We’re Not That Different

The disappearance of Malaysian Air Flight 370 has dominated the news for several weeks.  This story is especially heart breaking when you begin to think about the family members of the passengers who will never see their loved ones again.  I can’t imagine the pain and grief they must be experiencing.

One recent news broadcast showed some of these family members after they were given news about the search results (or lack of results).  The family members shown on the broadcast were all from China, and experiencing very real and very raw emotional responses to the fact that no one knew where their loved ones were.  Although I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I could tell from their wailing and facial expressions that they were hurting and struggling with the fact that life without their loved ones was becoming a reality.

Seeing these suffering people of another culture half a world away caused me to realize just how similar people of different cultures usually are.  Although the family members on the news spoke a different language and have different customs and norms than I do, they have family and people in their lives that they love.  Just like me.  And when those people are suddenly taken away, they are severely impacted and feel the loss in a painful way, just like I would.

It’s easy to look at people from another culture, or part of the world, and think them strange or weird because they are different from us.  But on a human level, we’re all wired for community and to love and be loved.  In this regard, there is great cross cultural similarity. This commonality is a great place to start building connections and understanding with people of different cultures.

I’m fortunate to have worked with a lot of people from India during my career.  I’ve enjoyed learning about their lives in India, their families, and their culture.  It has really opened my eyes to the world beyond the borders of North America.  Do you work with, or live next to, or regularly cross paths with people from a different culture that you don’t know that well?  If so, here are a few suggestions to help you make a connection and show that you are interested in learning more about them and their culture:

  •          Ask them about their families and how they interact with each other:  siblings, parents, spouses, children, grandparents.
  •          Read a book about their culture and ask them specific questions about something you read that you found interesting or didn’t understand.
  •          Ask them how to pronounce their name and practice pronouncing it correctly.

o   Ask if they have any nick names they prefer being called.

Cause something to happen that broadens your understanding of the world by interacting with people who differ culturally from you.  Remember that they’re people who have loved ones they care about just like you.  It’s a great way to connect with others and to increase your understanding of people on a more global scale.


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