I was at a seminar yesterday where the topic was cultural intelligence. There were a lot of obvious examples of why people from different cultures misinterpret what they perceive. There are the obvious ones we see even here in the U.S. where some families give hugs and kisses and others have much less physical contact. Just the lack of offering a hug can seem cool and stand offish if one is from a hugging family.
In the seminar, it was pointed out there are differences in culture and experience which can lead to even more fundamental misunderstandings because we think totally differently. The best example was the Japanese business man asking for directions in Washington D.C. asking on what block a given store was. The pedestrian trying to be helpful asked for what streets he was looking, but the concept of street names to find something was foreign. Where he came from everything was found by knowing what block, and the blocks were numbered or named. The example then flipped to the American trying to find a store in Japan. He knew the streets, but couldn’t find the store. When he finally got to the block, he grew exasperated. The buildings on the block were not sequential as he walked down the street. He complained to a pedestrian about how all of the houses are out of order. The pedestrian looked at him like he had 3 heads and said, “They are all numbered in order. Number 1 was built first. Number 2 was built second, and number 3 was built… What do you mean they numbered out of order?” Both examples had travellers without a common base of knowledge. Without the commonality of starting points, it was much harder to get to their goals.
As I sat through the seminar talking about different cultures from religions to race to nationalities, I was thinking about this with regards to chronic illnesses. When I am on an MS board and I use a term like “cognitive fog” or describe a reduced sensation of touch, there is a certain commonality. Even those who have not experienced a particular symptom, know what it is to have a random nerve issue. To liken it to the example above, they may not have been there, but they are at least using a map with street names and sequential arrangement of addresses along a street. There is a common culture.
As I kept mulling over this concept, I began to wonder how many cultures each of us use to interpret our lives and the world around us. Isn’t this the first thing parents give to their kids, a lens through which they can see the world? Whether a kid cries and nurses hurt feelings and resentment towards the sibling who just broke trampled their building of legoes or says, “It’s OK. We’ll go play something else, but please don’t break my stuff next time. You’re family so I forgive.” Do our kids try to fix a problem or immediately take every issue to the parents?
All of this comes back to what culture can we as parents pass along? Not every kid is brilliant. Nor is every kid a physical super star athlete. Everyone I have met has been resilient and adaptable to their perceived reality. If the culture is “This life is terrible, and I know you suffer” then they will probably see all of life’s set backs and problems. Their medicine will all taste yucky! What if all of the medicines were potions/pills of strength to give them powers to overcome life’s little speed bumps? What if they could be taught to like the toys and games their imagination produced? I can’t tell you the number of hours I spent playing volleyball over a bed using a balloon for the ball or the hours spent playing war with only fingers for guns. I remember those times far more vividly than going over to my next door neighbor’s house and seeing all of their toys at Christmas.
It’s funny because I am occasionally asked why I as an agnostic say prayers with my daughter at night. I do it mostly for the second part. I want her to be used to hearing me thankful so as she gets older she might think being thankful for the good is the natural state of being rather than a state of fear or want. They will know physical and mental challenges in their life. We all do. I would wish for my kids to grow with a culture of contentment shaping all of their perceptions and maps of their conscious life.