Emotions: An Exercise and a Tool

continents

Continents of Emotion

Emotional intelligence has been a major buzz word the last few years. Deservedly so; in this highly polarized world of ours emotional intelligence might be more valuable than just about any other intelligence. Obviously, interculturally competent people need to have emotional intelligence. We need to be able to understand why we respond the way we do, and channel our emotions in constructive ways. We need to be able to not get upset just because someone else does, and remain committed over the long term.

It has long interested me, then, since emotions are so important to our happiness and success in life, why we don’t we, as average people, know more about them? How many words for different emotions can you list? Happy, sad, joyful, loving, aggravated… Take a moment to try it and see.

  1. Make a list of terms for different emotions. Capture quickly as many as you can.
  2. Organize the words you listed into major categories of human emotion, and give each of the categories a name.
  3. Rank the words you’ve listed within each category in order of intensity.
  4. Finally, link the categories of emotions to the behaviors they can motivate.

Now ask your family members, friends, or team members to do the same. My guess is you’ll find some key commonalties and some significant differences. Definitely you will be able to have a fruitful discussion about emotions and how they are interpreted and expressed across your various cultural groups.

The exercise above emerged after I came upon a resource some months ago that I have found useful in helping me reflect on and distinguish the emotions in my life. It’s called the Atlas of Emotions, and it’s a free online tool.

The tool begins with five “Continents of Emotion:” Sadness, Fear, Enjoyment, Anger, and Disgust. I must say, I don’t like the ratio of four out of five negative emotions, but… Clicking on any continent tells you a core motivator of that emotion.

Next you can go into “States of Emotion;” there are many states for each core emotion, and the tool ranks them in representative intensity. Third, you can click on “Actions of Emotion,” where we see what type of behavior we might take in response to the various emotions we feel. This to me is an especially powerful cross-cultural piece. The tool then takes us into the “Triggers of Emotion.” Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

“Moods of Emotion” are described as “longer-lasting cousins of the emotion, that cause the related emotion to be felt more frequently and intensely. It is not always apparent what triggers a mood.”

Finally, according to the tool, “A calm, balanced frame of mind is necessary to evaluate and understand our changing emotions. Calmness ideally is a baseline state, unlike emotions, which arise when triggered and then recede.”

Let me say that the part about the Atlas of Emotions that quickly concerned me is in the biography of the lead psychologist behind the tool, Paul Ekman. He apparently “demonstrated the universality of facial expression of emotion, mapping all 43 muscle groups used in facial expression.” I have not taken the time to review themes recent literature on this subject, but if you are reading this blog, you no doubt are well aware that facial expression and expression of emotion are far from universal. I welcome anyone current on the subject to please enlighten us in the comments below.

Despite this misgiving, I find the tool quite useful. It can be used for powerful personal reflection and learning, and it can be a terrific tool for discussing and reflecting on emotions across cultures—to understand more deeply, with more distinctions. I can see its use in conjunction with Cultural Detective Self Discovery, Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures, or any CD Worksheet analysis of critical incidents.

In the end, if you use a tool like this simply to spark thinking, reflection, learning, and discussion, then the thoroughness, accurateness, or universality of the tool doesn’t matter that much. If you give this exercise a go, please come back and share your experience!

Refugee Resettlement: Cultural Values in the Remaking

refugee coverThere are over 20 million refugees in our world, according to UNHCR. The AVERAGE length of time a refugee spends in a camp—in limbo, in transition, waiting—is 17 years; not months: YEARS!

Cultural Detective conducted a complimentary webinar on strategies for helping refugees and their receiving communities. It was conducted by Tatyana Fertelmeyster, herself a refugee, who has worked in refugee resettlement for several decades.

Tatyana

The webinar was so well received that we did a second one, for a different time zone. Then, SIETAR Austria and SIETAR Europa asked us to do a third. The next step will probably be a dialogue among seasoned practitioners. Interculturalists have crucial talent and resources to contribute to this crisis, and Cultural Detective is a tool that provides a remarkable service to both refugees themselves and their receiving communities.

There are several powerful learnings that participants take away from the ninety minutes. One is how complicated and confusing the entire resettlement process is. For example, there are so many different terms, which technically mean so many different things. The key component underlying the refugee experience is fear, and legally, refugees are those who travel across national boundaries. Those who are forced to relocate out of fear yet remain in their own countries are internally displaced.

termsThen there is the statelessness. Most refugees are forced to abandon their citizenship when they emigrate. Since, on average, they wait 17 years before finding a new home, that’s an awfully long time not to “belong” anywhere! Then there is the concept of time, of waiting, of living in limbo. If a child has been raised in a refugee camp, or an adult has lived in one for years, and now in a new home has to keep timely appointments and behave proactively, it’s a HUGE cultural shift we’re expecting. The countries that receive the most refugees are often not the countries in which the refugees will live long-term; they are transit countries. This means that the refugees go through waves of transition and re-acculturation.

There is the loss of everything that is familiar, everything the refugee knows and is comfortable with. They basically fall down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, losing self-actualization, self-esteem, love and belonging, in the quest for survival and safety. In the new country refugees often need to learn a new language, a new culture and way of life, at a time when they are nursing the wounds of loss and at their lowest emotionally. Members of refugee families experience and respond to these intense emotions in a diversity of ways. Grandparents may not adjust to new ways; parents may be insulted by children who adopt new ways and seem disrespectful; children may resent or feel ashamed of parents who don’t understand or who have values different than those they’ve learned to adopt.

A second powerful take-away from the webinar is an empathy for the loss that refugees experience. Several participants reported tears and crying during one of the activities, saying they felt sad, lost, desperate, a fear of the unknown, anger, resistance, shock, feelings of depression. The refugee experience demands extremely high levels of resilience.

exerciseACTIVITY
So, what was this exercise?

Objective: To establish empathy for the refugee experience.

Instructions: On a piece of paper, draw two intersecting lines, one vertical and one horizontal, to form four quadrants. Yes, sort of like a Cultural Detective Worksheet.

  1. In the upper left quadrant, list the names of the people who are your direct relatives: a legal spouse if you have one, and any minor-aged children.
  2. In the upper right corner, list the names of those you love: adult children, parents, grandchildren, dear friends, cousins. List as many people as are dear to you.
  3. In the lower left, list two to five small, portable things that are of value to you. These should be things the size of a book or so, something that fits into a pocket or a suitcase. They can have monetary or sentimental value, such as jewelry or photos.
  4. Finally, in the lower right, list the things you love about your life now that are too large or too permanently installed to move with you. This might be your home, car, heirloom furniture; or maybe it’s your ancestral grave site, a favorite park or…

Take your time. When you are finished:

  1. Take a good look at that last quadrant, the lower right. Put a big “X” through everything listed there. You won’t be able to take it with you. Let that sink in.
  2. Next, look at the upper right. One by one, draw a line through each and every name on your list. Unless those people are able and lucky enough to travel with you, you may not ever be seeing them again. You’ll have to say goodbye to them. Take a moment. How does that feel?

Debrief: Share reactions and feelings, and apply to real life.

We realized that refugees are expected to be grateful for their new homes, which most of course are; but that at the same time they are mourning losses that are beyond normal mortal capacity. Tatyana shared with us her own experience. Even as a trained social worker, as a relocated refugee she experienced anger, resentment and jealousy of her host, the very person who was helping her, and to whom she was so very grateful. The emotions are complex, intense, illogical, and very real.

The world is so focused these days on what to do with refugees—who to accept, how to ensure safety and security—that we often do not focus on what to do after the refugees reach their new homes. All too often we hear the world “assimilate,” which interculturalists know is a far-from-optimal adaptation strategy. Assimilation happens because a society is not accepting of those who are different, yet a refugee very much wants to fit in and be accepted. In the process, refugees can be successful, but they lose themselves, their heritage, and the receiving society loses the benefit of the unique insights and experience the refugees bring.

What are other options? Tatyana walked us through John Berry’s Acculturation and Adjustment Strategies. Along the “x” or horizontal axis we have how accepting society is of those who are different. Along the “y” or vertical axis we have how open an individual refugee is to change.

berry

From “Immigration, Acculturation and Adaptation,” in Applied Psychology: An International Review, 1997, 46.1, pp. 5-68.

The quadrant we of course want to avoid is Marginalization, which is where terrorism, both domestic and international, are born. This is where difference is not accepted by society, and the individual retreats internally, shutting down to and closing out from the outside world.

Separation is not an ideal adaptation strategy, either. While we may enjoy the good eats of a Chinatown or the salsa dancing of a Latino district of town, separation leads to segregation, pulling society apart and leaving its members vulnerable to discrimination.

We should of course aim for integration, which requires an openness on the part of society and on the part of the refugee or individual. Refugees learn, grow and change, as does society, transforming itself into a more innovative and inclusive community.

Tatyana used Cultural Detective Values Lenses to illustrate the worldview a refugee might start out with, the values required for successful adaptation, and what might be important to those of the receiving country. We can easily use the Cultural Detective Worksheet in Cultural Detective Online to analyze our interactions with refugees, or with those in our new home, and learn how to adjust in a more integrated, less marginalized, separate or assimilated manner.

If you like the activity here, I’d also urge you to look at Caritas France’s “On the Road with Migrants” game, which is now available in English and German as well.

Want to sign up for one of our webinars? You can find the full schedule here.

 

What Will They Think of Me?

ImprovMannheim

The International Improv Conference in Mannheim Germany June 2015

We are pleased to share with you today a guest blog post by Patricia Comolet; bio follows the post.

What is one of the main challenges of going into a new cultural situation? Of course—dealing with the unknown—and, often, the self-doubt that it can trigger:

OMG do I need to take off my shoes here? But I have a hole in my sock! What will they think of me?

In other situations, it could be defensive self-assertion that might be triggered:

It is clear that this situation requires someone here to take charge. As the new COO it is my job to step up to that challenge. I need to show that I know what I’m doing or what will they think of me?

Underneath the stress of adapting to an unknown situation or culture can be the insidious fear of judgment.

“Improv” is the art of improvisational theatre, and I find that building an “Improv mindset” is a unique way to prepare for a new office, new city, new country, and /or new culture. It offers a different and vibrant way to deal with the underlying question: What will they think of me?

Why is this so? In the world of Improv, the notion of judgment, with time and practice, fades. Instead, we learn a serendipitous mindset of responding, to the best of our ability, to whatever is presented. I believe that I can manage whatever shows up if I adapt some essential guidelines gained through Improv.

Through Improv exercises we can learn to give ourselves this initial moment to pause and open up to where we are and with whom we are interacting.

Want to try it? Get a partner who is open to learning.

  • Begin by simply looking at your partner to assess his/her current state. What’s going on for him/her? Take the time to assess the environment. What is happening around you? (Developing observational skills and emotional intelligence are two very fundamental intercultural competences, pivotal for any Cultural Detective.)
  • Then comes the basic improv approach: Yes, and. You respond to what has been proposed with a “yes, and.” However, this is not your run-of-the-mill “yes, I hear your thoughts, and here is my idea.” Rather, this is a most distinctive and committed “Yes, and I could add this to your thoughts.” Improv involves an upward spiraling “yes, and” with each participant focused on what they can add to the original proposition. You’ll find the “yes and” in the Cultural Detective list of A Dozen Best Practices for Enhancing Intercultural Excellence.

The magic happens in the process. Allowing ourselves to let go of our own approach or perspective long enough to hear and work with someone else’s provides the time and space necessary to really connect with others. The process builds bridges across divides.

It requires focused intention to step into the other person’s idea/culture/mindset, but once there, like Alice through the Looking Glass, there is a sort of wonder at what is possible. I found, in my improv training, a simmering excitement as I was caught up in the possibilities I could come up with—once I acknowledged the other’s vision of things.

By working with this technique we build acceptance and openness to new ideas. (More intercultural competences being honed here, right?)

Facts, feelings, and intentions are the raw material we have to work with. In the theatre, as in the world of cultural differences, it is the interpretations we assign to what we see and feel that trigger emotions within us. It is those emotions that influence our interpretations. By raising awareness of the power of the interpretations we unconsciously apply to unfamiliar situations, we can open a whole new way to experience what is going on around us. Improv provides a framework for considering other possible interpretations.

In the theatre, as in the world of cultural differences, it is the interpretations we assign to what we see and feel that trigger emotions within us.

Another valuable idea coming from the world of Improv is the simple notion of “make the other one look good.” No matter what is tossed at us during an Improv session, the spirit is to take what is and build on it positively, with the intention of making the other look good. Again, Cultural Detective’s “positive intent” parallels the philosophy of Improv.

Imagine what strength we would gain if we would approach new situations with the idea that it is up to us to make the other shine! What impact could such a positive sense of purpose have on us? How could it help us to adapt more enthusiastically to a new situation?

Improvisation has the benefit of being experiential learning that can help us truly assimilate the knowledge of a culture or people. This fits nicely into intercultural coaching, as cultural differences are easier to perceive when actually experienced. By playing with scenarios in a relaxed atmosphere, we can work through the specific challenges our clients are dealing with to help them experience a shift in their understanding—a shift to help fade the fear of “What will they think of me?

Improv techniques and Cultural Detective integrate easily together, with CD providing a framework in which to use the skills acquired through Improv to better communicate across cultures. Learning to let go of the idea that our approach is the only approach is part of what can be derived from utilizing the CD process. Cultural Detective Value Lenses help us to recognize that our interpretation of events is but one of many potential interpretations. And, the “yes, and” approach may help each person value and build on the diversity found within the interaction. If you haven’t yet, be sure to subscribe today.

PatriciaComoletOur guest author, Patricia Comolet, has a background in surgical nursing, and has worked and lived in seven countries on four continents, including work in Africa and India, honing her ability to get real results in difficult conditions. Currently, she focuses on coaching global and virtual team dynamics, integrating her skills developed during challenging work experiences with her coaching training. Patricia helps global teams to clarify their team dynamics and establish concrete objectives by promoting clear communication, creative problem solving, collective intelligence, and strong team identity. More information about her work can be found on her website: camcomcoaching.com

How Our Thoughts Affect Our Performance: 3 Activities

Many of us wish we could perform with the focus, strength and skill of a professional athlete. To do so requires a strong connection between our minds and our bodies—some research shows only a 5% difference between imagining oneself performing and the performance itself!

In a session at the SIETAR Europa Congress in Valencia, Jenny Ebermann, who focuses on mindfulness and leadership, and Susan Salzbrenner, who works with international athletes, told us that even professional athletes struggle with disconnects between their minds and their bodies. While they tell themselves they can do anything, their bodies may be tight and small. Just like us weekend warriors, athletes need to learn to listen to their bodies, connect with their emotions, and have resilience in order to achieve optimal performance.

Jenny and Susan facilitated three activities that quickly and impressively demonstrated the power our thoughts have on our performance. I share those exercises with you here, in hopes that you’ll pass on what I learned from them, and help integrate the mind-body connection for intercultural competence. The three exercises were conducted standing in a circle.

  1. First, participants were asked to imagine a time in our lives when we felt small, diminished. We were instructed to feel that in our bodies and then turn with our backs to the circle, come our eyes, and back up. After a couple of minutes, we were stopped and quickly debriefed: How did that feel? What happened?
  2. Next, we were asked to imagine a time in our lives when we felt strong, like a champion. Again, we were instructed to turn our backs to the circle, close our eyes, and walk backwards. After a couple of minutes, we were stopped and quickly debriefed: How did that feel? What happened?
  3. Finally, we were instructed to be ourselves, and, standing on one edge of the circle, close our eyes and walk backwards to try to get to the other side of the circle. We conducted a quick debrief after this one as well. It rapidly and powerfully showed our personal tendencies and styles.

Most everyone attending the session seemed to find insightful learning from these three simple activities. For those of you interested in the neuroscientific aspect of this topic, below are two additional resources Susan provided for this article:

  1. Article on the benefits of visualization and motor imagery, and how they stimulate neural pathways that are also involved in actual motor activity.
  2. Study on cognitive motor processes

Both of these articles have incredible repercussions for users of Cultural Detective Online!

The session included a couple of other noteworthy points as well. The two presenters shared that the statistics-loving NBA has found that the more ethnically diverse a team is, the more successful it is. I found this interesting, since most intercultural research shows that it’s the effective management of a team that makes it successful, not the diversity in and of itself.

Their example was the San Antonio Spurs, whose coach, Gregg Popovich, has formed highly successful multicultural teams (including that of the “green card five” in the early 1990s), which, on paper have less talent than many far more successful teams. Susan mentioned how instead of the typical individualized, specialist training so popular in the NBA, Popovich engages his team in more team play time. Hmmm…perhaps it’s not just the diversity of a team, but the effective coaching and management of the diversity, that does make the difference.

Finally, there was talk about the interesting cultural patterns demonstrated in the Irish response to defeat in Euro 2012 (football/soccer). The video below begins with about six minutes left in the match and Ireland losing 4-0 to the favorite Spain. What usually happens when your favorite team is staring loss in the face? I’ll bet money you don’t usually react as do the Irish fans do here:

What is Privilege?

Today a diversity and inclusion colleague I highly respect posted a link to an exercise in which participants line up side-by-side and then take a step back for each type of privilege they have not experienced in their lives. 35 types of privilege are listed in the article, and a short video about it is below. It’s a powerful exercise, filled with potentially transformative learning.

It’s also an exercise that I’ve had several successful people tell me over the years was a traumatic experience for them. Why? Because, experiential learning activities require proper debriefing! The woman in my story was actually told, when she was standing alone at the back of the room, “See how inclusive our company is? Even someone so lacking in privilege can be successful here!” Exactly the opposite of the desired outcome for the exercise!

The meaning we make of our experience is in the debriefing! It takes a skillful facilitator to speak up to a CEO, but ethics and learning require it be done.

Please join Daniel Yalowitz (vice-provost for graduate education at the SIT Graduate Institute) and me for a five-day session at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication, “Gaining Gaming Competence: The Meaning is in the Debriefing,” and/or a one-day session, “Gaming Agility: Getting More Out of Our Tools.”

We look forward to seeing you there, and to working with you to build inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and justice in our workplaces and communities!

Using the Body to Transform Conflict

Choreography of Resolution

Conflict happens. When different cultures and worldviews are involved, conflict can arise more frequently and, sometimes, more powerfully. It can also be more difficult to resolve or transform.

At the SIETAR USA Congress in Portland last October, Michelle LeBaron conducted a couple of exercises that I believe could be useful to some of our readers as we seek to create cross-cultural understanding, respect, and collaboration. The exercises very viscerally demonstrated how our thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes affect the way we hold and move our bodies, and that something so slight as a shift in our gaze can shift our perspective, opening us up to new experiences.

I have had the privilege of knowing Michelle for about twenty years, as we both teach on the faculty of the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication. She is a specialist in cross-cultural conflict resolution who teaches at the University of British Columbia, and I greatly respect and enjoy her work.

Michelle’s recent research focuses on how the arts can foster belonging and social cohesion across cultural and worldview differences. She is one of three authors of a new book, The Choreography of Resolution: Conflict, Movement and Neuroscience, that investigates how dance, movement and kinesthetic awareness can enhance people’s capacities to transform conflict.

Instructions for Michelle’s activities follow.

Setting up the Activities

How does my body communicate to me? Let’s spend some time learning about our body’s ways of messaging us.
  • When we are out of step, off center, or in resonance, our bodies get our attention.
  • Our bodies help us heal splits, they connect our thoughts and feelings.
  • Our bodies help us connect with others via touch and closeness, depending on our cultural common sense.
  • We have habits and patterns that can be helpful or destructive; our bodies can help us re-pattern our habits and keep our brains plastic.
Shift, conflict resolution, is a physical event.
  • Our bodies shift us personally and interpersonally—”let me step towards you,” “I could breathe more easily,” “a great weight was lifted,” “the knot in my shoulder released.”
  • When we are “right,” we become stiffer, tighter, more brittle. We need suppleness, to be able to see gradations instead of just black and white.
  • Movement helps us realize that small movements can make a big difference. The body can show us the value of incremental change vs. an epiphany, e.g., rarely do we resolve conflict by saying, “He was right!” “Win-win” outcomes are rare; “mostly ok-mostly ok” outcomes are much more common.
Exercises:
  1. Have a group of participants stand and move around the room freely. Instruct them to hold up their arms like a bird, bringing their hands forward just far enough so they can see both their hands. Have them drop their hands but keep that level of peripheral vision and walk around. After doing this for a few minutes, conduct a short debrief about how that felt; how their bodies felt; how they perceived the group.
  2. After doing this for a minute or two, instruct participants to (nonverbally) find a tiger and a horse from among the other participants, and to move around so that they keep the horse between themselves and the tiger. After doing this for a few minutes, instruct participants to derole, and conduct a short debrief about how that felt; how their bodies felt; how they perceived the group.
  3. As a third step, instruct the participants to (again nonverbally) find a new tiger and a lamb from among the other participants, and move around so that you keep yourself between the tiger and the lamb. After doing this for a few minutes, instruct participants to derole, and conduct a short debrief about how that felt; how their bodies felt; how they perceived the group.

Michelle has an article, available online, called Bodies at Work: Moving Towards Alchemy, that might be of interest. In it she says, “The single most neglected truism in mediation, whether virtual or in person, is that it does not happen without bodies. We mobilize to engage and reach toward understanding while literally standing our ground.”

The concepts and activities that Michelle presents combine very well with the activities in Cultural Detective Online. I trust you’ll put them to good use building intercultural respect, understanding and collaboration!

Bananas!!! Training Activity and Nourishment

images

Click on the audio player above to listen to the “Banana Boat Song” by Harry Belafonte as you read this post.

“Vitamin A deficiency is probably the third largest public health problem in the world,” according to James Dale, Director of the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities at Queensland University of Technology in Australia. “Somewhere between 600,000 and two million children die every year of Vitamin A deficiency, and another million or so go permanently blind. We’ve relied on supplements for a long time to fight malnutrition,” but supplements can be expensive, and many people don’t want to take them.

Stephen Buah, a researcher at the same institution, chimes in, “Ugandans consume about 1.5 kilograms of banana a day, so we’re talking about 400 to 600 kilograms a year. A recent health survey has actually shown that up to 30% of children in Uganda are Vitamin A deficient, and a similar figure goes for women who are pregnant.”

Enter a new project to bio-fortify the East African Highland cooking banana, a staple in the Ugandan diet. Our bodies convert beta-carotene to Vitamin A, so the idea is to increase the naturally occurring beta-carotene in the banana through bio-fortification, using a Papua New Guinean banana. The project has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation since 2005, and the “super-bananas” have just been cleared to begin human trials in the USA.

You may firmly believe that GMO foods are not the answer to world nutritional deficits, or you may applaud this effort. Either way, the project involves cultural twists and ramifications, as such projects always do. This is the interesting part for a Cultural Detective.

Beta-carotene-heavy "super banana" is very orange

Beta-carotene-heavy “super banana” is very orange

Our challenge is that the beta-carotene-heavy “super banana” is bright orange inside. This could prove an impediment to Ugandans and others adopting it into their diets and using it in their traditional dishes. Here are some thoughts from a recent article in Scientific American:

“…bananas are more than just a food staple in Uganda; they are part of the cultural fabric. The Ugandan word for food is actually the same as the word for a traditional meal made of the stewed banana: matooke. Physical attributes of the fruit itself are particularly important to Ugandans, so altering the fruit could have social consequences. For example, when matooke is prepared properly, it obtains a certain yellow color. If you are a woman who prepares matooke of the incorrect color or texture for your husband, you can be beaten.”

“Furthermore, when we asked what trait farmers would like to see most improved about their crops, they consistently selected nearly every other trait before nutrition.”
—Matthew Schnurr, Dalhousie University, Canada

There are many challenges to making sure everyone gets enough nourishment; cross-cultural understanding and communication are one of them. We applaud those who are taking on these challenges and building bridges to enhance access to healthy food and clean water.

Speaking of bananas, I heard about an activity recently that I think might be helpful to you. If anyone knows the original source of the activity, would you please share it with me, for citation here? Thank you. The instructions and debriefing below are my own, based on the idea of exploring how people peel bananas.

bananaActivity: The Banana Peel

Objectives:
Learners will discover that:
  1. Many of us go through life believing that “our way” is “the way” to do something. We often fail to investigate—or even notice—if there are other approaches to performing a task (such as peeling a banana).
  2. “Common sense” (e.g., how to peel a banana) is really “cultural sense,” common only to those who share the same learned patterns of behavior.
  3. “My way” is not the only “right way” and, in fact, may not be the “best way” for the purpose.
  4. Having alternatives, diversity, and knowing more than one way to do something are assets.

Procedure:
This is a terrific activity to conduct prior to a break, or mid-afternoon when learners may be hungry. After making sure your learners have no banana allergies or other restrictions, give each of them a banana.

Ask your learners to peel their bananas and hold onto the peels. Let them know they are welcome to eat the bananas, as well.

That’s it—quick and simple! Remember, the key to experiential learning is the meaning-making that takes place during the debriefing.

Debrief:
The debriefing is the most important part of any learning activity. It is where sense is made of the experience.

  1. Ask learners how they peeled their bananas. Have a few people share.
  2. Ask learners how they learned how to peel a banana. Who taught them? When? Where? Explain to them that this is how culture is learned. Culture is our “common sense,” the template (learned behavior, habits) for how we make decisions and interact with the world.
  3. Ask learners if everyone in the group peeled their bananas in the same way. Encourage learners to look around and discuss. Usually there will be, at minimum, two different ways learners peel their bananas, particularly if you have an international or multi-ethnic group. Many people peel from the stem end, but others peel from the “top,” as illustrated in the video below.
  4. Ask learners if they realized that others were peeling their bananas differently than they were. If they did not, why not? What “blinded” them to seeing the difference? What assumptions did they make?
  5. Ask learners if they think their way of peeling a banana is better than another way. You can ask a couple of learners to speak to this, even setting up a debate if appropriate for your context. You can even make a list of pros and cons of the different methods of peeling. Be sure to note that people tend to be perfectly happy with the way in which they are used to peeling a banana. It’s the same with culture. We think “our” way of doing things is the “right” way or, often, the “only” way. Then, we discover there are other ways of doing things.
  6. Summarize main learning points, e.g., that differences provide us alternatives and add interest to life. Rather than feeling threatened by difference or resisting it, asking people to “fit in,” we can learn from differences and choose the best ways for our team, family, or organization. In a sense, we can create a “third culture.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed the activity, as well as the info on the super-banana. If you have a favorite cross-cultural training activity that you use in conjunction with Cultural Detective, please share it! We’ll be happy to credit you and link to your page. Together, we can build intercultural competence, justice, and respect in this world of ours. Thank you for being with us on this journey!

Clean House and Change the Bedding to Greet the Lava

Photo by Pahoa-based photographer Sean King/Caters

Photo by Pahoa-based photographer Sean King/Caters

The gem of a video clip below offers a glimpse into an aspect of native Hawaiian culture of which many people may be unaware. As lava flows on the island, there are vast cultural differences in how the native and immigrant cultures view the event. While native Hawaiians prepare to welcome a guest, others talk about ways to change the course of the lava to flow in a more convenient direction.

I am so proud of what the government in Pahoa, district of Puna, county of Hawaii is doing, and not doing, to “divert” the lava flow that is destroying homes, businesses, and lives. The clarity, patience, and wisdom they show in their answers to community members’ questions make me wish they worked in my county.

In the video, you will see Pi’ilani Ka’awaloa, an INCREDIBLE cultural resource person!!! She demonstrates wisdom in her people’s truth, and openness to teaching as well as acting in collaboration with others. She tells us that the native Hawaiians have adjusted to western culture, in that they now “buy” their land. But she also tells us they will never “own” it; it belongs to the goddess Pele.

“We would never tell Pele to go here or there in her own home! If she feels she needs to clean her house, then let her clean her house!”

I believe you will very much enjoy the cross-cultural differences visible in this Question and Answer session after a county informational meeting on the lava flow. What a challenge to bridge two such vastly different cultural orientations, on such a very sensitive subject as saving our homes and businesses.

 

I learned about what is going on in Pahoa from a friend I have only met virtually, Tim Sullivan, who lives there. Some people say that online “friends” aren’t real, but I can assure you that via social media I am now connected with many people whom I respect and learn much from. Tim recently wrote an extremely insightful and powerful blog post on the cross-cultural aspects of the lava flow in Pahoa. Be sure to check it out.

I think this short video clip would be an excellent piece of material to debrief using a Cultural Detective Worksheet. Give it a try and let us know how it goes! And may blessings be upon all those who make Pahoa their home.

The Mexican Crafts Artist, Pedro Ramirez

A guest blog post by Rossana Miranda Johnston, Tatyana Fertelmeyster and Carrie Cameron

During our recent Cultural Detective Tenth Anniversary meetings and celebrations in Mazatlán, Mexico, some of those attending used a free hour in the program to walk out into the community to conduct short ethnographic studies—to practice their detective skills. Below is a summary of what interested one group. Click here for a link to the instructions for this activity; you are most welcome to adapt them for your own purposes!

Just think how frequently we travel to very different places for work, and how often we don’t take the time to interact with the local people in ways that help us get to know them as people. The same can be said for the beautiful places we travel as tourists. Let’s make a point of practicing our Cultural Detective skills wherever we are, building cross-cultural respect, understanding, and friendship!

TF, CC, RMJ 1 With no specific destination in mind, our group wandered down the street and away from the hotel. Trying to avoid the “tourist traps,” we were delighted to visit a local Mexican crafts store, thanks to the discerning eyes of the Mexican member of our group.

The store featured many types of handmade crafts, most of them displayed by the artist who was on-site working on his/her wares while waiting for a sale. Among the several craftspeople working, we found the artist in the photo, Pedro Ramirez—in a corner of the shop working on a new creation. We watched him as he worked and struck up a conversation.

He told us, “Each piece takes several hours to a few days to be made. It depends on how complex or elaborate they are; each piece is unique.” Over the years, Pedro told us, he had tried making different items, but they didn’t always sell. Now he only makes crosses because they are popular and generally sell any time of the year. Perhaps this reflects the Mexican reverence for the Roman Catholic Church? Many tourists are probably Christian, and crosses are an easily transportable souvenir or gift item. TF, CC, RMJ 2

Pedro has been experimenting with different materials and hardware for the crosses, from old doors to windows and tables. Using mainly recycled materials has a few advantages. For one, raw materials are free—it does, however, take creativity and imagination to see what can be done with what others see as scrap or trash. In addition, using recycled materials appeals to tourists who appreciate seeing materials being reused in the form of art. For some, we surmise, this adds to the attraction and appeal of his crosses.

Pedro was warm, cordial and circular in his verbal description, demonstrating a common tendency in conversation in Mexico—Cantinflísmo (Affable circular communication) as he chatted with us. Our small group did have the advantage of a native Spanish speaker and another member who is fairly fluent. This allowed us to communicate easily and help put Pedro at ease. Once he understood our purpose, he talked more freely with us. He is proud of his work, dignified in his self-presentation, and seemed to exude a sense of Sentirse agusto (feeling good about someone or something). It seemed he was comfortable sharing information because he understood we respected his work and were genuinely interested. Our interaction with him was very pleasant, reflecting a low key effort to Caer bién—to be liked or to like others, being or finding someone pleasant—and it is an integral part of Sentirse agusto.

Meeting and talking with Pedro offered us a small glimpse into the life of an artist dependent on the tourist trade. He offered a good example of the creativity we saw in crafts and art in Mazatlan. Mr. Ramirez’ art and livelihood intertwines two salient Mexican cultural themes impacting personal economics: applying innovation/creativity to traditional religious symbols in order to create vibrant new decorative art pieces. We only wish we had more time to explore and enjoy the visual feast of goods in vibrant colors and rich textures we saw in the shops and among street vendors. Hasta la próxima, or “until next time!”

A Streetscape in Mazatlán

A guest blog post by Carrie Cameron

During our recent Cultural Detective Tenth Anniversary meetings and celebrations in Mazatlán, Mexico, some of those attending used a free hour in the program to walk out into the community to conduct short ethnographic studies—to practice their detective skills. Below is a summary of what interested one group.

Click here for a link to the instructions for this activity; you are most welcome to adapt them for your own purposes! Just think how frequently we travel to very different places for work, and how often we don’t take the time to interact with the local people in ways that help us get to know them as people. The same can be said for the beautiful places we travel as tourists. Let’s make a point of practicing our Cultural Detective skills wherever we are, building cross-cultural respect, understanding, and friendship!

image002The two portals of this private building reflect traces of a couple of Mexican values, and provide a thought-provoking contrast. Located in the Centro Histórico district of Mazatlán, these differing window images on the same building grabbed my attention due to their stark contrast and my reaction to them.

In the eyes of many US Americans, the window on the right has an ornamental grate that is “obviously” there for self-protection. This may be due to the prevailing norm in most historically Anglo communities in the US, where the point is to organize the exteriors of houses, and the land surrounding them, for maximum street appeal—to look nice to the public. With this cultural lens, the iron grating over the window appears forbidding, almost like a jail gate.

Looking inside this window through the bars, however, one sees a lovely interior courtyard. With a different cultural lens, one can appreciate that the beauty is saved for the inhabitants inside rather than displayed outside for the passers-by. This tradition is, of course, very ancient and not specific to Mexico, but is alive and very visible in the Mexican environment. Earlier in the day, we had been on the top of a hotel looking down into the Centro Histórico, and were able to see many other lovely “hidden” gardens surrounded by buildings and/or walls.

In the photo above, the window space on the left, which has been plastered over, has a graffiti-style painting of a whimsical robot-like character, full of bright colors, dynamic angles, and high energy. These sudden and unexpected bursts of playful creativity, color, and often-humorous social commentary, seem to appear frequently on the Mazatlán streetscape.

The Mexican sense of design, decoration, ornamentation, adornment, and use of color and music appear to be a prevalent part of everyday life, even in the poorest neighborhoods or circumstances. On another level, such whimsical images as the one in the graffiti above often convey biting social commentary in an apparently lighthearted and ironic way. Other examples of this are the Día de los Muertos images and figurines, with charmingly dressed skeletons wearing flowered hats, jewelry, dancing shoes, etc.

Investigating Cultural Detective Mexico core values using this image provides many possibilities. The value of Tradición (Tradition) is evidenced in both the old window and the new graffiti. The stability and sense of history provided by the old window is a subtle reminder that the past had value, and remains as the base upon which to build—even to build expression of an artistic nature!

The bright colors of the graffiti echo the traditional colors of clothing, weaving, and handicrafts by many of the indigenous peoples of Mexico. So, in a sense, this newer form of artistic expression has a connection with the past, also.

Another core Mexican value reflected in the photo is that of Posición social (Social position). Peeking through the grate on the window into the garden, one can only imagine its original splendor. The family who built the home had to be of some means, and the house reflects their social position. And now, a street artist has seen the plastered-over window as a canvas on which to display his/her work, a statement of her/his position in society as an artist.

Of course, an interior garden may add to one’s ability to Sentirse agusto (feel good about someone or something) by providing a serene setting in contrast to the outside world. And dare we imagine that the artist also felt good about his/her creation—had a sense of Sentirse agusto upon completion of the work?