"Back home, he rose and he ate and he slept at the exact hours the warden had decreed.
"Too old to work anymore, he spent his hours pacing, the exact space of his long confinement—four paces forward, four paces back, four paces forward, four paces back.
"For want of something to do, one day he smashed the bottle to count how many pieces of glittering wire he had collected.
He wept. At his feet lay broken glass, and a clump of wires rusted solid in the shape of a bottle."
From Legacies: A Chinese Mosaic, by Bette Bao Lord
We all have rusted wires—well-worn behavioral paths that shape our behavior, that are comfortable, familiar, productive and different from others. They are our most deeply held habits that are unquestioned and sometimes unseen. We rarely walk these paths alone. We learned to walk these behavioral paths by watching those closest to us: our family and friends, our community, and our culture.
The farther we get away from our most immediate communities, the more we see difference, and when we cross a cultural border we sometimes see something that is so different that we feel disoriented and confused. Why would someone be that way? Why do they think like that? Why do they speak like that?
This disorientation becomes more acute when business, education, or even pleasure place us squarely in front of cultural difference, when we are forced into a situation where we must be productive with those who are least like us. In the classic response, we can choose either fight or flight. We can run away and choose not to deal with difference. We can mock others or call them dangerous. Or, we can fight them. Tell them to be more like us. Make them play by our rules. Make them assimilate. Over the course of human history, neither fight nor flight strategies have produced sustainable good.
A third option is finding a third way. Not your way. Not my way. But a way we might create together. A path that is created between your well-worn steps and mine. A place in the middle that we both own, share, and can walk together.
This book offers easy first steps to building that path. It will help you understand your own cultural preferences. It will help you see how others are different. And, it will help you build a transcendent dialogue that could lead to business opportunities, deeper learning, and enduring productive relationships with people who were once misunderstood, rivals, or even enemies.
If you do more than read this book—if you apply these ideas to a travel experience, a learning experience, or a business opportunity—you will be doing the hard and rewarding work of cultural transcendence. But, this hard work has a long-term reward. You will see yourself differently as you see how others see you. You will see others differently as you understand their deepest values. And, you will begin to bridge the cultural gap between yourself and others, reaping the rich reward of this global age.
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