Different perspectives and customs shape diverse cultures – tribal cultures, national cultures, corporate cultures, even family cultures. Often the formative threads are so tightly woven that they are not perceived by the members of the group. Assumptions are so ingrained that they are invisible to those who hold them. But, of course, when different cultures are thrown together, the contrasts emerge and life gets interesting.
That was my own case when I went to Brazil for a business assignment. Well-educated and moderately liberal, I was blind to many of the assumptions and simple habits that were part of my white, Caucasian culture. Opposed to ethnic slurs for any group, I deplored the term WASP and certainly did not consider myself to be one. However, being immersed in a new environment made me more attuned to my own culture, as well as to the one in which I was a minority. That story inspired my novel, Until Brazil.
Over the years, many people have been pulled across borders and into foreign lands. Diplomats, immigrants, military personnel, ex-pats, students studying abroad, international businesspeople, global humanitarians – these are just a few examples. Cross-cultural issues are not new. For decades, eloquent authors have created great works that were inspired by the cultural conundrum. Why discuss this now?
Because, navigating cross-cultural challenges has become a “mainstream” issue. Homogeneous communities are becoming few and far between. The 21st century conditions bring the world to us, even if we stay at home. As the world shrinks, boundaries dissolve. Once confined to venues such as university campuses or international companies, diversity now characterizes most communities. Cross-cultural currents touch more and more families. Cultural juxtaposition is commonplace and universal.
Today, cultural diversity is not something “out there”, belonging to someone or someplace else. Multiple cultures are within – inside where we live and where we work, inside our families and often ourselves. To different degrees, we all share the complexity that confronts those with different nationalities, religions and/or races in their genes. Diversity within our closest circles is the new normal, not just a TV show.
I chose the phrase, Cultures Within, to depict different “social and intellectual formations” competing for our time, attention and even affection. I want to examine cross-cultural challenges with an intimate lens, exploring their impact on everyday realities and relationships. Managing diversity and improving cross-cultural communication have become important dimensions in work and academic settings; such skills are even more crucial within our families and friendships. My hope is to stimulate an exchange that will help strengthen the bonds with those we love and help to ease the conflicts inside us. Thus, within is the heart of this conversation.
Within sounds like something contained, but a hybrid life can be far from tranquil! Do you ever struggle to hold the complexity inside? Certainly, my life is often bursting with joy or confusion or gratitude. The clean white mug overflows with emotion. Thus, the exploding coffee is the icon for The Cultures Within Café. It represents the stimulating, colorful chaos that comes as cultures collide in our cup – our lives and our loves.
Thanks to all the pioneers who have joined me thus far in the Café. Our journey will take some unforeseen twists and turns. However, I hope we can craft a compass of sorts, some pointers to help navigate through the turbulent waters. Anecdotes (disguised and not) will keep it real. Sharing solutions will keep it positive. Your participation will keep it vibrant. Thank you!
Next Time: Latitudes and Attitudes