Many Americans are mono-cultural. We tend to segregate ourselves with people who are like us. What we need to learn is to suspend our judgements and develop cultural fluidity. (More)
Midday Matinee is our people watching, people doing and people being feature. Join the Woodland Creatures for an afternoon break.
Academicians have studied cultural diversity and Geert Hofstede is probably the most famous. In international business it is an important skill. More and more it will be a necessary skill for living in America. What is it? My non-academic experiental answer is that is the ability to connect with others without first making judgments about their name, their sex, their skin color, their dress, their car, their religion, take your pick of the criteria for how you judge if someone is “like you.”
I fell into this concept in the 4th grade. I grew up in a suburb that was 40% Jewish. I was a Methodist. At my elementary school the bus for Talmud Torah picked up kids after school. I boarded the bus and headed off to Temple Israel. Rabbi Max was a powerful and compelling storyteller. I was ‘discovered’ to be not enrolled and taken to Max’s office. He called my mom and assured her that I was safe and would be driven home. After a visit from Rabbi Max my parents were convinced that I was getting a very solid education in the Old Testament and was in no way a target of conversion. I attended Talmud Torah for the rest of elementary school.
Fast forward to high school. I have been attending temple and high holidays for years. I have been taking off school to attend Temple on high holy days. My parents know of this and if they don’t really understand they are supportive. I turn in my ‘excuse’ to my high school English teacher who is also the choir director at the Methodist Church. He is, to say the least, confused. After my explanation and phone calls to my mom and Rabbi Max, he signed the slip. My dad at this time was still learning not to refer to Jews as Kikes.
Fast forward one more time to college. I attended a Methodist college and freshmen were required to take a class called, “Catholic, Protestant and Jew.” Rabbi Max was the Jewish professor. He saw me on the first day and gave me a big hug. “Are you here to learn about the Catholics?,” he asked. “You’ve got the Protestant and Jew part down.” I told him that it was a required class and that I so hoped his stories were still able to capture the listener and make the Old Testament come alive. His magic was still there.
I learned something really valuable by going to Talmud Torah. I learned how to move between two cultures and two religions. I learned how to bridge what was sometimes a great divide. I learned how to watch for the clues that a group gives to its members. Some of it is language but more of it is non-verbal.
Fast forward one more time. I am in Paris, France on a business trip. I stop in a shop to buy French lingerie for my teenaged neice’s birthday. I notice that the other customers say hello and goodbye and thank you at the door, so I do the same. The clerk asks me if I am an American. I say yes. She says, “But you behave French. You say hello when you enter the shop. Americans do not understand how we shop in France.”
Watch and listen. It is my way of practicing cultural fluidity. Especially the listening part. We are different but we are also the same. America is more diverse than ever. To meet and understand each other we need to see with the eyes of love and watch without fear to find our common ground. This is a progressive way to build community.