t matter how good anyone born in this country might be. The evil is the black cloud that accompanies us, limits us, closes doors for us, and worse, that many times sadly speaks for us and mutes our voice.

We in Colombia have problems, perhaps more than in other locations; perhaps fewer but more publicized. Stereotypes come dangerously back against all of us, and they easily take us to generalizations and pure, biased absolutism. ALL OF US are born, ALL OF US are human, ALL OF US are Muslim, ALL … and not!

Not all of us are equal, even though we may share certain traits and characteristics. Absolutism negates the possibility of our value as individuals — it negates who we are, beyond that which others say we are or should be.

Burka-Clad Super Hero Fights for Girls’ Rights!


ba-cover
This week saw the television launch of an exciting new female superhero, direct from Islamabad, Pakistan: The Burka Avenger!

The star of the animated series of thirteen, 22-minute episodes is a teacher who uses books and pens to fight the evil people who shut down schools and prevent girls from getting an education. The humorous show also teaches kids to protect the environment, and, good news for the Cultural Detective community, to respect diversity and include others.

Each episode features an original song and guest appearances by some of the biggest musical acts in South Asia, including Ali Zafar, Haroon, Ali Azmat, Adil Omar, and Josh. Goals include entertainment and positive messages to youth. The series’ trailer (in English) is below.


The Burka Avenger is the brainchild of Aaron Haroon Rashid, a Pakistan pop star who wanted to create a positive role model to counter the Taliban’s ongoing opposition to girls’ education. In explaining the choice of the burka, which the teacher, Jiya, only wears in superhero mode, Rashid explained, “It’s not a sign of oppression. She is using the burka to hide her identity like other superheroes. Since she is a woman, we could have dressed her up like Catwoman or Wonder Woman, but that probably wouldn’t have worked in Pakistan.”

Of course this may well remind us of the indomitable Malala Yousafzai, whom the Taliban   famously attempted to assassinate last October. On her 16th birthday this past July 12, the amazingly poised and well-spoken Malala delivered the first-ever education policy recommendations written for youth, by youth, to the United Nations (video below). July 12th has now been named Malala Day in her honor.


It is not just Pakistan where girls’ rights to education are in danger. Fortunately, the people at Mighty Girl Books have assembled a terrific list of books for children and teens that explore the challenge of girls’ access to education, worldwide and throughout history.

You may also remember the comic book series “The 99,” in which superheroes inspired by Islam (they are named after the 99 attributes of Allah) fight crime, smash stereotypes and battle extremism. Series creator Naif Al-Mutawa gave a talk at TED Global 2010. A video of his talk is below, and a free online issue is also available.

As They Say in Russia

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGuest blog by Tatyana Fertelmeyster, Co-author of Cultural Detective Russia and Senior Trainer of Facilitators

There is a Russian saying, “If a face is ugly, don’t blame the mirror.” I have been thinking about it lately as the topic of Russia has come up in different mirrors, and it is not looking all that good.

In addition to all these, Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2013, addresses a long list of concerns, concluding that 2012 was “the worst year for human rights in Russia in recent memory,” according to  Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia Director at Human Rights Watch.

The official Russian response to all of that? It is complex, nuanced, and as contextual as everything in Russia. And most often it is about blaming the mirror or whoever is putting this mirror in front of Russia’s face. Just in the last few months Russia enacted laws that

  1. Require NGOs with any foreign funding to register as “foreign agents”,
  2. Reinterpret treason so broadly that almost anybody cooperating with foreigners can be — if necessary — accused of selling out the Motherland,
  3. Prohibit Russian orphans to be adopted by US Americans.

Two other very common Russian sayings come to mind:

  • “I am a fool? You are a fool yourself!” and
  • “Don’t teach me how to live my life!”

Considering that Russia is the largest country in the world, with the seventh largest domestic market and the second largest nuclear arsenal, it might be useful to know what they say in Russia. And it will be priceless to understand what they mean when they say it.

Cultural Detective Russia is available in our new Cultural Detective Online system. I hope you’ll give it  whirl and see how it might help make meaning of some of this.

Tatyana Fertelmeyster, Co-author of Cultural Detective Russia
Connecting.differences@gmail.com

Intercultural Work—Stuck in its own past? (#1 in a series)

GSportrait

Dr. George Simons has long been researching the stories that make us who we are. In this series of blog posts he will be leading us in an examination of critical challenges that can lead us toward a fresh vision of culture. We will explore how we come to terms with our inner and shared identities and learn about how we construct the realities that shape our now and our future world.

Despite a tide swell in intercultural communication and worldwide immersion in social media, the current field of intercultural communication itself seems static. This blog post articulates five ways in which the field appears to be moving too slowly for the world around it.

1. Essentialism
The word used for the kind of intercultural intervention that leads in the direction of stereotyping is called “essentialism.” One tends to assume that a certain person must inevitably share certain cultural characteristics or behaviors if they come from a particular group, ethnicity or culture. Saying that I am from the USA or that I am German or Nigerian makes a whole mess of things stick to me as stereotypes. Of course, we do have cultural characteristics, but who has them, to what degree as well as when, how and where they’ll be expressed is what we don’t know, and is what we need to learn about each other as we work together. Moreover, we belong to multiple cultural circles that may define us in variable, even contradictory ways. Interculturalists loudly condemn stereotyping but seem less adept at escaping from delivering cultural information.

There may be benefits to identifying with a group despite or in some cases because of the stereotypes, though all too easily an identity is painfully imposed on us. A little story to illustrate this. Nordstrom is a big department store in Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley. A young woman in my class at Loyola—let’s call her Yuko—told me how, when working there, a woman making a purchase asked, “Honey, where are you from?” (Yuko had identifiably Asian features in her face). The young woman said, “Oh I’m from right here in the Valley. The woman went on, “But where did your parents come from?” Yuko answered, “Oh, they came from the Valley, too.” The woman persisted, “But where did your grandparents come from?” Yuko answered, “Oh, they weren’t from the Valley, they were from Fresno [another California town].” In fact, Yuko’s Japanese-American family predated the many European immigrants that came at the end of the 19th and first half of the 20th century. Essentialism looks at “difference” as “not belonging.” Yuko suffered this kind of pain repeatedly just because she didn’t look like “everybody else.”

2. Ignoring context
A lack of awareness of the social and particularly historical contexts is another way the intercultural thinking and practice can remain static. A lot of people’s feelings about those different from themselves is not simply a matter of their looking or sounding different, and may be anchored in a story of things that happened in the past. Remember, for example, when Yugoslavia disintegrated into smaller states, how politics called into popular sentiment old memories of “what they did to us” 50 years ago, 500 years ago, 1000 years ago, and so on. These memories live in a culture and affect how we react to individuals in other groups. This is to say nothing of social context, particularly now. Since the financial crisis, we’ve been struggling, in a more conscious way than most of us have done in our lifetimes, with those who have and those who have not. This also provides subtext for our communication with each other.

Questions

©George Simons, blog.culturaldetective.com

3. Cultural denial
A lot of people I work with, particularly many younger people today, have or are encouraged to have an attitude that expresses itself as, “I don’t have a culture,” or “I’m a global person, a global citizen.” This suggests that prioritizing individualism, so strongly promoted in the West, makes it in a way shameful to be connected to our past, to have identifiable roots. This is true not simply of third culture kids (TCK’s), some of whom have been jetsetters while in the womb, but of others, and seems to be part of the educational process. All too many people, and not exclusively the young, have suffered by or are fearful of being labeled, of being stereotyped, as we mentioned above, or they feel a need to disassociate with what feels like the oppression of their origins, their family, religious faith or local context. Having cultural features seems a liability to them, a restriction of freedom. Inability to address this inclination is another point of stasis in intercultural work.

4. Implicit colonialism
An even bigger issue is a kind of lingering sense of better-than-thou-ness, and noblesse-oblige do-goodism that results in a kind of hidden chauvinism, a myopic view of other cultures that too easily infects intercultural efforts and holds them back. Part of this involves interculturalists’ need to come to grips with colonial history and its enduring effects in political and economic terms , not just hand wringing. We are fully aware of having a long history of European colonialism and US colonialism that doesn’t take other people’s cultural and environmental ownership seriously. So we come to enlighten them, to bring them progress, to bring globalization, of course to sell them our products. The need for cultural savvy makes it an important commodity today and this situation begs us to take a larger view. But even more important for intercultural professionals are discovery, exploration and treatment of the psychological residue of colonial thinking in themselves. Failing this, it is hard to imagine our efforts moving forward in the ways we like to think that we intend.

5. Dyadic dimensional thinking
Traditionally, in the boilerplate of the intercultural profession, we studied values in what are called “dimensions.” This was our starting point, something for which we are very grateful to the original researchers, people like Geert Hofstede and Edward Hall. In their observations and studies they raised questions and classified the answers. For example, they identified people as more or less “individualistic” or “collective,” “masculine” or “feminine,” “direct or indirect,” according to how people in different cultures reported their likely behavior given similar situations. Their work made us aware of the fact that there were areas of life in which different people had different ways. Yet, on the other hand, the resulting value labels were a product of Western academic mentality, an attempt to understand other people on our own terms rather than on theirs. This may have been the key to the antechamber of understanding, but leaves us standing in front of a second locked door.

In sum, five road blocks, often in combination with each other, that challenge intercultural thinking and practice. Will social media change our static habits? Perhaps so, because they regularly confront us with evidence from around the world, literally at our fingertips, that may challenge these notions. Yet confirmation bias, our ability to see only what we know or expect to see and make otherness fit into it, is likely to be operative in the online world as well. What think you?

This post originally appeared in the blog of the Center for Intercultural New Media Research and is provided with the assistance of its editor Anastacia Kurylo.

Some Cultural Detective Training and Coaching Activities

Exploring how we value our own and each other’s cultural values–another step in CD sleuthing.

All too often we trainers are apportioned a less than useful amount of time for impacting the attitudes of our trainees. This affects our use of Cultural Detective as well as many other tools that we may choose or not choose to use under the pressure of diminished schedules.

When using Cultural Detective, I find it ever more important to differentiate what we do with the Values Lenses and the indigenous discourse that lies behind them from a lot of other intercultural training approaches that focus on dimensions and increasingly lead to stereotyping. When we speak about the values in Cultural Detective, it is important to remember that these have been developed through and by the inner language and feelings of the very members of those cultures that the instruments represent.

Nonetheless, when speaking of values, it is becoming increasingly common for us to have individual participants who question them, who do not identify with them, or who even dismiss them as stereotypes. Given that the best way of dealing with resistance in a pedagogical context (as well as many other contexts) may be to flow with it and direct its energies, I have developed a few approaches that I feel may help us in these somewhat challenging situations. I’ve described them as they might be used in a teaching or training context, but they may be adapted to individual and team coaching situations as well.

First, wherever possible, I use Cultural Detective: Self-Discovery, or at least an exercise or two from it, so that participants can at least claim some inheritance of cultural values and identify them as their own. This legitimizes the discussion of culture where it might be resisted. It usually overcomes or at least mitigates the participant’s temptation to see him or herself as acultural and the tendency to vaunt oneself as a global citizen, uncontaminated by inherited culture. This is not to deny, but to affirm the fact that TCKs and others like them may be digesting a smorgasbord of cultural influences as well as generating certain cultural features pertinent to their common experiences (explored in Cultural Detective: Blended Culture and CD Generational Harmony). Often elements of cultural identity are denied because they have caused pain in growing up and finding social inclusion. Once culture is legitimated as a topic of discussion and a relevant problematic for the individual being coached or the group being trained, other things become possible.

Here are some approaches that we use when one culture is trying to learn about another specific culture, as for example, when working with teams resulting from mergers and foreign acquisitions and installations. In such cases cultural conflicts and misunderstandings are often the elephant in the room, potentially touchy subjects. While Cultural Detective may be the ideal tool for pursuing understanding on both sides, it is not always a given that participants will spontaneously identify with the values of their own culture as they are presented in the Cultural Detective materials.

So, let’s say, for example, that we are dealing with German and US cultures, either in an organizational relationship or collaborative team. Daimler-Chrysler has already demonstrated that even a good bit of upfront diversity work and intercultural instruction may not be adequate to deal with our own deeply rooted values and our perceptions of others unless they are continually identified and addressed. Thus the Cultural Detective process must be mastered and practiced and in many cases facilitation must be applied on an ongoing basis until a functional collaborative culture is established. This can take quite a while.

Facing the possibility of denial of difference as well as the possibility of participants rejecting their own or the others’ cultural Values Lens as stereotypical or just plain wrong, here are a few strategies that I’ve found to be successful. Perhaps some of you have already discovered these on your own. If so, I would be interested in hearing your versions.

  1. Evaluating the strength of the discourse and the value that sums it up. I ask participants to study their own culture’s Lens and then rate on a scale of 0 to 5, weak to strong, their own sense of how they’ve personally appropriated and express in everyday words and actions each of the values described. Then I ask them to share this with their compatriots as well as with the representatives of the other culture who are participating with them. This is a matter of not only sharing their numerical rating of the values, but talking about how each cultural value expresses itself in their thinking and behavior, as well as what parts of it don’t seem to fit or which they don’t like to identify with. This may or may not resemble or relate to the “Negative Perceptions” found on the Lens itself.
  2. Identifying commonalities: Following this discussion, I ask the individuals of each culture to study the other culture’s Lens and to do two things. First, again on a scale of 0 to 5 to assess whether, and if so, the degree to which they identify with each of the cultural values of the other group as found on the lens. Then, secondly, and this is extremely important, to identify and jot down the keywords of their own inner conversation or discourse about the importance they accord to the values they seem to share and the ways in which they may practice each of them.  Thirdly, depending on the size of the group, ask them to share their results either individually, or to conduct a discussion within their same culture group and then have the groups report out their results to each other. Here is where the essential value is gained from seeing how people would express their appropriation of elements belonging to the other culture.
  3. How do we like to be treated? Given adequate time, here is another very valuable activity that could occur at this point, but might be even better to use after the group has resolved a critical incident or two. Ask each separate culture as a group to meet together to discuss and identify and list both the attitudes and kinds of treatment that they appreciate coming from the other culture, as well as those kinds of speech and behavior that they may find uncomfortable or even damaging to the collaborative and social relationship they are trying to create with each other. The previous activities at various points are likely to lead toward the identification and discussion of stereotypes, giving rise to another possibly useful activity. I have found that frequently trainers and teachers, perhaps out of a misguided sense of political correctness avoid the discussion of specific stereotypes or stereotypical expressions, missing a valuable learning opportunity.
  4. Investigating stereotypes: We’ve long accepted the fact that stereotypes contain a kernel of truth, but that the perspective with which they are expressed maybe overgeneralized and conducive to negative judgment. So, instead of dismissing stereotypes out of hand, we can use them as starting points for deeper discussion and further understanding. So, when stereotypes surface, I ask participants to discuss questions like the following ones:
    • What is the truth in them, however small? What do you think brought them about in the first place? What perpetuates them? What insights or cautions do they deliver to us? What is the discourse that we carry about self that makes them true for us when they are about us?
    • What exaggeration do they contain? What is the discourse that makes them noxious, conflictual, etc.? When are they likely to be painful or damaging? What limits do they place on our knowledge and our inquiry about others?

So, as I mentioned above these are some of the useful practices that I keep in my tool bag for enhancing the effectiveness of Cultural Detective.  It would be good to hear what others of you have developed or ways in which you view similar activities.

Cómo perder su puntualidad en quince días

3191265-mujer-abrazar-un-reloj(English follows the Spanish)

Estas fiestas de fin de año me han dejado la nostalgia de los ausentes a quienes no pude abrazar con el anhelo del reencuentro. En contraste, me han dado la oportunidad de gozarme lo simple de nuestras tradiciones más sentidas. Una de ellas sin duda para mí es la cocina. Debo confesar soy de las que cocina escuchando música de diciembre, desde villancicos como tutaina o mi burrito sabanero, hasta los infaltables temas de la Billos Caraca’s Boys, Los Melódicos o Los Hispanos. Crecí con esta música y a falta de estaciones, en Colombia es Navidad desde que las emisoras comienzan a emitir estas melodías y las vitrinas de tiendas presentan sus decoraciones. El gran inicio es nuestra fiesta de las velitas el 7 de diciembre, cuando todos los alumbrados oficialmente se encienden y  las casas se visten de luz con velas de colores y faroles que se extinguen al amanecer. Es nuestra fiesta de luz.

El ritmo cambia y el tiempo se hace aún más amigo. Contrasta el agite de las calles y sus trancones — embotellamientos — con el ritmo al que se llevan muchas tareas. Esta singular amistad con el tiempo se torna evidente para quienes nos visitan.

Tuvimos con mi familia la gran oportunidad de acoger a quienes estaban solos de paso por nuestra ciudad. Para Navidad, nuestra invitada de California se ganó la membresía en el club de los “gringos chéveres”. La citamos a las 10:00pm, llegó a las 10:15pm pues el taxista la buscó un poco más tarde en el hotel. Brindamos, cenamos y mis padres sin hablar más que yes or hello, le transmitieron nuestras tradiciones — bueno sí, mis hermanos y yo asistimos en la traducción — pero las sonrisas y la música son parte de un idioma universal.  La despedimos de madrugada el 25, luego de tres días en Bogotá se preparaba a disfrutar San Andrés y Cartagena. Su periplo apenas comenzaba.

Para fin de año, nuestros invitados esta vez fueron de Alemania y Francia. Los dos invitados de Alemania ya llevan varias semanas en el país. Su periplo ya los había llevado por Cartagena, la zona cafetera, Boyacá y alrededores del Cañón del Chicamocha. En resumen, se han recorrido casi la mitad del país. La cita a cenar era la misma 10:00pm, y mi razonamiento fue, como son alemanes les decimos a las 10:00pm para que cenemos juntos.

Pasaron las 10:15pm, las 10:30pm y nada. Estos invitados se hicieron amigos del tiempo. Llegaron unos 50min tarde luego de varias llamadas al celular disponible. Uno llega a preocuparse si fue que se perdieron o pararon en la cena equivocada. Cuando llegaron ya habíamos iniciado, simplemente pensamos algo se presentó y no iban a venir, !son alemanes! Llegaron, cenaron, brindamos… y hasta bailamos. Uno de ellos ha dicho que es la mejor Nochevieja de su vida.  Los tres hablan español muy bien, así que pudieron compartir sus experiencias con todos en casa, y fue así como pidieron mil excusas pues en uno de sus recorridos un simpático colombiano los citó “en diez minutos” que se volvieron tal vez cuatro horas.

Su lógica fue, nos dicen a las 10:00pm así que podemos llegar tarde. Al final les dije de este blog y que les contaría a todos como se puede perder la puntualidad en quince días de paso por Colombia. Ahora uno de ellos está de regreso en Alemania, y un alemán y un francés amigos del tiempo están en las playas de San Andrés.

Mis padres han sido los más alegres con estas visitas. Poco saben de sociedades policrónicas o monocrónicas, de alto o bajo contexto, ni tienen idea que el trabajo de Cultural Detective le muestra al mundo que el tiempo es un amigo en este país. Sin embargo ellos saben lo que nos hace auténticos y algo que siempre han enseñado en casa es el valor de querer lo nuestro, nuestras tradiciones y lo que somos — por supuesto, abiertos a aprender de los demás. Mis padres fueron sin duda los grandes anfitriones, hasta mi madre sacó a bailar a uno de los chicos y dió clases de música tropical. Sin duda para todos unas fiestas inolvidables. Como diría mi padre “my home is your home, welcome”.

Si quiere hacerse amigo del tiempo… visite Colombia.

Felicidades y un muy fructífero 2013.spanishfriday

How to Lose Your Punctuality in 15 Days, Written by Maryori Vivas
Translated by Dianne Hofner Saphiere

These end-of-the-year holidays have filled me with nostalgia for those I am unable to hug despite the desire for a reunion. In contrast, they have given me the opportunity to enjoy the simplicity of some of our deepest traditions. One of these for me is without doubt that of the kitchen. I must confess that I am one of those who cooks while listening to holiday music, everything from carols such as Tutaina or Mi Burrito Sabanero, to infallible tunes such as those of the Billos Caracas Boys, Los Melódicos, or Los Hispanos. I grew up with this music; in Colombia Christmas begins when the radio stations start playing such melodies and the shop windows display their holiday decorations. The great beginning of the festivities is the Festival of Lights on December 7th, when holiday lights are officially turned on and the houses are filled with the light of colorful candles and lanterns that aren’t turned off until dawn. This is our Festival of Lights.

The rhythm changes at this time of year, and time becomes even more of a friend than usual. Contrast the excitement of the streets and their traffic jams — traffic stops really — with the rhythm with which we complete the many tasks of the season. This unique friendship with time gradually becomes evident to our guests.

Our family had the wonderful opportunity this year of welcoming into our home those who were traveling alone in our city. For Christmas, our guest from California won membership in the “cool gringos” club. We invited her for 10 pm. She arrived at 10:15, because the taxi had picked her up late at her hotel. We toasted, dined, and my parents, who can’t speak more than “yes” or “hello” in English, communicated our traditions to her — ok, my sister, my brother and I assisted with the translation — but smiles and music are universal languages. We bade her goodbye at dawn on the 25th. After three days in Bogotá she was preparing to enjoy San Andrés and Cartagena. Her journey was just beginning.

On New Year’s Eve, this time our guests were from Germany and France. Our two guests from Germany had already been in our country for several weeks. Their journey had already taken them to Cartagena, the coffee region, Boyacá and the area around the Canyon of Chicamocha. They had travelled over half the country. I told them the same 10 pm for dinner, and my reasoning was that as they are Germans they’d arrive right around 10 pm so we could dine together.

10:15 pm passed, 10:30 pm, and nothing. Our guests had become friends with time. They arrived about 50 minutes later, after various cell phone calls. One starts to worry whether guests have gotten lost or have ended up at the wrong dinner. When they arrived we had already begun, simply imagining that something had come up and they weren’t going to be able to come. After all, they’re German. But they arrived, we ate, we toasted, and we even danced. One of them told us it was the best New Year’s Eve of his life.

All three speak Spanish very well, so they were able to share their experiences with everyone in the house. It was in this way that they asked a thousand pardons for their late arrival, explaining that in one of their travels a kind Colombian had told them “in ten minutes,” which had turned into perhaps four hours. Their logic had been that we’d told them 10 pm, so they could arrive late. In the end I told them about this blog, and that I would tell everyone the story about how to lose punctuality in 15 days of travel in Colombia. Now one of them is back in Germany, and the other German and the French friends of time are enjoying the beaches of San Andrés.

My parents have been the happiest with these visits. They know little about polychronic or monochronic societies, of high or low context, and they have no idea that the work of the Cultural Detective demonstrates to the world that time is a friend in our country. However, they know what makes us authentic and what has always been taught at home: the value of loving what’s ours, our traditions and who we are — of course with an openness to learning about others. My parents were without doubt wonderful hosts; my mother even got one of the young men to dance with her and gave a class on tropical music. These were definitely holidays to remember. As my father would say, “my home is your home; welcome!”

If you would like to be friends with time, visit Colombia.

Happy New Year! I wish you a very successful 2013.

A Gift for You from Thorunn and Avrora

The power of social media and online networking just keeps amazing me. Since starting this blog we’ve had soooo many great examples of how you all build on one another’s work and generously share with each other! It is our privilege to hold space here that helps do that.

You will remember our recent post entitled, More Cultural Appropriation: The Swastika? Well, a good friend and respected colleague of mine read it and said, “You know, Dianne, the swastika held a prominent place on a huge building, home to a major Icelandic shipping company, for decades. It’s gone now, though.” As we talked about it, she told me she’d used that story, with quite a few pictures, in a powerpoint slide presentation that she developed with a colleague.

With Thorunn and her co-presenter Avrora’s generosity of spirit, we are privileged to share with you a gift to all Cultural Detectives from them. Their slides summarize the swastika’s history, and include photos of its use in Bulgaria, Greece, Iceland, Native America, and Tibet, as well as the Nazi version. Thorunn and Avrora help you pull learning from these photos with slides explaining culture, judgments, and symbols.

Download their powerpoint slides here. And please let us know how you put them to use!

As an aside, I’d share with you that I recently met an incredibly interesting woman who is Indian and Austrian. Her stories about personal and family conflicts and learning around the swastika were really something to hear! Hopefully I might convince her to share some of them with you in a future guest post.