Should We Be “Culture-Blind”?
Last week, we hosted a housewarming party in our new home and hired someone to tend bar. Our friend had told us this gentleman was from Ireland but when we met him, he spoke with a perfect American accent. When I asked him about it, he switched immediately to his natural Irish diction.
I’m always impressed when someone can switch accents so effortlessly, but I was more curious about why he did it. When I probed, Ben confessed that using his Irish pronunciation led to a constant onslaught of tiresome questions. People in the US don’t know a lot about Ireland and the assumptions they make and questions they ask have not been particularly inspiring for him. So Ben said he chooses to avoid them all together.
This conversation got me thinking about the notion of being blind to others’ culture. What does it mean to embrace, honor, and be excited about languages, accents, and cultures? If we aren’t celebrating and embracing our differences in a way that doesn’t have genuine interest or knowledge of the world, should we ignore them and not talk about them? Should we just embrace them as part of the diversity that we live with (particularly in the United States)? Or, should we use them to so that we have richer conversation about other parts of our world?
Ben, the bartender, seemed to prefer that we might interact as if we are “culturally blind.” That is, that we treat all people the same and ignore the differences we may have. That goes a bit against my nature but it’s what I have experienced in the business world, too. For example, a workshop I recently held in Silicon Valley was attended by people from all over the world. The differences in these professionals’ backgrounds were never discussed between them. Working in a melting pot – with diverse cultures, languages, and accents, was nothing new for them in Silicon Valley.
After some reflection, I don’t think the solution (in either case) is to act culturally blind. Instead, I think it’s time for us to become savvier in the ways that we operate in a globalized world while at home or in the workplace.This means developing a global mindset or truly having the desire, knowledge, & skills to operate effectively in today’s world—in business and elsewhere.
The Najafi Global Mindset Institute developed a three-pronged framework with “capital” or “competencies” to define global mindset. I used this framework below to suggest tips to help you on your way to developing your global mindset.
Intellectual capital: Be knowledgeable about the world. Know where countries are and what cities there are named. Learn how things work, logistics, politics, and how they approach business dealings.
Psychological capital: Check in with yourself. Are you open and willing to learn about others? Do you have interest in exploring or learning about cultures or languages?
Social capital: Obtain specific skills in diplomacy and empathy. Learn about how diverse cultures prefer to be communicated with.
If we switch our minds to think in a more global context, our lives will be richer, our businesses more successful, and people won’t feel they have to hide their accents from us. To learn more about global mindset, view this video.