I am Italian. Amazing, isn’t it? Oh what a place Italy. The sun shines 363 days per year, people are so friendly and welcoming, such a unique sense of family and the food..oh my god the food..so tasty.
Ok I drop the mask: passing on the food which I admit is just another level (sorry rest of the world, just accept it!), facts are that every single time I have gone to Italy in the past year it has rained and stormed with no exception, news rank Italy as the #1 country in Europe for xenophobic views and my family…ok, we are not going to talk about my family 🙂
And how about temperament. Apparently Italians are these short-tempered mythological figures, who scream at each other for no reasons, waving their hands maniacally, like they are about to start WW3 and in fact they are just talking about the weather forecast.
But wait a second, does this count for all Italians? Or the majority of them? How much does this reflect reality? But most of all, how is this common place vision influencing the way non-Italians relate to Italians at work and in life?
While I probably perfectly incarnate the loud Italian cliché, hence not the best example, I have enough evidence to suspect that there is so much much more to add to the story.
Imagine actually how big the story gets if we enlarge the view onto planet Earth. I really wonder what aliens would say about our “mono-culture”! And what would be true about it.
In my many past years spent to fit, non-effortless, in the corporate world, I joint a number of those culture awareness trainings companies like so much these days and I remember leaving the room more confused than I was at the beginning. Such a jumble of common places about cultures and superficial simplifications. And considering how interesting, complex and intriguing the topic is, I thought those were missed opportunities. Trainings of this kind just feed stereotypes.
Living in a place like The Netherlands gives many such a wide intercontinental spectrum to pick from. My friends are from the 4 world corners, I have worked with all sorts of mankind and I have coached people from all countries but the Vatican, Neverland and Atlantis.
Hence if it is true that cultures matter so much, if we so quickly attribute conflicts and incomprehensions among people to cultural differences then we would also need to assume that 2 people with the same culture are destined to live in harmony and peace..ehmmm. That does not seem to be the case often.
Reality is that we are all much more than the culture people want to fit us in. Reality is that great relationships among people from different cultures are actually possible. Because what counts is to connect as human beings which is one sure thing we all have in common.
When we think “(S)he is like this, because (s)he is from that place”, we are close to committing an intellectual crime and we are just saying to ourselves and to others “I need to slot this in a box that is more familiar to me, otherwise I would not know how to explain what I don’t recognise” So you are basically choosing the easy, simplistic, comforting justification, which probably finds its source in your internalised prejudicial database.
In fact, we know we are more than our culture. We are our DNA, our past and our present. We are the result of a series of events and experiences some related to our culture and some not.
We are the people we have met throughout our lives and throughout these lives we change skin more often than we actually think. We “evolve” outside of our culture.
And of course, I am not that naïve after all, so neither should you. And when I a coach I never forget that some cultural features of my clients can influence our relationships and so can all aspects we as individuals and collectivity consist of: from our genetic heritage to our psychological development, from small and big life events to unpredictable mood swings.
So in doubt, I have found a more simple way: I search for connection. When you connect with someone, you hear a buzz in the air and as if by magic, you start mutually sharing common ground. And where there is connection, there is understanding.
So If life has fortune-kissed you and you find yourself surrounded by people with different passports than yours, maybe it’s time to focus on what unites rather than what divides you.
And, if you are not already doing it, maybe you can start trying one thing and one thing only: stop labelling. And in case you happen to be a leader of an multi-cultural team team, try harder. Maybe your team can love you even more 🙂