You know that PRACTICE of intercultural competence, ongoing, sustained practice, has been a theme of this blog. I have likened intercultural competence to physical fitness, to maintaining a workout practice, to symphonic and jazz music, and also to spiritual practice. The theme is ongoing, structured use and honing of skill.
After receiving some news last week, I have realized that perhaps it was Kevin Booker who first implanted several of these analogies in my mind. Until that point I hadn’t connected the two, but with his passing from this life, I revisited his blog posts, and rediscovered this one, which so moved me when he first published it back in 2009. At the time I had just met Kevin—he had participated in a Cultural Detective Facilitator Certification in Granada, Spain. While I repost it here in its entirety, it’s worth clicking through to see the funkalicious colors and design of his original post.
—By Kevin Booker
I swam everyday this week.
I decided to change my physical training routine this summer by working more often underwater instead of lifting weights, the latter of which I have done on average three times a week for the past decade.
Not that lifting in the gym is stale by any means: I stopped counting reps years ago and learned instead to focus on the tempo and energy of the music in my portable music player.
Since most of my workouts are between 90 minutes and 3-and-a-half hours long, I’ve learned to challenge all my muscle groups by utilizing particular songs to motivate and encourage my movement and breathing, like a dancer uses music to improvise and discover new movement.
For example, I’ve used Janet Jackson’s “If”, not only because of the superlative Jam/Lewis production values, but because the tempo of the song is perfect for ab crunches on a decline bench at various angles. When I mix in Hamilton Bohannon’s “Disco Symphony“, Cameo’s “Word Up”, EWF’s “Can’t Let Go”, or Lyn Collin’s “Think”, I can easily repeat 3 sets of 15, at 3 to 4 different angles, for a continuous minimum of 30 to 45 minutes.
The result of doing this for a few years is that my lower back muscles are significantly stronger than they used to be and I now possess abs of steel.
Same with the shoulder press: I use Parliament Funkadelic’s “Flashlight” for strength training, along with The Gap Band’s “Burn Rubber” or a combination of Roger Troutman’s “Do Wah Ditty” and “So Ruff So Tuff” to hit all the right spots with stanknasty funk, say 3 to 4 sets of 15 reps using 25 to 35 kilo (55 to 77 lb.) weights. Not a lot of weight, but enough strength training in my shoulder and neck muscles to do headstands without using my hands at the end of my yoga stretching routines. No brag, just fact.
What I’ve observed is that most urban dwellers my age lack youthfulness and energy simply because they don’t workout enough to the funk.
Working out to the funk means physical movement expressed through multiple body rhythms, engaging in disciplined rehearsal of physical balance, strength, quickness, improvisation, circular movement and synchronization. When entrainment is achieved by diligent practice, funk becomes it’s own reward.
As Robert Farris Thompson has explained, the word funk is of ki-congo origin and literally means “to work out to achieve one’s aims”. This metaphor signifies an entire value system which Africans brought with them to the new world and represents the idea of achieving any goal by the use of extreme effort.
Thus understood, funk music culture is an excellent opportunity to understand a cultural value system in which highly trained cultural specialists leverage diverse ideas (obscure styles of music, varied costume designs, diverse eras in dance and movement, recombined stories and myths), distill patterns and compare archetypes while leveraging conceptual values, such as key signatures, tempos, mixtures of music theory and dynamic expression.
In sum, to understand, appreciate and utilize funk music organizational principles, one must cultivate a high tolerance for ambiguity, the skill to use diverse concepts and exercise a life-long commitment to uncovering cultural complexity. I am convinced that the people at Cultural Detective understand this.
The Cultural Detective Method provides a language to explain the mental programming with which we perceive, learn about and understand fundamental intercultural communication principles. It provides an innovative, enjoyable, culture-specific, cultural values and real-life situation based training approach which can enable and empower anyone to better understand and work with colleagues who have cultural histories which differ from their own.
It effectively distills and teaches the three necessary intercultural abilities required for global collaboration and cooperation:
- The ability to know and explain ourselves as individuals; this is known as subjective culture.
- The ability to better understand the intentions of other people; this is known as cultural literacy.
- The tools to work mindfully and consciously to leverage cultural difference, regardless of personal cultural history; this is known as cultural bridge building.
This innovative and painstakingly researched training method has been developed by the pioneering work of Dianne Hofner Saphiere and the thought leadership experience of at least 90 credible intercultural researchers, educators and specialists from all over the globe. This method has been tested, tried and proven to improve the intercultural communication abilities of co-workers from more than 96 cultures world-wide. Major corporations such as ABB, BNP Paribas Bank, Cable and Wireless, Handelsbanken, Mitubishi, Rohm and Hass, Royal Dutch/Shell Oil, Samsung and Texas Instruments have successfully used The Cultural Detective Method in Africa, The Americas, Asia, Europe and the Pacific. It is continues to be used as a highly effective method for intercultural team building, expatriate training and collaboration projects in business schools and institutions of higher learning around the world.
What I love about the Cultural Detective training method is that it uses universal teaching approaches, such as storytelling, which are quickly and easily understood by everyone on the planet.
Anybody, anywhere in the world can understand and appreciate a good story. Along with music and pictures, storytelling is the most ancient way we have to transmit and receive culture. Through stories, we pass on our values, beliefs, histories and traditions from generation to generation. This process is what general semantics specialists call time binding.
Cultural Detective uses storytelling and small group discussion to help us understand ourselves and others within the context of the unique and multiple core cultural values which motivate our behaviors, our beliefs and perceptions of our place in the world. This process enables us to see ourselves and others as unique individuals influenced by culture instead of one-dimensional stereotypes. Moreover, by promoting the development of common-sense strategies to improve intercultural collaboration, Cultural Detective helps us to understand cultural values as positive intention and discover new ways to resolve conflict in everyday life.
I personally believe that using the Cultural Detective training method is an excellent way for people to overcome their fear of the other, combat status anxiety and eradicate racism.
But please don’t take my word for it; try it for yourself.
In the meantime, I’m going swimming. For me, swimming provides an effective, low impact cardiovascular work out and I have come to use it as a training metaphor for overcoming fear.
Perhaps I should explain.
As a small child, I had a deathly fear of water. I do not know where this fear came from; perhaps it was because I lived near the ocean which to my young, inexperienced eyes was a vast, violent, unpredictable and unknowable place.
To my good fortune, my mother recognized this and helped me to overcome my fear of water by taking me to swimming classes 5 days-per-week, months at a time, every summer, 4 years in a row. Long story short, after enough training, I eventually entered a local marathon competition and at 13 years old, took first place over 40 competitors.
Of course nowadays, many years later, I no longer swim in marathon competitions, but when I do swim, I am still mindful of how much effort it actually takes to train and condition the body to use different strokes efficiently, how difficult it is to strengthen leg muscle groups for effective kicks and the amount of extra personal effort and determination it takes to build endurance.
As an intercultural education facilitator, I have come to believe that participants in human resource training programs need to understand this principle as well: it does not matter how one is led to water or how nice the pool is: if one does not make the extra effort to learn, one cannot learn to swim.
For this one lesson, I am grateful to my mother.
She was a master teacher who lived and worked as an advocate for cultural literacy for all people.
She was a lyrical soprano, accomplished pianist and an extraordinarily graceful dancer.
In her lifetime, she was able to develop a higher tolerance for ambiguity.
Every time I swim in a foreign swimming pool, be it in Aktau or Sao Paulo, Paris or London, Bucharest or Berlin or anywhere my unquenchable curiosity takes me, I think of her and am mindful of her commitment to life long learning as a method to extinguish ignorance and fear.
This is why I’m not too cool to swim.
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Thus concludes Kevin’s post.
Rest in peace, my dear friend and colleague. Thank you for so generously sharing your incredible talent, bottomless joy, support for others, and your never-ending source of creativity and energy. You were a living example of the fruits of discipline and practice: gifted in so many disciplines, other-centered yet always fully you, spontaneous and ready for anything. Our heart goes out to your partner and our teammate, CD Romania co-author Rita Booker-Solymosi, and all Kevin’s family.