Layering Lenses: We are All Multicultural Individuals


“As an ethnic minority woman working in a large multinational firm, too often I feel like I have to learn only, to fit in. For the first time since I’ve worked here, I can now see, and explain, the unique and valuable perspective that I have to contribute as well!” she said, her face positively glowing.

The privilege of experiencing such affirming responses from Cultural Detective customers is part of what makes my job so incredibly worthwhile. This woman had just spent time creating her personal Values Lens, using Cultural Detective Self Discovery as well as a selection of Values Lenses from various other CD packages.

While the core of Cultural Detective is its process, which enables ongoing learning, collaboration and conflict resolution, the Lenses play an invaluable supporting role. As shown in the diagram above, one important role the Lenses can play is to help us realize that we are all unique, individual composites of the various cultures that have influenced and helped form us over our lifetimes. We are not “just” Chinese or Brazilian; we are much, much more than a single story, as Chimamanda Adichie so well told us.

In international cross-cultural work such as I’ve done over the past 34 years, too often people limit their definitions of “culture” to “nationality.” Culture goes way beyond nationality. Since by definition culture is the shared norms, values and behaviors of a group of people, culture can also include ethnicity, language group, physical ability or mobility, sexual orientation, or gender identity. More often than not, in my experience, while nationality(ies) tend to have a strong impact on our behavior, professional training, the culture of the organization to which the person belongs, the team culture, their socioeconomic level, generation, their faith or spirituality … all of these influence behavior as much as or more than national birth culture. It’s worthwhile for all of us to know ourselves in all the layers of our cultures: why we are the way we are, how we got to be who we are today. In this way we can better predict how we’ll respond, and better explain ourselves and our motivations to others, powerfully transforming collaboration.

People often ask me, where does personality end and culture begin? As a practitioner, my response is, “Does it really matter? Is there an objective, accurate answer?” We are all unique individuals and we are all also influenced by the multiple cultures in which we’ve grown up, been educated and trained, worked and lived. If we can keep our values and our goals clearly in mind, we can be flexible in our behavior and creative in our approaches, in order to perform at our highest and best in a broad variety of contexts.

10 thoughts on “Layering Lenses: We are All Multicultural Individuals

  1. I agree with you-each one is a unique individual, none of us are “mono-cultural”. When this rich unique talent/skills comes together and the ability to manage the polarity we can resolve many of our present day challenges.

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    • And Hamidah, you have so well done that for decades in the remarkable work you do. If we can contribute our unique talents fully, or at least more fully, and manage polarities…. Reminds me of a certain project we collaborated on years ago, lol.

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    • Hamidah, it is so good to hear from you here! Like you, I am optimistic that if we all contribute our gifts (get over our feelings of inadequacy or pride) and leverage the differences/polarities, we can truly transform the world in which we live and the way we live in it. Big hugs your way, beautiful!

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  2. Having lived and worked for more than 20 years in various countries across three continents, I totally agree that the place where I was born does not define me anymore. I have more things in common with people who have lived abroad for a significant time of their adult life than French people who never left France, regardless of nationality or social status and even from different generations.

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    • Anne, have you checked out the Cultural Detective Blended Culture? It’s superb, and is included in a CD Online subscription. About those of us (reconciled) “global nomads,” mixed race, mixed spiritual tradition, TCKs, etc.

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  3. Pingback: Dr. Carlos Cortés on Multicultural Identity | Cultural Detective Blog

  4. Pingback: We Are Not (Just) Our Nationality(ies)! | Cultural Detective Blog

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  6. This is why a student who goes on a study abroad program for 6 months is almost fluent in their language once they return and why
    a 5th year student in the class is at half his level. ” And the Spanish listener will not be able to read your mind and will assume that you actually mean what you say. But “despedir(se) de alguien” means
    to say good bye.

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  7. I love that you mention that culture is more than just nationality. It’s so important to look at the many things that influence and shape us in our lives! And it’s often easier to recognize the influence of our family, neighborhood, school, workplace, etc., at least initially.

    Thanks for sharing this post in the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up!

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