Companies need to become willing to embrace the ‘liquid’ nature of international relations. Rather than teach cross cultural theory by sticking to a teaching of cultural identities, it is the very loss of any cultural identity that points to the future.
A lot has been said and written about international relations. We have embassies representing values and ideas from one country to another, businesses hoping to do business with likeminded corporations overseas, and global nomads cruising from culture to culture.
Cross Cultural Awareness
Cross cultural awareness goes hand in hand with international relations. Diplomats and business executives alike are given training in what makes the other culture ‘tick’. How best to ‘fit in’ or make them ‘fit you’. In the best case this is done from an open minded and curious perspective, although more often than not, prejudice, stereotyping and an ‘us and them’ attitude creeps into the mix.
The Dutch are loud and brash, but excellent engineers. The English are polite and diplomatic, but never really show their hand. The Swedes talk endlessly to reach watered down democratic solutions, mostly well passed the time a decision was needed. Yet, the British could teach the Dutch something about diplomacy, or the Dutch could teach the Swedes something about fast an efficient decision making, and the Swedes could teach us all about the importance of inclusion. However, this way of thinking, benevolent or stereotyped, still keeps us firmly lodged in a binary way of thinking, their way and our way, better or worse, right or wrong.
Zygmunt Bauman introduced the idea of liquid modernity, where nomadism becomes a general trait of the liquid modern man, flowing through life like a tourist, changing places, jobs, and even spouses and values. They become self-excluded from the traditional networks of support. Bauman reminds us that this is not an easy state to be in, as it brings with it the “burden of pattern-weaving and the responsibility for failure falling primarily on the individual’s shoulders.”
This ties in with the literature about Third Culture Kids, or TCKs. This ‘third culture’ described by Dr. Hill Useem and developed Ruth van Eken, is just another road map that identifies the same underlying principle of Bauman’s liquidity. And in the field of Psychology, Emmy van Deurzen, one of the UK’s leading existentialists, suggests that those of us who are nomads in this world embrace the identity of non-belonging, remaining free from the need to hold one culture above another, to be no longer caught in a loyalty conflict between the dearly held concepts of the ‘home’ and new ways of doing things in the host culture.
The next generation already handle this ‘liquid’ state very well, be they TCK’s, cross cultural children, adoptees, or children of ethnic minorities. And even mono cultural children playing online in multi-national Guilds in for example World of Warcraft are less bound by national identities, They use their cultural intelligence to transcend and connect at a level where there is no ‘us and them’ stereotyping, but a kind of ‘you and me’ exchange of ideas that fit the moment, though not eternity.
So isn’t it time for this ‘liquid’ state of cultural awareness to be brought into modern companies, helping them to bring together talents from a vast range of nationalities and create an internal ‘third culture’ that can become the signifying aspect the company’s own identity. Hegel, one of my favorite philosophers, talked about the ever forward evolutionary motion of humanity through the dynamic between thesis and antithesis resulting in a synthesis that includes yet transcends the two. The challenge to those of us working within a third culture nomadic environment is to make the synthesis happen, rather than get stuck in the ‘us and them’ cultural crisis reflecting the bottom end of the Hegelian triangle.