“Collide-o-culture” or “Kaleid-o-culture”: GPS for Human Beings


This graphic and the concepts underlying it are the work of Jackie Wasilewski.

“Collide-o-culture” or “Kaleid-o-culture”

I have long been a fan of Jackie Wasilewski’s. She is one of the brightest shining stars in our intercultural field, plus an all-around terrific human being and friend.

Her investigations are motivated by a couple of key objectives that dovetail beautifully with our work at Cultural Detective®:

  • How to include everyone (in her extended family at her holiday dinner table) in their full authenticity?
  • How to reconcile highly contrastive content (how to bridge), when it seems impossible to please everyone simultaneously?

Values ≠ Traditions
One point she makes is that values are not the same as traditions, and the two must not be confused. Values can be held while behavior is changed—a la Cultural Detective. Jackie told us in Spokane that when cultures get threatened, they get reified. That when cultures stop changing, they die. So, our quest needs to be, how to preserve and change, simultaneously?

GPS for Human Beings
Way back when Jackie conducted her Ph.D. research, she analyzed the personal histories of 192 multicultural people. That approach—learning from the inside-out rather than the outside-in, is also the Cultural Detectiveapproach.

One of the outcomes of her research was the graphic shown above, a “GPS” outlining paths to multiculturalism. The negative paths at the bottom of the sphere used to have only one label, subtracting, but over time this label has come to include destruction/loss and shedding, and Jackie tells us that the “choice” of this direction is often the result of oppression. However, this cluster of negative pathways also has a mysterious connection to the creation option at the top of the choice sphere. Sometimes the old has to be wiped away for the new to come into existence. At Cultural Detective we usually aim for mixing, creation, or adding. The final two options in her framework are maintaining and converting/assimilation. Here is a quote from the paper she presented:

To use this “GPS” effectively, each of us has to examine our goals and the characteristics of the context in which we are making the choice. Where do we want to end up? What are the opportunities and constraints of the environment in which we find ourselves? Where are our “degrees of freedom”? What are the costs and benefits of taking each direction? Which “direction” will lead us nearer our goal?

We have to imagine that we are like an aikido master standing in the center of a sphere consisting of the six options or “directions” [maintaining, converting, mixing, adding, creating and the subtractive cluster]. At each choice point, we have to consider all our options, just as if we were considering them for the very first time. None of these directions is better or worse. None is of higher or lower rank. Some are more complex to enact in a given context or set of circumstances. But the best choice is the appropriate one for enabling us to continue towards our goal in that particular context.

To manage these options productively people need a support network; a supra-ordinate goal; the ability to acknowledge their own complexity; the ability to transform negative emotional energy into positive energy; the ability flexibly to use the six options stated above; and at certain key moments, the ability to publicly stand for their full complexity so that new social space can be created.

“Collide-o-culture” or “Kaleid-o-culture”?
One of her definitions of “people power” is the web or sphere of interpersonal relationships we hold. Jackie tells us that if we think in relationships, then when we meet another individual we will realize that we are bringing together two communities. In her words, will it be “Collide-o-culture” or “Kaleid-o-culture”? If we see the relationships, we will be more motivated to try to understand.

Indigeneity and Respect
The concept of “indigeneity” emerged from work conducted by LaDonna Harris, a Comanche woman and political advocate, and Alexander Christakis, a systems scientist. They discovered that indigenous people and 20th century knowledge management specialists had similar approaches to the management of complex problems. The four principles they identified for organizing societies that are both inclusive and just are: Relationship, Responsibility, Reciprocity, and Redistribution. The result of these four R’s is a fifth: Respect. Goals of the ongoing work that has now been taken worldwide include maximum autonomy and maximum choice for the smallest units of society. To again quote Jackie’s SUSA paper:

Physician, therapist and healer, Brenda Davies (2007) says there is “nothing but communication.” Our truth, as we know it, is always what we are communicating. However, we have to be willing to update our truth every second. Our integrity is also a function of our truth as we know it. Each of us has a unique integrity based on our experiences. It constitutes our personal set of rules, but it too is always moving. Understanding another person’s integrity is the best we can do, and it allows us to love them separately from their behavior. The key would seem to be to create discursive spaces like the ones discussed above where we can all update our truth together and enable our mutual integrity to rise exponentially.

This is a VERY brief overview and of course does not do Jackie’s work adequate justice.  I trust it will motivate you to learn more about her work, and to use what she knows in order to use the Cultural Detective method and materials to the highest benefit. You can download a full copy of the paper she presented that this article summarizes.

(This post is taken in major part from an article I wrote in 2010.)

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