The dictionary definition of to rebuild is to build again after something has been damaged or destroyed. There are two perspectives I have on rebuilding. The first relates to rebuilding after a conflict. How do we rebuild ourselves and our relationships when everything seems to be broken. The second to the rebuilding of our identity as a result of living abroad.
Rebuilding self after a conflict:
When we are in conflict, it touches our lives. At that moment in time, we have retreated to the “fight or flight” part of our brain that keeps us inner focused and prevents us from seeing the bigger picture. We want to run away from a relationship or avoid the situation or confront the situation. Any one of these many responses is how we want to deal with a situation that is perplexing to us. I certainly don’t feel good when I am in conflict. I hate that I can’t let it go. That the situation keeps churning in my mind and won’t let go of me is very uncomfortable.
The question is, how do we transform ourselves back to the way we like to be AND rebuild ourselves with a new way of looking at the problem.
For me, it is very important to find someone to talk it through. For others, it may be to set aside some time to think it through. The important thing is to really understand why we feel so bothered. Once I have expressed it with someone who doesn’t judge me or doesn’t jump in and make my issue a “b$%ch session, I am ready to let it go — to talk about it and even to admit I may have been wrong.
The other side of the coin is to listen to the other person. Once I am calm and not in the middle of that feeling, I can listen to the other side again. I generally put myself aside and ask questions to gain an understanding. I can’t do this when I am upset. I CAN do it when I have had a chance to be calm again.
So, those are my two tips. Find a way to let someone listen or to get calm. Then listen to the other side. It may seem too simplistic. In practice, it is a lot more difficult, but it does make a huge difference. And, oh yeah, it also helps change you forever. The small change from being self-absorbed to being able to listen and recognize the other creates an internal change in us. It lets in new ways of thinking and being. Really! It works!
Rebuilding self in an intercultural experience:
This brings me to the other way that we rebuild self. When we experience a dramatic shift and challenge to our own internal beliefs and values, it puts a great deal of pressure on us. Our own culture is something we take for granted. There is a set of principles and values we live by that don’t get challenged when we are among others who share those same beliefs and ways of doing things. When we move to another country, the different ways of being and negotiating the world — the different cultural perspectives — tend to challenge our own identity. They challenge the “who we are”.
Sometimes we are in a dilemma. Once we begin to understand the difference, then we may feel we need to decide to adopt another way of thinking or reject it. Sometimes, we find a third way. The third way is to be comfortable with our own beliefs, but be comfortable that other cultures have different ways of thinking and respect those. This is the challenge of switching cultures. And, then, when we do adopt other ways of thinking, we often struggle to decide when do we use one culture and when do we use another cultural way of doing things.
Let me give you an example. Years ago I lived in Indonesia. I worked hard to learn the language and to feel comfortable visiting and making friends with Indonesian women. I found myself learning a different way of moving, a different way of thinking about friendships and how to maintain them. Indonesians have a concept they call “keras”. If you are “keras”, you are someone who talks loud and are not very “refined”. There is a huge emphasis on being refined, soft-spoken.
In Bali, they do a dance in which the incarnation of God, Krishna, is approached by a monster. The monster starts to attack Krishna and Krishna bows quietly and speaks softly with a gentle and kind bow. Ultimately, Krishna wins the battle by his soft approach. The moral of the story is that being refined and soft is a powerful strength that can conquer the most obnoxious monster.
So, I worked hard to learn to speak softer and move more gently. One afternoon, however, there were some Canadian friends at an event. I found myself challenged to be louder and more direct with my Western friends and softer with my Indonesian friends. It was very difficult to be both in the same place and time. This is what I mean by a challenge to manage the intercultural needs of the two sides we become when we live interculturally.
I often talk about the Intercultural Way. To me, this means learning now to negotiate these different aspects of ourselves and incorporate it into being more comfortable with very different cultures and ethnic groups.
Ultimately, redefining who we are means being willing to examine our core beliefs and values, make decisions about which ones we want to change and which ones are at our core, and finally being willing to accept other aspects while staying firm to our own beliefs.
I am sure a poem is coming soon. I am waiting for a word that inspires a poem. In the meantime forgive me the passion I have for two aspects of my life that are important.: conflict resolution and intercultural communication. I love the learning I get from both of these fields and how they have changed me.
The featured image is of a rock that used to be at the Dayton Mediation Center. It represents the gift I received from learning how to listen.
Please feel free to leave a comment or two or three. I would love to hear from you!