Saturday, March 29, 2008

Cross cultural management or rootlessness?

Globalization. A level playing field. A flat playground. All these terms and phrases only highlight the fact that the world is a lot more accessible then it ever was before. Such has been the norm for centuries that people came to the east to attain salvation for eternity. West, on the other hand promised freedom from inhibitions and societal norms. Today we live in a melting pot, everything comes in contact with everything else. Hardly any culture has remained isolated. Culture is often defined as a set of underlying assumptions, reactions and means of judging people. These are so deeply ingrained in the minds and attitudes of the people in a culture that they remain unaware of them. Culture you are born in becomes your reference point. All conclusions that you draw are with respect to that reference point.

In a world as it is today you can't help but come in contact with different cultures. It might be as brief as an encounter in a shop or a train station or as extensive as actually living and breathing in a different society. That is when you become aware of differences. When you make friends outside your own culture you become conscious of different perspectives. Dig a little deeper and you uncover the underlying assumptions of different cultures. It’s a huge revelation. You become sensitive to different points of view. You look at the world around you with different eyes. You suddenly realise that you have new tools to work with. Any given situation can lead to so many different conclusions depending on how you look at it. You realise that you now have a lot more to manoeuvre with. This is because the moment you become aware of different ways of evaluating behaviours you start challenging the assumptions you grew up with!

Since time immemorial kids have grown up learning what is right and what is wrong. What is acceptable what is not, what we should and shouldn’t do. What is common place in an Indian society is a scary thought for a European. What’s a done thing in USA is preposterous to an Indian. But these are outputs drawn out of boxed-in societies. As an individual who is conscious of each of these cultures, you know why a European is scared of arranged marriages while an Indian looks forward to it. You know that Japanese would respect you for your age, gender and position in society while an American would be more interested in knowing how many medals you have won.

You are now in the middle of that melting pot. You can touch and feel every flavour in there. Now what next? Where do you fit in? Are you still part of the culture that you grew up with? Your culture is what binds you to a system. It gives you a framework to work by. When you are exposed to another culture long enough, you can’t help but imbibe it to a certain extent. The extreme would be to get completely immersed in it. Does this still remain a revelation? You now have in your hands so many means of creating perspectives. Which one is your reference point?

Is this what is called being rootless?

It is a scary thought, to be rootless. You feel like a cast away with no sense of belonging with any place. But does it really happen like that? Is it so easy to shrug off the holds of the environment you grew up in? Is it altogether healthy to do so?

I try to look for answers to these questions. I look at the lives of the people I have come across, who have had the opportunity to go on the adventure of exploring different ways of life. I wonder if they feel rootless in any way. I then realise that they don't look at themselves as being rootless. It is a shallow interpretation of what they have achieved. They have had the courage to leave their haven of security and venture ahead to discover other ways of life. In doing, so they have emerged as better individuals. They have a much wider horizon now than they did before. They have had the opportunity to challenge the beliefs that they were taught as children and re-evaluate them. They can now analyse their cultures and societies in an unbiased way and in doing so weed out the bad aspects of them. They then share their knowledge with the people around them and pass on the benefits they have discovered.

Misunderstanding breeds mistrust. It is not until people allow themselves to mingle with different kinds of people will they truly understand each other. It is heartening to see that globalization is making it possible for more and more people to do so.

No comments: