Mind Your Language – Don’t Say That! – An Exploration Of Frustration Within International Teams. by Matthew Hill #language #understanding #peace

That is completely outstanding, wonderful and awesome.

Do the utterances of your colleagues radiate a grey pessimistic gloom that makes you want to shake them? Or, do some of your overseas team members chuck out so much insincere whooping enthusiasm, that you feel as though you may be presiding over a 5 year-old’s birthday party with jelly and ice cream?

Language

Before we leap to judgement about the passive or active language of our fellow executives and how angry this makes us feel, let’s take a breath and put this into context.

What gives us our language?

If your country had a history of keeping people down via serfdom, feudal oversight and soviet communism’s secret police – If a little war, starvation and religious persecution were thrown in for good measure, what discourse would be heard in your market square!

Too much?

Optimism – Before we totally condemn the US for their crass and trivial sounding, “Everything is awesome.” Let us pay tribute to the language that facilitated the actions of 5% of the population (USA) to produce 23% of the turn over OF THE WORLD. We may criticise a lack of depth but you cannot argue with the result.

Pessimism – Conversely, from my 5 years in Central Europe, working with a generation that followed the Soviet regime, I came to understand the cynical, dark and cautious language of the region in a new way. This different perspective freed both them and me from the energy draining depression that many expats complained about, (when they thought no locals were listening.)

“We tried that last time and it did not work”

History – When you have control and agency ripped from your arms by aristocratic overlords, then Communist apperachnics, and finally, Western corporate bosses, your language will morph into something pragmatic and functional. The Czech, “We tried that last time and it did not work” or, “There is a problem” seem to signify a reluctance or unwillingness to cooperate.

This is to misunderstand them.

When we dig deeper, we uncover a more profound truth. View this class of communication as an enquiry about your intentions. Then, relax a little, and, respect the input, regarding it as relevant and sharp. We are really hearing, “Can we trust you?” “Are you for real?” “Will you change your mind next week and so render this urgent request for action, pointless?”

The Slavic slaves will be servants no longer. Their words symbolise the overthrowing of oppression. Depth, connection and respect are required. 

Meanwhile, in the middle…

Geographically and energetically, the UK and much of Continental Western Europe fits somewhere in the middle. Our modest phrases give us away too. In response to an enquiry into our mental and physical wellbeing, the Brit may say, “Mustn’t grumble” “It could always be worse” or the anodyne and meaningless, “Fiiiiine”.

We see ourselves as free, democratic action takers, steering our ship on our own terms and yet, this passive language is manifestly pessimistic, fatalistic and, to an outsider’s ear, almost tragic.

The core cultural value that drives this avoidance of hubris and enthusiasm, is modesty – Cultural modesty. I have written a lot on this subject. The history of the British people, pre Empire, was similar to that of Russia. The surfs of the UK were a miserable, Baldrick like lot, (though he was much more optimistic!)

Here, we are signalling the tall poppy syndrome, though it is God who will smite us down for standing up and standing out, not a secret policeman in the middle of the night.

The Brit must avoid displays of ostentation and be ready for the next disaster to arrive at any time.

I spend a little time in Southern Germany these days and notice a related style. On entering a restaurant with pleasing décor, positive staff service and quality food and drink, the first comment by a local may well be a critical or negative one. Again, a self-flagellating form of avoidance – Dodging the wrath of God.

Optimism

Britain’s new Emperor (We will see if he is wearing clothes, shortly), has spoken of the need for optimism by Brits after enduring the 1000 day water torture that is Brexit.

***I feel the average Brit will roll their eyes at this, fearing a whooping American-like, forced enthusiasm with an implied command to display compulsory happiness***

We have just come out of a decade of austerity – Flogging will continue until morale improves.

Now, we are being instructed to drive the UK’s economic car over a Sovereign and “self-determining” cliff with a smile on our face. – See? I am doing it myself!!!

Go USA!

The context of US language is fascinating. Disparate exiled European groups landed on the East coast and headed out West to stake a land claim and work unbelievably hard, to try to build a cabin, plant, tend, harvest and preserve crops, and gather enough fuel for winter. 62% failed. I guess the ones that made it were using more positive and action based language than the ones that froze or returned. “Just do it” “Make it happen” “Outstanding” “I won”.

Conclusion

Language divides us.

The language of the “other” can be irritating.

We can mitigate our bitterness and animosity when listening to the message of our overseas counterpart by taking a peak at the fascinating history that helped establish their idioms, punch lines and social fillers that we hear today. And, it is by respecting the past and their past, that we can ensure a tolerant and healthier approach to the “other”, and, enjoy their language and energy today.

Now, wouldn’t that be awesome, problem-free and totally fine!

Pride, Prejudice & Privilege in the USA

A cultural opinion piece about the US Election written by Matthew Hill

Manhattan at sunset Turn to clear vision…

When two polar opposites face off together we get – Option A – a de-escalation of tension achieved through understanding and reconciliation and, Option B – Resistance, mud slinging and an active ramping up of cold or hot conflict.

In this piece we will explore option A…

The Swinging Diversity Pendulum

The US election campaign was a war – no doubt about it. Barbs were tossed from both sides with little regard for casualties or collateral damage.

As interculturalists, we understand the concept of privilege, power and what their use can do to the “other”.

The last 8 years have seen genuine gains for diversity, engagement and inclusion. Take, for example, the Transgender agenda – from a near zero mainstream consciousness in 2008 to reality TV and the Amazon Prime award winning series, Transparent now.

Looking back (there has been a lot of looking back…) the darker side of the liberal advance was hubris – manifest in dismissive and pejorative descriptions of the “other” and here lay the seeds of their defeat.

Dismissing does not lead to disappearance

Trashing the opposition’s intelligence was never the way to go – Imagine the emotions felt if the Left to Right labels – stupid, uneducated, white working class, bigots and racists where substituted for Right to Left insults – How outraged would the intelligentsia have been?

It takes two sides to build polar opposites and thus diminish the space for dialogue.

Swing

When the media take up the cause of the “mindful”, we know that tolerance of the liberal agenda pendulum is at the top of its swing. And guess what? It is now falling the other way. Those whose privilege is seen to be under threat will not give up their status without a fight. And in the election we saw that fight. The tide of resentment, backlash and frustration from the ridiculed right is seen in support for outlandish and extreme protectionist measures.

Cultural Relativity

By claiming the moral high ground and naming the people in the White House and media as “thinking, caring and correct” – these labels made the other side collectively and relatively; “stupid, cruel and wrong”. Just as with Brexit in the UK, these shamed people feel they have genuine grievances and are attracted to more extreme solutions.

Exclusion not Inclusion

One take on the scenario is that Middle America has been abandoned by both sides and feels intense pain – lower quality low paying jobs, less money left at the end of the week and unanswered questions about how to reverse the local economic decline of the past 30 years.

Bad or Bad?

The Republicans have behaved appallingly towards Obama and with little regard towards helping the mechanism of Government itself – pursuing a spiteful agenda of zero cooperation. The Democrats have not been blameless either. They have not addressed the local issues faced by the population – low wages, sub-prime fraud, mass house foreclosures and the alienation of the squeezed middle. They have supported Big Money instead.

It is with universal disgust that Americans see Washington as Hollywood for ugly people bargaining for their own self-interest at the cost of the Nation and with no Hollywood happy ending in sight. Trump can be forgiven from thinking, “anything is better than this.” His extraordinary ability to transcend his own privilege, tax avoidance, sexual abuse scandals, serial strategic bankruptcies and contrived conspiracies against opponents to convince people that his philosophy is the best for his country, speaks volumes about the angst and frustration of a vast sway of voters.

Bald Eagle Make America Great Again?

The Dream

“Make America Great Again” – panned by the liberal elite as crass and by many minorities for whom the 1960’s and before where a long nightmare of oppression and exploitation.

The nostalgia pitch seemed to work. Harking back to the halcyon days of the 1950s;

*Vast sexy cars, modern homes crammed with labour saving consumer gadgets and obedient housewives helping the bread winner to a cocktail and having supper ready for him when he returned from a not too arduous but highly rewarded day’s work at the office.

*Smoking, whisky, employing secretaries for their looks, a marriage bar for many office roles and a good time had by (NOT) all.

*Pool parties and picnics – It was not actually the case for the majority then and certainly it is only reality for a privileged few now.

*For many – their role in this world was as the unloved support, with no choice but to accept the inequality that kept this show on the road.

(If you think nostalgia is the way to go, I have one image for you that may blur your halcyon vision of the past – 18th Century dentistry!)

Push and Pull.

If the Pull of nostalgia was a fantasy, the Push was more urgent and keenly felt. The protest was against the political insanity of Congress, the economic consequences of Globalisation, the death of regional metal bashing in America and the starkly contrasting figures – the USA has about 5% of the world’s population and accounts for about 23% of the world’s GDP. “How then”, asked 60 million Americans, “can I not afford to pay my ever-increasing health insurance premiums?”

Add to this the unpunished crimes of the sub prime housing scandal where the biggest banks were bailed out and rewarded for their immoral exploitation of US working citizens whilst the average Joe and Joanna were not helped out in any way as they experienced the burning shame of house foreclosure. This dark chapter was remembered by many.

Changing the game

For DJT to win against the tide of the media is nothing short of extraordinary. His bizarre and extreme statements gained enormous airtime. His conspiracy theories laid waste to opponents and his nationalist rhetoric resonated with the dispossessed – pushing a complete outsider to the most important job in the world.

With Facebook fake news, a departure from facts and proof (post-truth) and the wildest campaign promises seen since Hitler, the ground was set for a revolution in a country still seeing itself as a Democracy.

The real marketing miracle was for a man tide to Big Money and an address book that went right the way to the top to convince Middle America that he was one of them and would serve their desperate needs for jobs, better wages and a return to easier times. The push and pull must have spun heads.

And with a little help from the Democrats

Many commentators where offering the advice; “the lesser of two evils”. Looking back, this may not have been the MOST appetizing choice at the ballot box. It was matched in the 2002 French Presidential elections by the, “vote for the criminal, not the racist!” slogan that WORKED and got Jacque Chirac elected back as President of France.

Hilary had a ton of baggage to carry around with her on the campaign trail – a list of dubious business connections and dealings, a propensity for war and shameless connections with Big Money. And a less that world changing promise that NOTHING would change.

That and an old man sitting in a blue “court dock” behind his wife during the TV presidential debates looking on with a tired and stony face whilst the most sordid chapters of US Presidential history were dredged up again and flung about the debating hall.

We guess that Bernie Saunders made a pact with Hilary a couple of years ago to mop up the next generation and anti-Hilary liberals and hand these free thinkers over to the Hilary camp at the last minute – A cynical move too far?

What of the Future?

DJT’s Roosevelt / Keynsian infrastructure investment proposal – enormous sums of printed and borrowed money will keep the country calm for now – Nobel Prize winning , Joseph Stieglitz, points out though that the innovation and new industries that will drive US growth will be very light on labour and will fail to provide the promised vast increase in new jobs or a general improvement in the quality of living for most beyond giving them new domestic, leisure and work based gadgets to buy.

New jobs will be created. The majority, however, will be in construction and will be accompanied by minimum wages, poor working condition and little dignity – Not quite the dream of 1950s Hollywood as seen with John Ham in Madmen.

Ripples around the world

Overseas, the French Presidential election will be the first barometer of the world’s reaction to DJT. Before we saw Slovakia, Austria, Poland take a clear step to the right. Who will be next to join them?

One cent coins and Dollar banknotes Big money or local income?

Conclusion

Forget the FBI last minute e mail actions, computer voting fraud, the Popular vote and Russian interference – DJT’s rhetoric about immigration, closing borders and his promise to create jobs for regular people is what the frustrated and unheard responded to.

All that has come before has lead to the nice folks of the USA listening to these words and taking notice.

A sobering thought for all of us.