Reaching across the Divide

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These days we see, hear, and read about divides—political, racial, religious, economic, etc.—all the ways we are different from each other. It often seems these differences are exploited and amplified to encourage disagreement and conflict. It is hard to combat the feeling that we are living in a time of strong opinions and large cultural differences. But there have been previous situations of large cultural divides and evidence that people have bridged those cultural gaps in wonderful ways.

On a recent trip to Astoria, Oregon, a small town on the northwest tip of the state where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, I was reminded of how the town’s history is unusually multicultural. Of course, the first inhabitants were native peoples who lived in the area for thousands of years prior to the first Europeans arriving in 1792. The explorers Lewis and Clark and members of their cross-continent expedition spent the winter of 1805-06 in the area. By 1850 the town had 250 inhabitants, a large city for the time, and by 1920 it boasted over 14,000 residents— the second largest city in Oregon.

Astoria was noted for being very cosmopolitan; timber and fishing brought immigrants from around the world including Finns, Swedes, Chinese, and East Indians, among others. In fact, the influence of the Finns was so strong that street signs were in English and Finnish—the only bilingual city in Oregon at the time.

I ran across a story from Oregon folklore that illustrates the influence of the Finns on Astoria. Like most such handed-down stories, one likes to think they are describing the original situation accurately.

“A 16-year old girl from Finland, who had traveled to the US to live with her grandparents in Astoria, arrived unmet at the RR station. Failing to see her grandparents and unable to speak English, she slumped down on the wooden platform of the depot and began to sob. Seeing her anguish, a Chinese passerby paused to ask what was wrong. Tearfully, she told him. “Where do your grandparents live?” he asked. She took from the pocket of her dress a slip of paper and gave it to the man. “I know where this house is at,” he said. “I will take you there.” And he picked up her suitcase.

As they walked, the girl asked, “How is it that you speak Finnish?” “In Astoria,” the Chinese good samaritan replied, “if you do not speak Finnish you had better move elsewhere.” [from: in search of Western Oregon, Ralph Friedman, 1990, p. 3]

I found this story delightful and a great illustration of life in early Astoria. And a wonderful example of making an effort to reach across the divide.

But what could a Cultural Detective see in this story? I could imagine the young woman exhibiting the Finnish value of Sisu (Perseverance) by making the trek by herself. And perhaps the Chinese value of Jia ting (Family) influenced the gentleman’s decision to help the young lady. And/or maybe, as an immigrant himself and a Blended Culture person, he recognized the challenges of landing in a strange place with no one to meet you. Contextuality (It all depends) is an important Blended Culture value.

Once the Cultural Detective way of viewing the world becomes a habit, you can apply it in all sorts of circumstances, past and present. Using a Cultural Detective approach to viewing history can inform us of the issues that both “sides” faced in any interaction. And remember that “history” can be that discussion you had with your co-worker last week!

In these times of deep divisions, it is useful to understand the underlying values that impact a situation in order to figure out a solution. Using the Cultural Detective Online provides immediate access to the values of over 60 cultures, providing a roadmap for discovery, offering clues and a process to sort out challenges and to build bridges across divisions. We don’t have to always agree, but as interculturalists, we should definitely do our best to understand one another.

CD Certification in Mexico in January!

DSC_4549You have asked for this. Repeatedly. “Help us get out of the snow, cold, and grayness of winter” for some terrific intercultural professional development. A Cultural Detective Facilitator Certification Workshop will be held January 16-18, 2020, in my hometown for the past 12 years—Mazatlán, México.

Mazatlán is home to gorgeous tropical colonial architecture, world-class seafood, dozens of miles of pristine beaches, a seven-mile oceanfront promenade, an historic lighthouse with crystal bridge, and some of Latin America’s best opera, ballet, and modern dance.  Located at the mouth of the Sea of Cortés, you can watch whales doing acrobatics, dolphins and manta rays jumping, huge colonies of tropical birds, and witness some of the world’s most dramatic sunsets. Mazatlecos or “salty feet” (patasaladas) are some of the most outgoing, friendly, and inclusive people you will ever meet. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

 

I rarely facilitate these workshops, but I will this time, and I hope you’ll join me to learn more about two of my favorite things: Cultural Detective and Mazatlán. Certifications are highly interactive; this one will include a project in the community to enable attendees to get to know a bit of local culture and gain a feel for its people. In addition, we will have optional morning and evening activities to make the most of the location.

Cultural Detective is one of only two process-based intercultural competence development methods, and the only one available online for ongoing learning. Groups and teams improve their ability to collaborate by working together to debrief their own real experiences and sharing their Personal Values Lenses.

These workshops get rave reviews from both highly experienced professionals and those new to the intercultural field:

  • “Cultural Detective has changed my programs from a ‘deliverer of information’ focus to that of discovery, with less pressure on myself and participants.”
  • “Better than a master intercultural workshop! Facilitator exuded training experience and intercultural expertise.”
  • “Cultural Detective has become the backbone, the design core, of almost everything I do.”
  • “Cultural Detective is so versatile: it’s useful for a variety of purposes and it can be used in so many ways. It’s broadened and deepened my repertoire of effectiveness.”
  • “Cultural Detective has enabled me to resolve counter-productive conflicts between co-workers much more effectively.”
  • “Cultural Detective is a wonderful tool! It will help any team to work better as a team.”
  • “Cultural Detective is indescribably valuable in providing directions and methodology to stimulate intercultural awareness and competence.”
  • “Cultural Detective helps me to be a better manager of my employees. It helps make my company attractive to a younger and more diverse workforce.”
  • “Cultural Detective helps me not to be so quick to get angry or criticize. It has made me much more productive.”

Clients have shown us that regular on-the-job use of Cultural Detective improves scores on the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI); one client report its staff gained two stages in just four months! Customers also tell us that use of Cultural Detective increases their bottom line:

  • One client directly attributed a 30% increase in customer satisfaction to Cultural Detective.
  • Dozens of consultants have reported sales increases as their clients continue using their subscriptions to Cultural Detective Online and then ask the consultant back for further in-depth training, consulting and coaching.

Our workshop will begin on Thursday evening from 5 – 8pm for a welcome reception and workshop. This will allow you to fly in that day, take a walk on the beach, and soak in some sunshine before joining us for sunset. Both Friday and Saturday we will meet from 9am – 5pm, and will conclude the program on Saturday with a no-host dinner and night on the town. You may fly out at your leisure on Sunday or plan to stay longer for a holiday.

Our venue is a charming smaller resort hotel right on the prime beach in the Golden Zone—Las Flores Beach Resort. Single rooms have two full size beds for 1755 pesos/night (about US$92); suites also have two beds, a guaranteed ocean view, sitting room, kitchenette, and terrace for 2539 pesos/night (about US$134). There are numerous less expensive options as well as more luxurious lodging if you prefer.

Register now to secure your early-bird reduced rate. Click here for more information, call +1-913-902-0243, or email Greg or Dianne at cd@culturaldetective.com. We look forward to working with you, and thank you for all you do to promote much-needed intercultural competence in this world of ours!

Antibiotics and Intercultural

©Dianne Hofner Saphiere, Thru Di’s Eyes Photography.  Used with permission.

For over a decade we have been talking about the fact that developing intercultural competence is a process and a commitment, not a one-shot event. Recently our senior trainer of facilitators, Tatyana Fertelmeyster, interrupted her usual incisive yet humorous social commentary on LinkedIn to share a personal rant:

“I am getting so tired of [the] conversation [that] diversity trainings don’t work! What in the world are we talking about? Antibiotics don’t work! Dah, did you take them twice a day for ten days? No, I took one pill and felt no difference. Or — I took one, felt better, and stopped. And now I am even more sick. Wait — why did a doctor tell you to take antibiotics in the first place? I told him I need to take antibiotics once a year in October. I don’t know why I need to do it and they never make any difference but I still do it. Or — I can’t take antibiotics any more. I have been using them for any kind of health problems for years and now I am allergic to them. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Maybe we first need to define what is a high quality diversity training, what it is and is not good for, who and why should be able to “prescribe” and “administer” that kind of treatment, and how the course of treatment should look depending on the issues and desirable outcomes. The whole process, not a one pill, one time, etc.

I absolutely LOVED this analogy! If bias, injustice, inequity, exclusion, and hate are illness-inducing bacteria, intercultural and diversity competence are antibiotics that can heal society. Yet, there’s a whole lot of garbage out there, and how do we wade through it? As we have frequently discussed on this blog, developing intercultural and equity competencies needs to be done developmentally and sustainably, as with anything in life, and Cultural Detective is a core tool that is proven effective for doing so.

As with any rant by a beloved and respected commentator, a few of the comments were outstandingly salient as well:

  1. “I have two qualifying comments:  1. Diversity training doesn’t lead to change.  People lead to change. No amount of training will change the attitude or behaviour of someone who doesn’t want to change.  I know my life will be healthier if I eat less and run more — but I don’t want to change. Diversity training can only raise awareness and try to influence change. Even the best trainer will not make a racist recant their views.   2. A half day/one day/two day training will not create lasting change, but it’s the pattern of 90% of training offered in this area. You attend, have a great time discussing the ways in which diversity matters, you even strategise on what you can do to improve diversity, but you [go] back to your desk to the 200 emails you need to action, the huge task list and the fantastic training slips into oblivion.  And I haven’t even started on eLearning yet…. To promote diversity and inclusion agendas, we need to mainstream them.  We need to by default consider D&I at every stage of interacting, policy creating, decision making, problem solving, recruiting, firing…….etc.  If we consider D&I by default, then attitudes and behaviours will change.”
  2. “I wonder how many influencers and leaders in business sign up to this training, and also believe in its purpose. Societal change, and change within a business also needs authentic and committed leadership.”
  3. “When I was young I heard this story: ‘A man heard from someone that faith could move mountains. He had a big mountain near his house that cut out the light — so he decided to try this faith idea. As he went to bed that night he said ‘I have faith that the mountain will be gone in the morning.’ The next day he pulled back the curtains and the mountain was still there. And he said ‘I knew it wouldn’t be gone!’ Many companies sign up for diversity training because they heard it helps business. But, like the man above, they don’t really believe it and don’t fully buy in.”

If you’d like to read the full conversation or join in, here is the link. If you’d like to take your first step towards developing sustainable, meaningful intercultural competence, start with a subscription here.

Le « Bridging » 

I hope you’ll join Catherine Roignan and myself in the heart of Paris on 18 November for this terrific one-day, bilingual workshop! English follows the French.

Atelier le samedi 18 novembre 2017 de 9h30 à 17h30
Hotel Normandy, 7 rue de l’Echelle – 75001 Paris
Animé par Dianne Hofner Saphiere et Catherine Roignan
Organisé par SIETAR France

Le « Bridging » : méthodes et techniques pour faciliter la coopération
au-delà des différences culturelles

Savoir « créer des ponts » entre personnes ou groupes culturellement différents, les mettre en situation et en capacité de communiquer et coopérer de façon efficace : c’est à la fois une nécessité et un but pour de nombreux chefs d’équipe, que ce soit en entreprise, dans les administrations ou les ONG.

Le « bridging » est aussi l’objectif ultime du travail interculturel : si on apprend à remettre sa propre culture en perspective et à se familiariser avec la culture de l’autre, c’est précisément pour parvenir à construire ce pont sur lequel se rencontrer.

Mais comment s’y prend-on concrètement? Comment les managers et les professionnels de la formation et du conseil peuvent-ils favoriser la synergie des efforts et des équipes internationales?

Le Cultural Detective® « Bridging Cultures » capitalise sur l’expertise existant désormais dans ce domaine : compétences, activités, grilles d’analyse, bonnes pratiques pour faire évoluer les esprits et les pratiques, issues d’expériences dans différentes organisations dans le monde.

Dans cet atelier dynamique et participatif, vous apprendrez comment :

  • Renforcer votre capacité personnelle à « faire le pont » avec des personnes différentes de vous
  • Prévenir et surmonter les blocages dans la communication
  • Adapter votre stratégie de « bridging » à des contextes particuliers
  • Identifier des mesures concrètes permettant de faciliter la coopération entre groupes culturellement divers.

Vous serez amenés à expérimenter vous-mêmes plusieurs exercices du Cultural Detective® « Faire le pont entre les cultures », de manière à pouvoir ensuite les transposer dans vos groupes et organisations.

L’atelier sera bilingue, en français et en anglais.

Programme de la journée :

9h30      Qu’est-ce que le « bridging » ? Présentation de la problématique
10h30    Compétence 1 : Identifier son attitude personnelle face au « bridging »
11h30    Pause café
11h40    Compétence 2 : Prévenir et surmonter des blocages de communication
13h         Déjeuner libre
14h15     Compétence 3 : Analyser les contextes d’intervention
16h         Pause café
16h15     Compétence 4 : Identifier des mesures concrètes et adaptées pour créer des
ponts
17h15     Conclusion, retours des participants et pistes pour action.

Registration: http://sietarfrancecongres.com/events/le-bridging-un-atelier-propose-par-dianne-hofner-saphiere-et-catherine-roignan/

Bridging Cultural Differences: Methods and Techniques to Create Cooperation that Leverage Differences

18th November 2017 from 9.30 am to 5.30 pm
Hotel Normandy, 7 rue de l’Echelle – 75001 Paris
Facilitated by Dianne Hofner Saphiere and Catherine Roignan
Organized by SIETAR France

To build a bridge between culturally diverse persons or groups and develop the environment and ability to communicate and cooperate efficiently: that’s both a necessity and a goal of many team leaders in organizations worldwide.

Bridging is also the ultimate goal of any intercultural work: learning to put our own culture in perspective and learn about the other’s cultures is part of the process.

But how to do this concretely? And how can managers and training and consultancy professionals best support the synergy of efforts and teams, so that differences become assets ?

Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures capitalizes on the now-existing expertise of intercultural bridging practices in different organisations around the world. It identifies key competencies, offers activities, grids for analysis and best practices to help mindsets and habits evolve and to create cooperation.

In this dynamic and interactive Cultural Detective®Bridging Cultures workshop you will learn how to:

  • Reinforce your personal ability to communicate and bridge with different people.
  • Prevent and overcome blocking situations.
  • Adapt your bridging strategy to specific contexts.
  • Explore different techniques to foster cooperation between culturally different groups.

This workshop will leverage select exercises from Cultural Detective® Bridging Cultures so that you can replicate them in your work, communities and organizations. You will leave the workshop with practices you can implement immediately as well as extensive handouts.

The workshop will be facilitated bilingually in French and English.

Program of the day :

9.30 am                               What is « bridging » ? Definition and issues at stake
10.30                                    Key Competency 1 : Self-awareness and bridging mindset
11.30                                    Coffee Break
11.40                                    Key Competency 2 : Overcoming blocking situations in
communication
1 pm                                     Open Lunch
2.15 pm                                Key Competency 3 : Contextual analysis
4 pm                                     Coffee Break
4.15                                       Key Competency 4 : Generating bridges
5.15 – 5.30                           Conclusion, feedback and tips for action

Registration: http://sietarfrancecongres.com/events/le-bridging-un-atelier-propose-par-dianne-hofner-saphiere-et-catherine-roignan/

Focus on Responsible Tourism

We greet hundreds of thousands of national and international visitors each year on the west coast of México where I live. For years I have promoted cultural and religious tourism to the State Secretary of Tourism, trying to encourage travelers to get beyond the beer and beaches to experience a bit of the “real Mexico.”

Recently, a colleague in Milan, Maura di Mauro, told me about a special film track she coordinated in May at the SIETAR Europa Congress in Dublin entitled, Focus on Responsible Tourism. She cautioned me about how the culture of Mursi villagers in Ethiopia was changing due to tourism. Thanks to an influx of camera-toting tourists willing to pay for photos, the villagers increasingly exaggerate their traditional practices and even falsely embellish them, to make them more attractive to visitors. She also told me about Chinese tourists descending en masse on a small village in The Netherlands. Many of the Dutch residents welcome the added economic boost such international tourism provides, but there are also downsides to such tourism and, again, changes to the host culture.

Maura got me excited and I can not WAIT to view these two films!

The first documentary Maura told me about is called Framing the Other” by Ilja Kok and Willem Timmers  (25 min, English and Mursi with English subtitles, €445 for the film in an educational package with guide and readings on tourism’s impact).The Mursi tribe lives in the basin of the Omo River in the south of the east African state of Ethiopia. The women are known for placing large plates in their lower lips and wearing enormous, richly decorated earrings. Every year hundreds of Western tourists come to see the unusually adorned natives; posing for camera-toting visitors has become the main source of income for the Mursi. To make more money, they embellish their “costumes” and finery in such a manner that less of their original authentic culture remains. The film contrasts the views of Mursi women and those of Dutch tourists preparing for a meeting. This humorous and at the same time chilling film shows the destructive impact tourism has on traditional communities. The film screening was followed by a Q&A with producer Ilja Kok. A preview follows:

The second film is called Ni Hao Holland: The Chinese are coming” by Willem Timmers (25 min, Mandarin and Dutch with English subtitles, €395 for the film in an educational package with slides and readings on understanding Chinese tourists). This is a documentary about Chinese tourists and their quest for the authentic Dutch experience. Cherry, the main character, has long dreamed of swapping her home city Beijing for the Dutch village Giethoorn. She has heard and read a lot about this mythical place. The day arrives that she and her friend hop on the plane in search of adventure. In the meantime, entrepreneurs from Giethoorn work hard behind the scenes to cater to this “Holland experience.” They want to make the most of the fast-growing flow of Chinese tourists to their village. How is this authenticity created by some and experienced by others? Below is a preview:

Maura also curated a third film for the festival at SIETAR Europa:Holi-days” by Randi Malkin Steinberger (50 min). If you’re interested in tourism and its impact on culture, it looks very worthwhile.
Why do we visit pilgrim’s places, art capitols and tourist’s paradises en masse? Traveling from Jerusalem via Florence to Las Vegas, Steinberger takes the answers to these questions to an increasingly general plane. In Jerusalem (welcoming three million visitors a year) we see tourists visiting the holy places, buying souvenirs, and putting themselves through torments that Jesus Christ once endured. What they are looking for is elucidated in short statements by pilgrims, tour operators, church leaders, guides, scientists, and souvenir vendors. All these opinions put forward a few basic ideas: tourism and commerce overgrow religion, and sacred places and objects give people the feeling that they are part of some higher order. We could look at Florence in the same way, where annually six million tourists drink in the best of Renaissance Art. The street interviews allow the same conclusion as in Jerusalem: people feel dumbfounded and overwhelmed. The countless tourists and the massive trade in souvenirs “have turned the city into a congealed moment in time.” The climax of this film journey is reached in Las Vegas. In this city, 36 million people a year enjoy replicas of famous cities and monuments, cinematic reconstructions of historical moments, spectacular shows, and dazzling gambling palaces. Here, the reality, which people also look for in Jerusalem and Florence, is better and more typical (and even more soulless) than in reality.

Free and Effective Intercultural Assessment Instruments

The Freebies page of our website contains a plethora of downloads and resources we hope you’ll use. Today I’d like to focus your attention on one small portion of that page: Assessment Instruments.

There are, fortunately, loads of terrific intercultural assessment instruments on the market today. The instruments that we share do not compete with those but, rather, fill a different niche. There are just four of them, but they are important, IMHO.

  1. First, and most important, is the Diversity Collegium’s Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks. With contributions from 95 Expert Panelists including me, this complimentary download is a tremendous resource for any organization or community aiming to improve the quality and caliber of its diversity and inclusion.
  2. Second, but also of great interest to our community, are the two Cultural Detective Competence Assessments. These tools are still in beta-testing and require your use and refinement, please! If you use Cultural Detective and would like to conduct pre- and post-tests to verify how well your learners have integrated the methodology into their daily thoughts and habits, give these instruments a go. And be sure to provide us your feedback and improvements/refinements!
  3. The final assessment tool is a quiz on world maps. It could be useful in training, or for your personal professional development. Maps obviously reflect the world views of their creators, and this quiz is aimed to help users realize that.

There are loads of other complimentary resources available from our site. Please put them to good and frequent use! Together we can make a difference, promoting respect, collaboration, innovation and justice.

The SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence

P1280469I’ve been intending to write this post for a long time. Back in early 2012, longtime esteemed colleague Janet Bennett called me to ask a favor. I knew she was editing a new Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence, a volume that should be in every serious library, so I was curious what she might ask of me. I was thrilled to hear that she wanted me to write an entry on “Creativity in Intercultural Training.”

Decades ago, colleagues would make fun of me for bringing into my training room yarn, masks, clay, scissors, colored paper, and glue. They swore to me that business people, executives in particular, did not like “crafts.” They would see us listening to music, moving, making human sculptures or films, and again swore that business people, especially executives, did not want to get so “creative.” Most of them were still lecturing or, perhaps, using critical incidents or cultural assimilator quizzes. While they wrote books, I created simulations and games. We all have our differing gifts.

The reason I felt so much passion about whole-body learning is that we all know intercultural competence involves our full selves: our mind, body and spirit, our emotions, brains, and hands. When entering a new place, we need to be able to hold onto our self esteem while letting go of what we “know” to be true. That involves super-human levels of wisdom, intuition, and flexibility. It involves “Super Learning,” and reinventing ourselves in a newer, more interculturally capable, edition. It involves creativity.

Things have obviously changed in our field in the intervening years. When Janet asked me to author the creativity entry for the Encyclopedia, I felt acknowledged for that uphill battle from so long ago. She instructed me that the entry would have to be short (five pages), as there would be over 300 entries total.

I very much enjoyed writing the piece, and am incredibly appreciative of my good friend Barbara Kappler, Assistant Dean, GPS Global Programs and Strategy, UMN Twin Cities at the University of Minnesota. She is perhaps the absolute best facilitator of intercultural learning I know, and she kindly reviewed and commented on my draft before I submitted the final version.

I highly recommend you purchase the complete two-volume encyclopedia, published by Sage in 2015, or ask your librarian to add it to their collection. The publishers have given me permission to share my three entries, however, so here is the link for you to read Intercultural Training Creativity.

Below is what Sage says about the full volume:

In 1980, SAGE published Geert Hofstede’s Culture’s Consequences. It opens with a quote from Blaise Pascal: “There are truths on this side of the Pyrenees that are falsehoods on the other.” The book became a classic—one of the most cited sources in the Social Science Citation Index—and subsequently appeared in a second edition in 2001. This new SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence picks up on themes explored in that book.

Cultural competence refers to the set of attitudes, practices, and policies that enables a person or agency to work well with people from differing cultural groups. Other related terms include cultural sensitivity, transcultural skills, diversity competence, and multicultural expertise. What defines a culture? What barriers might block successful communication between individuals or agencies of differing cultures? How can those barriers be understood and navigated to enhance intercultural communication and understanding? These questions and more are explained within the pages of this new reference work.

Key Features:

  • 300 to 350 entries organized in A-to-Z fashion in two volumes
  • Signed entries that conclude with Cross-References and Suggestions for Further Readings
  • Thematic “Reader’s Guide” in the front matter grouping  related entries by broad topic areas
  • Chronology that provides a historical perspective of the development of cultural competence as a discrete field of study
  • Resources appendix and a comprehensive Index

The SAGE Encyclopedia of Intercultural Competence is an authoritative and rigorous source on intercultural competence and related issues, making it a must-have reference for all academic libraries.

Ready for Some Good News?

girl with curls v1

photo by Steve Evans from Citizen of the World (South Africa  Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

…maybe the most important thing happening in the world today is something that we [journalists] almost never cover: a stunning decline in poverty, illiteracy and disease.”

—Nicholas Kristof, NY Times, Oct. 1, 2015

Things seem so grim some days that sometimes I want to turn off the news. But such a “head in the sand” approach isn’t beneficial — it is important to me to know as much as I can about what’s going on globally. But I keep believing there are many good things that are happening in the world that we just aren’t hearing about — the kindness and compassion of people, the connections that make us truly human, the tireless efforts to educate more children, feed more people, and eradicate diseases.

On a particularly glum day, I was delighted to find a NY Times Op-Ed Column by Nicholas Kristof—something that actually gave me reasons to feel more optimistic about the improving situations of people globally. While the daily struggle continues to be difficult for too many around the world, there actually is some good news.

Funny thing is, US Americans don’t know about it. Kristof puts this lack of knowledge squarely on the shoulders of US journalists, but I wonder if others around the world know this information?

According to Kristof, “…the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty… has fallen by more than half, from 35 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available from the World Bank).”

What? Why didn’t someone tell me? All this work actually is making a difference! For example, in the 1980s, only half the girls in developing countries completed elementary school; today the number is 80 percent. In 1990, more than 12 million children died before they were 5; now the number is less than half that amount.

Kristof writes: “The world’s best-kept secret is that we live at a historic inflection point when extreme poverty is retreating. United Nations members have just adopted 17 new Global Goals, of which the centerpiece is the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030. Their goals are historic. There will still be poor people, of course, but very few who are too poor to eat or to send children to school. Young journalists or aid workers starting out today will in their careers see very little of the leprosy, illiteracy, elephantiasis and river blindness that I have seen routinely.”

Steven Radelet, a development economist and Georgetown University professor, in a forthcoming book, The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World, notes, “We live at a time of the greatest developmental progress among the global poor in the history of the world.”

All this is very encouraging news—caring, hard working people do make a difference, just as I want to believe! Thousands of people all over the world share their knowledge, skills, and expertise to help others have a better life. We at Cultural Detective salute each of you doing your part to make the world a better place!

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

Happy Thorri! Celebrate our new CD: Iceland package!

CD Iceland coverIt’s hard to believe that we have finally completed the Cultural Detective: Iceland package! This project spans more than five years, with some stops and starts. After working long hours in Iceland, in the USA, and on Skype, the emphasis was always on finishing what we started with high quality. We were both certain that, in spite of our busy work schedules, other duties, and familes, it would sort itself out, and we would manage to complete this project.

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Erla on the left, Thorunn on the right

We were introduced to each other on a beautiful sunny day in Iceland in 2008, and that very day Thorunn asked Erla if she would be interested in collaborating on the Cultural Detective: Iceland project. We immediately “clicked” and decided to meet again and discuss the idea of working together. Throughout this collaboration we learned a lot about ourselves, about each other, and about our culture and what it means to be an Icelander. Through thick and thin, stressful moments, a lot of laughter, travel between Iceland and North America, we established a wonderful friendship for life.

It is perhaps fitting that Cultural Detective: Iceland is announced on Facebook during Thorri season, when Icelanders celebrate in ways no one else in the Western World celebrates: by eating fermented food and using anise or caraway-flavored snaps to help swallow it!

Þorrablot dinner

Þorrablot dinner

This mid-winter season in Iceland is called Þorri (Thorri), and according to the historic Icelandic calendar it starts on January 23rd with Húsbóndagur (Husband Day) and ends on February 22 with Konudagur (Women’s Day). At this time of year, Iceland is cold, dark, and windy. But because the sun rises at about 9:30 am in the morning, it is a whole lot better than in December, when it rises at 11:30 am—so it is time to celebrate as a way to get through the Thorri season! The celebration is called Þorrablot or celebration of the Nordic God Þór (Thor).

These parties are usually attended by people belonging to the same social group such as a fireman’s association, an association of people from a particular fjord, or people who work for the same company, etc. The entertainment varies from a stage performance, to a comedian as Master of Ceremonies, to people making speeches and reciting Icelandic poetry, and usually ends with lots of dancing and singing of national songs. The staple foods at these parties are pickled ram’s testicles, boiled sheep’s head, blood sausages, liver pudding, smoked and cured lamb, and dried fish. Some people have to be “manned” into eating these things, and some parties have these delicacies as side dishes rather than as the main dishes.

Below is a video of Þorrablot at CCP, an international company headquartered in Iceland. A new employee from Denmark has been invited to this celebration. Can you imagine his culture shock?!!

So how do we translate our wonderful yet, at times, strange culture into a manageable frame for others to understand? This was our task as co-authors. It was not easy, but surprisingly rewarding. After interviewing foreigners living in Iceland, and Icelanders working abroad, we began to see the values system emerge.

We struggled quite a bit about which values to highlight through the Icelandic Values Lens. The more we talked to people, the clearer it became to us that Icelanders hold their language as central to the culture. So strong is this value that Icelanders believe that for anyone to be able to work in Iceland, even in menial jobs, they need to learn the language. To support this value, Icelandic companies who hire foreigners generally offer Icelandic lessons during the lunch hour.

Every culture has some things that cannot be translated. In Iceland, one of those things is the phrase, “þetta reddast,” literally translated into English as “it will work out.” However, in English, this phrase seems more of a hope than a reality. In Iceland, we understand the phrase to really mean “things will sort themselves out” and, in the end, they always do, somehow.

Because immigration is making the country more diverse and the travel industry is growing, there is a definite need to enable Icelanders to be more open and knowledgable about cultural differences and gain cultural competency. In addition, Iceland’s economy is export-driven and becoming more integrated into the world economy, so it is important for outsiders to learn how to work with these very direct, honest, and hard-working people with a great sense of humor.

Cultural Detective: Iceland is now included in Cultural Detective Online and also available in a printable PDF format. We are looking forward to using CD: Iceland in universites, companies, organizations, and any place people want to learn about our culture. If you get a chance, we hope you will visit our beautiful country. Meanwhile, we encourage you, a curious Cultural Detective, to learn about Icelandic culture by exploring the new CD: Iceland package!