I am of the “old school” of intercultural communication—you know, the one that evolved from the work of folks in anthropology, communication, sociology, psychology, and other social scientists after World War II. My educational and personal background “trained” me to try and figure out the underlying conflict in cultural values that leads to communication breaking down.
In more recent years, the field of intercultural communication has moved toward a social justice focus. I don’t see that as being antithetical to the original value/behavior focus of intercultural communication. Rather, it can give context to values and behaviors.
At their core, both are talking about sets of values that support different points of view. One’s values underlie one’s perception or how one views a situation. However, that doesn’t mean that perceptions cannot change. And they do change with experience—we all know that. None of us perceive the world in exactly the same way we did a year ago. Or even five months ago. Our experience has altered the way we look at situations, the way we perceive things.
Language is important; language and perception are inter-related. Are people assembling called “demonstrators” or “peaceful protestors” or “rioters”? Are police “holding their ground” or “enforcing the law” or “perpetrating violence on peaceful protesters”? Is COVID-19 a “bad flu” or a “highly contagious virus”? Is wearing a mask “being respectful of others” or “impinging on constitutional rights”? How you label something is a reflection of what you see, your perception of a situation.
As interculturalists, it would seem that our job in these times is to recognize that we are dealing with cultural differences in experience, perception, and appropriate behavior. And while we each have our own views and reactions to the current situation, it is important that we try to remove judgment, step back and be descriptive as we try to understand what different people see and what different people see needs to change.
You will recognize that this is the basis of the Cultural Detective Method. But how hard it is to suspend judgment in the midst of a global pandemic, societal turmoil, and overwhelming emotions. All the more reason we need to help others learn the skills the Cultural Detective Method teaches.
Cultural Detective Online offers a practical approach to cultural competency using real-life examples of misunderstandings and exploring possible solutions. These skills can be applied immediately to a variety of situations calling for a social justice approach. Listening for the values that are important to different sides of the conversation, looking at desired outcomes in terms of behaviors and actions, trying not to place blame but to build bridges across huge divides to reach a more fair and equitable world—while no easy task, this is what interculturalists can bring to the conversation.
Cultural Detective has been used with a variety of groups from corporate to government, community-based organizations, educational facilities, consultants, and individuals. Want to learn how to use Cultural Detective with your group, support your organization’s development of cultural sensitivity, or help your community organization move forward in a way that reduces conflict and supports conversation? Give us a call and explore how we can help you and your organization gain the skills so important to successfully navigating this changing world.
The COVID-19 pandemic is uniting our planet as well as dividing it in powerful ways. Many of us now share the common experiences of travel bans, hand washing, masks, quarantine, job loss or working from home, and economic uncertainty. Many of us are worried, trying our best to stay positive, doing constructive projects around the house, including exercise to stay in shape and online classes. Neighbors are reaching out to neighbors in life-affirming ways, making sure disadvantaged children and elderly shut-ins get sustenance and feel cared for, singing and playing with one another across balconies. We’ve had the privilege of enjoying gorgeous online concerts from some of the world’s best performing artists, playing in unison from the privacy of their homes directly into ours through the wonders of technology. “Light it Blue” united much of our world to thank healthcare workers and essential service providers.
Those who were already marginalized before the coronavirus due to our inequitable systems are suffering horribly now: the homeless, those barely subsisting in “normal” times, those without access to healthcare, those without internet to keep them connected or rooms in which to isolate people infected. Racial disparities show horrifying differences in survival rates, and many nations’ deplorable treatment of migrants and indigenous communities has had negative repercussions during the pandemic. Many disbelieve, convinced COVID-19 is a hoax, accusing politicians and the media of over-hyping the situation. We’ve all received loads of life-threateningly dangerous fake news, rumors and home remedies in our cell phones. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.
Countries worldwide have had broadly differing responses to COVID-19 ranging from eradication (Taiwan) to containment (Australia) and extremely centralized authority (China) to trusting individuals to make the best decisions (Sweden). I recently read that the six countries with the most effective responses to the pandemic thus far (Belgium, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, and New Zealand) are all led by women! And that article doesn’t include the East Asian poster child—Taiwan, also led by a woman. Most credit these nations’ proactive decision making, persistence, meaning making, swift action, empathy building, coordinated efforts, and the fact that they were better prepared in terms of medical care and protective equipment (check out the Cultural Detective Women’s Values Lens and you might get some clues as to why).
I’ve collected artifacts (posters, videos, slogans, images) from our worldwide response to the pandemic, and urge you to log into Cultural Detective Online, bring up the Values Lenses for the cultures in question, and use those values to help decipher the cultural influences at play in the messaging you see in this article. Osnat Lautman wrote an article on Israeli values and response to coronavirus that may give you an idea how to connect values to behavior.
To begin, I think it could be helpful to work with a collection of Chinese posters on COVID-19 with English translations. Focusing on one national culture as a first step will be an easy way to get started. Read the posters below and think about the underlying values at play in these attempts to motivate citizens. Then, use the Cultural Detective China Values Lens to help you go deeper.
Every nation, of course, has huge cultural diversity: regional, ethnic, socio-economic, gender, generational… Once you’ve analyzed the messaging from a national cultural viewpoint, pull up a complementary Cultural Detective Values Lens for gender, generation, sexual orientation, or spiritual tradition and see how someone with those values might respond to the messaging. And, remember, each of us are unique individuals, with multiple layers of cultural influences on our behavior.
That trend continues across other official COVID-19 messaging. While most governments encourage citizens to wash their hands frequently, use antibacterial gel, cover their sneezes and coughs, stay home, and not touch their faces, how those messages are communicated does vary by culture. Most attempt to find a balance between calm, instructive encouragement and a sense of urgency about the seriousness of the situation. Some posters use cartoons, others simple symbols, others data and facts. What cultural similarities and differences do you note in the posters below?
Government of India
Italy leading up to the crisis
Italy lockdown announcement
Government of South Africa
Public signage in South Korea
National Park Service, USA
Quite a few nations have put out catchy tunes to inform the public how to stay safe during the pandemic. One of the most popular, with nearly 40 million views, is Vietnam’s Ghen Cô Vy—which equates the coronavirus to a troublemaker who jealously tries to break up a couple. The song even inspired a dance challenge on social media app TikTok. The cute animation includes a bit of national pride, with an animated Vietnamese flag waving with the words: “Vietnam is determined to beat this disease.”
One of my favorites is a music video performed by the employees of Bangkok’s BTS Skytrain:
Below is Philippines’ very popular song about coronavirus. I sadly couldn’t find a version with English subtitles; if you do, please let me know and I’ll substitute it in.
My absolute favorite, however, is Bobi Wine and Nubian’s effort to help fellow Ugandans. In a true spirit of collaboration, they’ve openly licensed the track, encouraging musicians worldwide to “sing our song in your language and for your people!”
Speaking of music videos, we can’t forget Bollywood. Muskurayega India (India Will Smile) has 10 million views on YouTube.
Iranian comedian Danial Kherikhan wins my award for world’s best hand washing technique:
What culture-specific values and behaviors do you see in the videos above? Which are you attracted to and why? Most probably, it resonates with one or more of the values you hold dear. Which video disinterests you the most? Again, that probably tells you something about your personal and cultural values. Open your subscription to Cultural Detective Online, go to the Self Discovery package, and create a Personal Values Lens.
In Mexico where I live, people greet with big bear hugs and kissing. It’s incredibly rude not to properly greet or take leave, so the national government came up with an inspired campaign to give people permission not to greet.
Once the cartoon superhero called “Susana Distancia” (translates to “your safe distance”) came on the scene, it very quickly became common for Mexican friends to hold up their arms or pucker their lips from a distance and refer to Susana. Intercultural competence is crucial in our world today, and particularly so during a crisis, when the difference between engagement and disengagement can mean life and death.
MASKS One of the most visible cultural differences in response to COVID-19 has been in the wearing of masks. East Asians have a tradition of wearing masks during illnesses and to protect against pollution, while most of the West has been much slower to adopt this practice. The Czech Republic mandated the wearing of masks in public on March 18th; their results no doubt have helped other western nations to adopt the practice. Face masks first made it to fashion runways in China in 2014, and masks were well represented this year at Paris Fashion Week. It is interesting to watch cultural resistance fade and behavior change in such a large and important way.
Many of us have not only learned to wear masks, but we’ve also picked up new vocabulary during this crisis, via the popularization of words such as “PPE/Personal protective equipment” and the recycling of valuable-yet-neglected terms like “common good.” Many of us have also re-learned elementary and middle school biology lessons about the difference between a bacterium and a virus and how to kill them.
TECHNOLOGY: HELP LINES, APPS, QUIZZES AND COORDINATED MEDIA
Many communities leveraged technology to help citizens. We have seen apps for COVID-19 tracking, quizzes to help diagnose, telephone helplines, and united messaging across newspapers, radio and television and, in Latin America at least, across countries. While the use of technology favors the higher socio-demographics and the young, public visual and performance art are much more inclusive (at least before we isolated at home, if we have one).
Street artists around the world have pitched in to help get the word out. Street performances, visual art, and the songs mentioned above are particularly helpful with largely illiterate populations, but I believe if we researched it a bit, we’d find the multi-sensory learning advantages of these methods work well everywhere. I especially loved this collection of beautiful images from Senegal:
In Indonesia a youth drama troupe took to the streets to scare citizens into staying home.
COMMUNITY-SPECIFIC MESSAGING The differing histories and heritages of our world populations mean that cultural communities have to tailor their responses to the pandemic. Native Americans, for example, suffered germ warfare not so very long ago. This latest virus resurrects that inter-generational trauma, and has led to responses ranging from connecting with tradition to innovative world-class field hospitals.
Ashley Lawrence and her sign language-friendly masks
Response to COVID from a Diné/Navajo community member
There are so many cultural universals and cultural differences on display right now, as our world faces a shared enemy in a small but lethal virus. Will we learn from the time many of us have had to reflect, and change our behavior going forward? Will we act as better stewards of our environment? Will we act to create more equitable systems in which all are fed, housed, educated and receive medical care? I sure hope so! We are in this together, we share one planet, everyone’s participation and expertise is crucial, and collaboration is our future.
It is with a sad heart that I bring news of the passing of Margaret D. “Peggy” Pusch. Born in September of 1936, Peggy was 83 years old. She’d suffered a stroke nearly a decade ago, and had been lovingly cared for since by her longtime husband, Lew.
Three of the people in this photo have now passed from this world: Peggy on the left, Lee Knefelkamp standing, and Allison Gunderson seated to my right. Heartbreak…. At the head of the table is Mary Meares.
Summer Institute Faculty. Peggy is in pink, standing.
I first met Peggy in the early 80s, when she was active in SIETAR International, a faculty member of the then-Stanford Institute for Intercultural Communication, and President of Intercultural Press. She and Lew welcomed me into their home in Maine many times over the years, and I loved and respected them dearly. I’ll never forget her bringing the publishing contract for Ecotonos: A simulation for collaborating across cultures to my wedding! Peggy attended our very first train-the-trainer workshop for Beyond Bowing: Working Effectively with the Japanese and provided invaluable input. She loved our Redundancía: A foreign language simulation and used it in many of the trainings she conducted, and was an ardent supporter of Cultural Detective. Her son, Rob Pusch, is an instrumental member of our Cultural Detective LGBT authoring team.
The entire Cultural Detective community sends our heartfelt condolences to her family. Peggy was a pillar of the intercultural community for decades, and will be sorely missed.
Interculturalists are familiar with the range of approaches to culture in the social sciences and the intercultural field itself. Many of us started with the rather positivist and essentialist studies that provided initial insights, first best guesses into the behavior of cultural groups, but were also a slippery slope in the direction of bias and stereotyping. Subsequently, we have been turning our attention toward the iconic, memes, linguistic, performative and social constructionist approaches and storytelling as elements and theories for understanding and using culture, as well as teaching about it and applying it to the challenges we face. These can often show up as disparate and unintegrated perspectives.
Mai Nguyen’s book could best be described as “turning the page” on intercultural research, learning and practice, not because it negates these earlier and continuing efforts, but because it puts them into perspective. It clarifies both where they may remain useful and where they no longer serve us, or even fail us in the light of what neuroscientific research and cognitive science are revealing about the integral nature of human beings and how we function. We have landed on a “fresh page” in the face of long centuries of dichotomist thinking and credence that divided us into mind vs. meat, spirit vs. matter, body vs. soul, and so forth.
This can be hard to digest, but accepting our human integrity opens the door to a more holistic view of the genesis, development and creation of the elements of culture in and around us. Culture is the result and the agent in our unique capacity to create what we need on all levels to survive and succeed in existing and newly developing environments. It is the unique, agile, adaptive human capability that has largely taken over from, though it interacts with our slow genetic evolutionary development found in us and in the rest of nature. This in turn offers us new levels of awareness and self-understanding, as well as fresh and effective ways of managing self, relationships, communities, organizations, commerce and the ecological environment we are immersed in. In the words of the author, “Culture is not just socially learned, but geographically influenced, genetically inherited, and neurally enabled.”
This is a large book with an enormous range of content, providing insight, consequences and tools for management of organizations, leadership, collaboration and even marketing, along with solid documentation and references. But it is far more than an academic publication or a business book, as it is able to identify the role of and integrate neuroscience into how we see globalization and manage diversity, how we motivate self and others and how we communicate and negotiate. The agenda is formidable. Going forward, there is much to unpack, explore and try out as we root ourselves in our new sense of human integrity. At the same time, we become alert to the power of investigative neurobiology and psychological ventures that will more and more involve artificial intelligence and elements that have already begun to “hack” our human systems. We see a potential for great good, health and new potential as well as possibilities for manipulation, control and exploitation. As we navigate in both opportune and dangerous times, the understanding and support found in these pages make the book a “must read” for opening avenues for reworking our social, personal and work lives.
With the insights and tips furnished by the author, one can easily implement insightful approaches to communication and negotiation, creating new levels of understanding and more effective decisions and settlements. For example, one highly functional model, STREAP-Be, offers a path that addresses the fundamental aspects of a change process. The acronym stands for: Safety, Trigger, Reward, Emotion, Alignment, People, and Behavior. It applies neuroscientific savvy, instructions for creating the trust, the actions, the motivation, the essential human reactions and social behaviors needed for solid progress in new directions. The model contains step-by-step the path toward effective change by paying careful attention to the simple human dynamics of perception, feeling, framing ideas, releasing energy, telling and aligning personal and cultural stories that provide a common context for facing and meeting a change challenge. STREAP-Be delivers the antidote to the lazy brain’s need to wake up, to its “control freak” resistance to the unfamiliar and the uncertain, and to its slothful tendency to replicate the past rather than innovating a desirable future.
When approaching culture as we seek to manage diversity, the book provides two very essential perspectives. First, we need to develop contextual awareness about how culture is created, used and interpreted. Context, not culture itself, is the software of the mind, the operational environment of culture’s interpretation, application and development. Secondly, in approaching intercultural learning and cultural competence, we need to assume a positive rather than a problematic perspective, curiosity rather than fear of mistakes. Culture, seen as an iceberg, is cold, formidable, a hazard. It is easy to get frozen into the do’s and don’ts and catastrophic what if’s, rather than connecting via our sameness while recognizing difference as a trove of treasures to be explored, a bowl of cherries to be shared.
Increasingly US American families are split between red and blue, torn over how to deal with issues ranging from immigration to women’s bodies to world trade. Young and old report that they no longer talk politics or religion with even their closest friends; there seems to be no space for the crucially important task of discussing and thinking deeply in community about important yet delicate matters facing the nation.
News feeds now have razor-thin aim, reinforcing what we already believe, hardening and emotionalizing beliefs into convictions so that we feel anger towards our neighbors. Amidst this reality are frequent revelations about foreign powers feeding the frenzy of hatred; their active fomenting of division within US American society is the newest weapon of mass destruction.
How do we reclaim our public spaces for civil discourse? Can we think things through together, deeply and constructively, without degenerating into insults? One new hope has presented itself in the form of an extremely well-reviewed interactive play called “American Dreams.” According to the website, “American Dreams” is:
“An immersive, interactive theatrical event that imagines a world where the only way to become a U.S. citizen is by competing in a nationally-televised game show run by the U.S. government.
The live “studio” audience votes after each of the five rounds, determining which contestant will win the ultimate prize — citizenship to the “greatest country on earth.”
Weaving multiple levels of audience engagement with up-to-the-moment questions about immigration and citizenship, this playful participatory performance invites us to explore who and what we choose to believe — and how those choices shape who we are as people, communities, and nations.
Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow:
“American Dreams” creates a relaxed atmosphere with plenty of critical thinking as well as a bit of learning about the laws of the USA and the rights of its citizens and residents. CPT’s Executive Artistic Director, Raymond Bobgan, says the play captures the fact that:
“To live in the Unites States now is to always live in that tension between desire for freedom and equality for all people and at the same time the desire to protect what we have achieved.”
The performance will be making a “Red State Swing State Tour” in summer 2020, and the next important step is to bring “American Dreams” to your community to help recapture civil public discourse and critical thinking; enough of the “dumbing down” of the USA by outside powers and our own laziness or righteousness! Click here to learn about bringing the show to your city!
Well over a year ago Cultural Detective led a wonderful team of talented people who voluntarily translated “On the Road with Migrants” into Spanish. We did our best to keep the language neutral, universal, international. Such is not so easy in Spanish, as you may know, but we did our best.
Caritas has not yet uploaded that version, but you can download it here. It is free to use, though you will need to print out the game boards and cards, and purchase game pieces.
Thank you for helping Caritas and us to help this world develop beyond “tolerance” and into inclusion and cross-cultural justice, equity and collaboration!
The award-winning book, Perception And Deception: A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures, written by Joe Lurie and published by Cultural Detective, has just been released in its second, revised edition. Each chapter now includes application questions which are great for classroom use, book club discussions, and executive or team development purposes.
Joe Lurie, an extraordinary storyteller who is Executive Director Emeritus of the University of California Berkeley’s International House, will offer a complimentary one-hour webinar full of his trademark stories on Tuesday, 23rd April, 2019, at 9:00 am Los Angeles time. Entitled, Prisoners of Our Prisms: Understanding Sources of Misunderstandings Across Cultures, the webinar will highlight how and why participants perceive and interpret the same image differently and how intercultural stories and activities from the book can be used to heighten self awareness—a fundamental premise for enhancing intercultural skills and insights.
We are thrilled to announce that this award-winning volume is newly updated with application questions for each chapter and fully integrates with your Cultural Detective Online subscription! Purchase it now for your classroom or for holiday gifting.
What do your experiences tell you when you’re in line behind a bald man: Is he a militant? A monk? A punk? A neo-Nazi?… Or perhaps a cancer patient?
With YouTube, tweets and fake news instantly crossing cultures without context in this time of globalization, it’s essential to understand the actual meanings and intentions behind words, images and actions that seem abnormal or provocative. In line, online and off-line, we’re meeting many more “strangers.” There’s new wisdom in the Lebanese proverb: “Every stranger is a blind man.” And so, we face an urgency to teach students and professionals far more about other cultures and give them the intercultural skills to navigate globalization’s turbulent waters. That’s why, in collaboration with Cultural Detective, I’ve greatly expanded the first award-winning edition of Perception And Deception, A Mind-Opening Journey Across Cultures.
Think globalization is bringing us closer together? Think again. With refugees crossing cultures without preparation on either side, the dangers of intercultural miscommunication are intensifying. Why do many refugees traumatized by violence find Western “talk therapy” alienating? As a Syrian refugee confided, “I can’t share my painful, humiliating stories with a stranger.” A Sudanese refugee was diagnosed “psychotic” because she seemed to be talking to herself; her Boston psychiatrist was unaware that in her world, conversing with ancestors is normal. Some French see a Muslim woman in a burkina—a full body suit—as oppressed or as a potential terrorist. Yet the woman considers her burkini liberating, because she can swim modestly. Recently, a UC Berkeley student with a Spanish last name was snidely asked when she’d return to Mexico. Her angered response, “I’m from Kansas and I don’t speak Spanish.”
To enable use of the well-received stories in the first edition as springboards for developing intercultural competence, I’ve added a broad array of interactive questions and activities at the end of each chapter in this expanded new edition, as well as a brand new chapter, “Globalization and its Disconnects—Convergence Without Context.” It focuses in large part on the spiraling misunderstandings across cultures, especially in the worlds of refugees, religion, and responses to technology.
To better cope with the disrupting forces of globalization, each chapters’ questions and activities are designed to develop and heighten cultural self-awareness and sensitivity to others, among students, individuals and groups of all backgrounds and professions. Some of the included interactive, personalized activities are available for those who take advantage of Cultural Detective‘s superb, research-based, internationally tested online platform providing access to nearly 70 packages of rich intercultural material: Cultural Detective Online; other questions are useful on their own, without a subscription.
Below is a two-minute video recorded at the Commonwealth Club of California, introducing the first edition:
May the new edition’s stories and interactive activities addressing the disrupting forces of globalization and migration offer positive paths for engaging with difference without fear and by seeing with new eyes!
We are proud to announce a brand-new, complete update to Cultural Detective India. As you know, we update our Cultural Detective packages a few times a year, in minor ways, as things happen around the world. Values seem to be the slowest things to change. Societal shifts take time and then, once they happen, boom! Big changes are afoot. We have a best-selling India package in our series, one that gets rave reviews, and we have been looking a long time for fresh eyes and new energy to update Professor Madhukar Shukla‘s terrific work. I am pleased as punch to report to you that two incredibly talented interculturalists have added to the greatness of this package: Shilpa Subramaniam and Melanie Martinelli. Read on for a bit of back story on this wonderful new version.
When we first discussed updating the Cultural Detective India package, we realised that we were both very drawn to the work. Being interculturalists, avid travellers and facilitators of intercultural sessions, we both felt that we could bring a different flavour to the package.
Our biggest challenge was collaborating, as our travel schedules and calendars didn’t really put us in the same geography! So it might not come as a surprise that our first brainstorming session was in a car when we were travelling out of the city (Bangalore in this case) to co-facilitate a session.
The picture above is the two of us sitting next to the river Cauvery and brainstorming our way through the package! What was so interesting about that conversation was that both of us have such different perspectives: Melanie is a Swiss national who has lived and worked in India for more than a decade and is married to an Indian; Shilpa is Indian born, was brought up all over the country and has lived and worked outside of it. And yet, we found powerful experiences and threads that we had in common when living/ working / experiencing this wonderfully diverse country. Cultural Detective strives to have authors work in teams on packages, to have this insider-outsider joint perspective, and we quickly learned why that is invaluable.
We had quite a few “breakthroughs” during the process of brainstorming and writing the CD India package, but perhaps the most interesting one was when we tested out the idea of “privilege” being one of the core Indian values. In India, privilege isn’t just hierarchy and status, it is this clear-cut idea that if you belong to a certain social strata, then there are certain privileges that are ascribed to you, and these privileges differ across strata, class and religion. Yet the word “privilege” could have such negative connotations to some that it might not fit the golden rule of core country values—no value is positive or negative, they are neutral because they can be perceived both ways. So, while we both agreed on the fact that we needed to talk (or rather write) about privilege, we wanted to find ways to present multiple facets and sides to the concept and how it manifests itself in India.
Another interesting moment was recognizing that the reason India as a culture can be complex to understand is because it has so many shades of grey. For example, communication can be direct yet indirect depending on the situation. So what could we tell our participants/readers about the communication style in India? Therein was born our new, cool (even if we say so ourselves!) table that makes distinctions among the ways in which different values are manifested across urban or rural environments, generations, in multinational corporations and domestic business. The objective of this table is to help the reader understand how the same value can be demonstrated in different—and sometimes even opposite—ways. We hope that the underlying message that is the integral CD message: always analyse the context of any situation while trying to understand or decode it.
The newly revised CD India package builds on the previous version and is updated based on current social, economic, political and business contexts. It has a lot more practical and hands-on tips and best practices for those who are living and working in India, because that’s what we as authors look for when we take off to another country. We’ve ensured that there are elements that speak to what this information means to you if you’re working and/or doing business in India. It’s been written with a lot of care (we’ve tried to stay away from declaratives), excitement (we’re getting to shape how the country is perceived!) and thought (we discarded version after version until we were satisfied with it)!