An Opinion Piece by Interculturalist, Matthew Hill Enough is enough of “Brexit means Brexit” – Red, White or Blue. Stop already. The returning weak and wobbly Conservative and Unionist coalition is in chaos and it is their LOSS of a … Continue reading
This is the first of a series of articles where Interculturalist and Earth Scientist Glen Burridge be looking to highlight a topic that confronts us every day in all aspects of our lives and yet is frequently neglected by both organisations and individuals: Cultural Risk Management
If we have one characteristic as humans that represents both our greatest capability and our greatest weapon it is our ability to self-organise.
In other words, to create cultures.
In these groupings, we become actors in the world, through our organisations, societies, tribes, networks and communities. Through them, we trade and we exchange, we engage in conflict and war and we create things of beauty and value. In doing so, they form the basis of our identities and influence our behaviour at every moment. Some stem back to the origin of our species, while others are bubbling up as we speak.
Culture as Lifeform
We may do our best to romanticise them, especially those identities to whom we belong and find the most meaningful, yet a culture is – at best – no more than a meta-stable life-form. As ambient conditions vary, vulnerable cultures die, a few coalesce, whilst others are born. They are susceptible to changes in the environment, undergoing perpetual fashioning by external challenge and interaction – an analogy with viral behaviour would not be unfair – and our increasing connectivity with each other accelerates this process.
History tells us that cultural ‘entropy’ has operated since our earliest times: As human populations have expanded and come in closer proximity, there is a tendency for any extensive culture to produce homogenisation of society in their image. In order to survive the onslaught, any target community will require strong traits – either of adaptability, invincibility, suitability or to defy the threat by virtue of distance or size. There are moral and practical consequences to what is lost and gained by such an organic course, but it could be argued that this is simply the to-and-fro of natural selection at play; a culture is no more than an elegant ecological solution to a problem at a given time.
Whatever their origins and health, what the human story makes abundantly clear is that the simultaneous greatest threat to our future wellbeing and opportunity for positive development comes from the interaction between cultural groups. This is where interculturalists operate and (ought to) have a capital role to play in our future.
Yes, it really is as important as that.
The Earth, at present our sole home, has a surface area of 510 million square km. That might sound like a lot to you and me, used to possessing only an infinitesimal morsel of that terrain, but of that immense expanse only roughly 20% is habitable. In terms of the volume of our planet, only a fraction of 1% is a survivable biosphere. We are currently adding over 200,000 extra people per day to that space.
It pays for us to get along well with each other.
Cultures, with their attendant values, motivations and artefacts will come and go, but the perennial question that matters is whether these groupings – and their representatives – are able to find a common basis in which the existence of the Other is not a accompanied by fear. No group is ever going to fire a nuclear warhead deliberately at itself, it will always be at an Other. ‘Civil’ Wars are anything but civil. They entail the disintegration of the façade of a collective identity under exterior pressure or internal reckoning.
Equally, all valuable endeavours we embark on culminate, in some form, in a collective effort. At all scales of our lives, this entails an association of existing bodies, whether they are political, commercial, humanitarian or social. We therefore know we are going to face a myriad of interfaces in much of what we do. We ought to be prepared. Any organisation that neglects the multiple dimensions and effects of culture is ignoring not only its own DNA, but that of the environment it operates in.
Yet, despite a whole field of solutions that now stretch back more than half a century, the risk associated with cultural interactions remains the one we are collectively most reluctant to address in business and in the world at large.
The worst kind of success
The worst kind of failure is when we ignore a critical factor that was staring us in the face all along. The worst kind of success is one achieved without the capacity to repeat it, carrying threats into the very next situation we find ourselves, but now with a perilous confidence, until the moment of drama when we realise we have made a serious misjudgement, when it becomes no longer a risk, but history.
In the following articles, Glen will open up the discussion to explore further dimensions of cultural risk, how deeply it reaches into our lives, society and business, which go far beyond the familiar cultural realm of national identities.
For a discussion of the topics raised in this article and associated blogs, please feel free to get in touch with Glen at; firstname.lastname@example.org or via LinkedIn or leave a comment below.
Earth Scientist and Interculturalist, Glen Burridge
We are all global citizens now, but what does this actually mean?
If we accept that an individual can have multiple non-opposing identities, it would logically follow that it is possible to have multiple citizenships, as indeed many of us do…yet this multiplicity seems only to mean that we can use different passports to facilitate travel from one political system to another….and has nothing to do with sharing values, rules etc. Having looked at the questions for the UK citizenship test and scored a big fat zero on history, just scraping through, I am having an(other) identity crisis…… a UK passport holder born, brought up, educated and tax paying in UK for most of my working life, having taught English, acculturation and intercultural communication for 35 years, I am somewhat surprised at the criteria for citizenship of “my” country.
multiple non-opposing identities
Multiple non-opposing identities
For the first time I ask myself “Do I want to be a citizen?” Though I feel a strong connection with my home culture and I understand that on a deep level I probably make assumptions and bear prejudices that would link me to membership of a group of “people like me”, I have long preferred to introduce myself to “others” as a European- thus avoiding the Westerner (i.e USA) or the British (i.e. football hooligan) labels. I am proud of the values which underlie the formation of and continuance of EU, and believe passionately that the institution, for all its faults, has gone a long way to building bridges, to signalling a third way of “doing things”; an alternative to purely money or military oriented politics…. And a clearly stated definition of citizenship.
Yes, I like that…….
To note the ease with which I can explain my choice of association and acknowledge the possibility of duality here may go a long way to explaining my utter bafflement at recent events; but does this also indicate that EU citizenship as a concept is doomed to be more divisive than inclusive? A Them or Us sense of belonging which by its very nature hints at republicanism?
This brings me to a third model: global citizenship, whose qualities seem to be espoused by international NGOs like Oxfam and which is defined as a quality a person demonstrates whose identity is linked more with a common humanity than with any political or other allegiance- but if citizenship means to be held to account by a system; history; shared values, how can any of us possibly call ourselves global citizens except as representing an academic intellectual stance?….
Recent developments have forced me to reflect on what it means to belong….to an organisation at odds with my personal values; to a country hurtling towards xenophobia and isolationalism……
Am I the only one to feel like le Petit Prince?
“To establish ties?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
About the Author – Daphne Laing is a renowned education professional in the field of culture, language and citizenship.