LIFE: A PARADOX CONUNDRUM (16)

Life is full of paradoxes that some say require balancing; however accepting an appropriate location on the paradox continuum, when dealing with the paradox conundrum, may be as good as it gets! An example of such a paradox follows:

  • Global Cultural Differences can be a Threat
  • Global Cultural Differences can be an Opportunity

Culture is a concept based on a term used in classical antiquity by the Roman orator Cicero – cultura animi or cultivation of the soul. Today most people see culture as the characteristics of a particular group of people, defined by everything from: language, religion, social habits, art, music, cuisine and so on. This can be at a macro level e.g. Western culture versus Eastern culture, American versus French; or at a micro level e.g. country people versus city people even though these people may live no more than 25 miles apart. To some degree people link culture and self-esteem i.e. we perceive our culture to be superior to that of others (their strange customs cannot be for real!) as a mechanism for sustaining our self-esteem. However as this perception is likely held by all people, independent of their cultural background, it becomes a zero-sum game.

In today’s world, many of us interact at both a personal and professional level with people from different cultures. As culture is linked to self-esteem we are likely to perceive these people from other cultures, at least initially, as potential threats and, as a consequence, may fail to see and utilize their many talents. The optimal approach would be to view these people as equals who bring many talents to the table. This provides a great opportunity to utilize their talents to complement our own talents.

I have experienced the impact of cultural differences throughout my life – I grew up in the Irish countryside and had to deal with people from the city; I worked in England and had to deal with English nationals as well as other nationals; I worked in Kansas City, MO and now in Bridgewater, NJ and have had to deal with people from many nations; I have worked for Sanofi for 29 years and have experienced it change from a US company to a US/German/French company to a French company, and have had to deal with all the cultural changes that ensued; and I have managed groups locally and globally which have included people for many, many cultures.

My life lesson from these experiences is that global cultural differences are real – they can be a threat if you adopt a fixed mindset; however if you adopt a learning mindset they will provide a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow as a person, as well as a great opportunity to gain synergies for the collective good i.e. the sum is greater than the parts.

Finding the right balance on this paradox continuum is not always easy; however it is necessary to accomplish this if one wants to grow and be successful in this Global world.

  • Adapt Globally to be Successful

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