International Influence

Understanding other cultures sometimes involves local customs.  I like any local custom that involves drinking.  Me with the Australia GSE 2002.

Understanding other cultures sometimes involves local customs. I like any local custom that involves drinking. Me with the Australia GSE 2002.

We’re getting ready to leave the Sunshine State and return to the sunshine Island, but I’m reflecting on some moments from our psuedo-vacation. While Orlando has always impressed me as a fun place to go, I continue to be impressed with the number of opportunities I have while I am here to engage with people from all around the world.

I know that to many of us, the nightmares of traveling through “It’s A Small World” end up with our humming the tune for weeks, unable to get it out of our head, but this time around, I actually took the cotton out of my ears and tried to get some inspiration from the surroundings. I probably should have done that a long time ago, because it seems that with the political fight going on over immigration law right now, along with some of the less-than-cooperative international feelings toward one another, we seem to have lost sight of the fact that we are all human, we all endure many of the same hardships, and we also enjoy many of the same things. We really should try to spend a little more time thinking about our similarities rather than dwelling on what divides us.

I have said this many times about our interaction with each other in the emergency service community, but it seems that our little problems are just a small slice of a bigger societal issue, and that is, the reluctance of so many to observe some tolerance and willingness to appreciate other cultures, as well as concern for the things we hold valuable to us: our language and our own culture, our religious beliefs, our security as a nation, and our jobs, to name a few.

Over the years, I have learned that to know someone better is to understand their point of view better, and subsequently, for them to know us better also lends toward improved relations.  I have quoted this article before, but I continue to encourage it so you see what I am talking about; I really recommend that you read the article The Military Utility of Understanding Adversary Culture, by Montgomery McFate, as published in Joint Forces Quarterly.  Being open minded doesn’t mean you have to have a big campfire and sing Kumbaya (I’m not a Kumbaya, group-hug kind of guy).  It means that you maintain an open mind to how others think so that you can avoid misunderstandings and yes, this leads to improved relations, but also yes, it leads to improved ability to achieve your vision.

Lt. Tom over at the 12-Lead Prehospital EKG Blogspot and I were having a conversation the other day about Myers-Briggs personality profiles.  If you only know me from reading certain excerpts from Firehouse Zen, you might think I’m a crunchy granola kind of guy.  I’m not.  I test routinely as a Extroverted Intuitive Thinking Judger, an “ENTJ“.  I was joking about the “group hug” thing one time with someone and I think I said, “I’ll do one, but it’s only me sizing you up to see what I’ll have to do to kill you later”.  Okay, so that’s a little overboard, but the truth of the matter is, I have to resist my urge to tell people how and what to do all the time and allow people to find themselves.

My point is that not only do we have cultural differences that we can’t count on stereotypically, we can’t count on personality differences based on our perception either.  We have to seek to understand deeper before we can determine and judge.  In the process, we might also gain more information on subject matter that we didn’t have the answers to before.  As leaders, we need to listen more and talk less.  We need to use tools like the qualitative interview to get better understanding, to find out what motivates others to do or to act, and employ those motivators toward furthering our vision and the organizational goals.

Everyone brings something to the table, regardless of their ethnicity, their religion, their sex, or any other characteristic that makes them different from us.  Once you can peel back the differences and get to the heart of the issues, you can better find out how to solve our challenges and to employ the gifts others have toward making those challenges into opportunities.  If we can see what others see, it is one more set of eyes on the problem and will lend toward resolving conflict by showing people that if they win, we win.  Let’s all do a better job of working together to lighten our universal load.  As someone famous once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” (that would be Gandhi, if you didn’t know).  Have a safe day.

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