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  • Paul Fogarty

A guaranteed inter-cultural insult

Updated: Aug 8, 2018

(Hint: You might want to avoid this.) 

Part 1


Do you sometimes feel as if you are ‘walking on eggshells’ in inter-cultural situations?  Whether the discussion is about race, gender, ethnicity, religion, orientation, politics, physical ability, age...


These two easily avoided landmines could get you fired, investigated or personally attacked if you don’t watch out for them.  This may be the best multi-cultural advice you ever get and what’s best about it is that it applies to everyone.  It has saved me from a host of possible conflicts and taught me to respect others.  Even more importantly it has helped me build friendships I never would made otherwise with people VERY different from me.

I don’t like the term “multi-cultural” anymore because “multi” just means “many”.  It says’ nothing about the quality, closeness or value of the relationship.  Intercultural competence, is the work we do to have better relationships with people from different cultures, economic class, races, religions, political beliefs, tribes, societies, political parties etc.  If you think about it…this will be the work our children need to engage in if the world is going to continue to become more crowded, polluted and diverse.  Living in a global world means relating to people who don't share our history, our assumptions about right and wrong or our habits of language and communication.  I invite you to use the term “Inter-cultural” for that reason. 

I have been involved in intercultural work since I was eight years old and my parents transplanted me into the middle of the world’s second largest city of Sao Paolo, Brazil.  It wasn’t fun at the time but I learned more than I would have without that history under my belt.

Of the many lessons I have learned from being in conversation with people from different cultures and backgrounds one of the most powerful is the hurt that it causes when anyone is either forced or prevented from speaking about their identity in a particular group.  In fact, the two best ways to guarantee that you will insult someone in an inter-cultural context is by either forcing them or preventing them from speaking about their identity.  ​

The first landmine is:  Don't force another person to become a speaker for their entire group.  You can invite them or ask them to do this but if you act as if you have the right to foist this on them, you are very likely insulting them. Think about it a moment.  Whether you are a cop, a soldier, a black person, a white person, a woman, a man, a Muslim, Christian, Jew, Republican, Democrat, Socialist….how do you feel if someone confronts you and demands you answer for the crimes or transgressions of someone else in your ‘group’?  When someone asks you to speak for every member of your group you usually feel rightly defensive. 


Here is a simple alternative….ASK!  Don’t tell another person what they mean or what their group stands for. Ask them if they are willing to explain something to you that you don’t understand.  In short start with a bit of humility.  They may say “no” and if you respect that then, there is a good chance that the next time you ask they will say ‘yes’.

This sounds complex, but it isn’t.  If you have any questions…give me call and I’ll walk you through the process.  You may find that it opens up relationships you thought were lost.


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© 2018-Present Core Values Negotiation, by Paul W. Johanson