When I first started this blog I wrote a post about listening and the intercultural way. I thought I would write a little more about what I consider to be the intercultural way. I came to this way of thinking through my years of living abroad and through my study of Intercultural Communication. As a professional in the field of intercultural communication, I have not wavered from this view.
The intercultural way is a way of being that involves many different skills or personal assets. First and foremost is an appreciation for the different ways we as human beings see the world. Then we need the ability to listen with the expectation that we might learn a new way of thinking or a new perspective on old idea so to speak.
The intercultural way is the way one learns about different cultures and/or different viewpoints and subcultures within our own culture. One has to be able to set aside the desire to judge difference and listen to understand. To be someone who practices the intercultural way is to be someone who loves to learn, is excited about traveling and living in different cultures, and loves the diversity around us even when we are in our own home country.
I know living the intercultural way is not for everyone. Just as Zen Buddhism is not for everyone. But, it is a special path that some choose to be on. If you want to be on that path, here are some tips:
- Be ready to be surprised. When you start to open up to asking questions and discovering others, you will inevitably be surprised. Embrace it!
- Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. You will. It can’t be helped. It is impossible to learn in a short time what a culture has learned in a lifetime. Think of yourself as a child learning how to be in the world and enjoy the freedom of innocence.
- Enjoy the new relationships you will be building. You will have stories to tell later.
Two stories that influenced me when I was living in Indonesia and studying the culture of my gracious hosts. The first was about Clifford Geertz, a well-known anthropologist. He was studying cockfighting practices in Bali. While watching a cockfight, the police arrived. Miguel and his wife went scurrying to hide like all of the other attendees. They found themselves under a bridge with one of the men. A policeman came to ask questions and that man covered for them. He found himself laughing with the others. From that day on, he was accepted into the community. The lesson is that we are all human and we all have similar fears and desires. Geertz was surprised that this simple sharing of an experience lead to such a strong bond with the community.
A second story was from Colin Turnbull, another well-known, British cultural anthropologist. He wrote a number of books on African cultures. But, what stood out in my mind was the story he told in the beginning of one of his books (I think it was his book on the Mbutu called The Forest People). He described a neighborhood in New York city where he often walked. Many days a woman would hang out of her window and yell at him or passersby. Colin called her someone who was most alive. He saw a lot of love of life in that woman hanging out the window. He had similar insights in his book. That, to me, is the intercultural way because it illustrates a love of people, who they are and what they do. It shows how we all share humanity in an important and meaningful way.
The picture at the top of the page was downloaded from Unsplash. The photographer is Pahala Basuki. He took this picture in Ubud, Bali in Indonesia.