Have you ever been in your local grocery market picking up those few last items you need before you go home after a stressful day at the office? The line is long from all of those desperately waiting for some sort of Moses to part the line with his magic stick, letting you walk to safety and quickly back to your car. As the line slowly moves, and you get closer and closer to the person at the till who offers this whole experience a sort of redemptive quality, allowing you to finally be on your way, you see someone from a different culture jump in ahead of you. You do all you can not to yell out “That’s not how we do lines here!”. But you are mad. You can handle this sort of stuff when you travel abroad, but not here on your own turf. If you have felt this, you are not alone. But that doesn’t mean this is healthy.
In a recent YouTube video, a young college woman expresses her feelings towards a different culture that has clashed with her culture and her routine expectations. Many people can relate to these feelings. She shows a low level of understanding to the people that may have experienced troubles in their lives and therefore need to be dealt with, but her frustration was not with that alone. Her frustration lies in how those “Asians” dealt with their troubles in an inappropriate way for the culture they were in. In essence, she could be saying that those people have low CQ. They should be aware of where they are and act appropriately. While I understand her emotions, there perhaps is a better way to express them, and more so, a better way to accept others.
All around the world we can find people who travel well, adjusting their behaviours to their new environments for effective business, travel and entertainment. But there seems to be something uniquely different about when we are required to modify our behaviours in our own backyard due to a cultural component that was not there previously. Our cultural intelligence requires that we look into our motivations for our travels abroad, but to often, we can relax on how we need to modify our own actions where we are most comfortable, where we want to stop thinking. With globalization, our own cultures are not as they were before. Many embrace this, but it appears that our own yards are the hardest ones to give up. The question we must ask is, do we need to give up our cultures too?
Isoculturalism is defined by the attempt to bring unity and equality to different cultures, by sacrificing one’s own culture to preserve and build the others. It never suggests that this sort of effort is easy, but it drives one to think about the motives for changing one’s behaviour. Cultural Intelligence is defined by a person’s capability to function effectively in situations characterized by cultural diversity. But too often we use our cultural intelligence to affectively get something for ourselves. In many models of CQ, especially for business, the motivations for CQ can be to close the deal, or gain network power. When we try to gain for ourselves however, our CQ is dependent on what we get, and not what we give.
Having an isocultural drive in our CQ is a powerful tool for us. While it is perhaps easier for some to change our cultural intelligence behaviours when we travel abroad, it is hard to change when we are in our own comfortable cultures, unless we attempt to view people and ourselves beyond the visible signs of culture.
If my culture is the deepest description of who I am, than I will be threatened by other cultures intersecting with mine. I will be guarded, and I will fight to protect my own lifestyle and identity. But if we can gain identity, not only in who we are in and of ourselves, but find identity in those around us, submitting to others, and building others, we build ourselves. It is in the other that we find out who we are. It is in submission, that we find unity, and unity passes us past tolerance, and to the point of letting someone in line before us, because people are more important than schedules.
The young lady who expressed her emotions is not alone. Many of us have had those feelings. She is able to grasp that other people do other things differently, but when they are present in the majority culture which is different, they should be required to adjust. These are common feelings. But in a world that is changing fast, we must be challenged not to gain cultural intelligence simply for what we can get, but for what we can give. This will define our culture. A culture that gives to others. A people that serve. A people that care. And ultimately a people that love people