Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Cultural Iron Curtain

If you read this blog, even just casually, you will note that I often deal with the issue of encounters between people of different cultures. I speak with groups and individuals interested in, or challenged by, such encounters.

One thing I have learned is that our cultural heritage and identity work like an iron curtain. We find comfort and safety on our side of the curtain and view the other side--other cultures, that is--with sentiments ranging from suspicion and derision to puzzlement and horror.

A lot of misunderstandings and conflicts arise when we are dealing with people of other cultures because we stick to our comfort zone, our side of the curtain. We insist on seeing reality from our own perspective, and our perspective alone. We see our ways not only as normal but as normative.

We think the other people are strange or unreasonable, for example, or that they are awkward or rude. We don't realize that they might be thinking the same about us. They are as secure and comfortable on their side of the curtain as we are on ours.

The world is rapidly becoming a global village, with people of different cultures coming together and interacting everywhere. For our well-being and success in this village, we must bring down the cultural iron curtain and learn to see things not only from the perspective of our own culture but also the perspective of other cultures. This is a key message I deliver in my presentations, workshops, and publications.

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