Misunderstanding Migrants, Part iii: Strategies for Intercultural Communication

Note: I researched and wrote this series of pieces before the attacks in Paris and Beirut, and the various subsequent reactions. These tragedies, while they change the present context and challenges of intercultural communication, only make this issue more urgent. In the face of frightened reactions, it is of the utmost importance that we maintain the human face of the other, that we make careful distinctions between those who commit violence and those who do not, that we communicate in mindful solidarity with all nonviolent peoples across racial, ethnic, national, and religious difference. It is for this reason that I elected not to edit or rewrite these pieces following the attacks. Every attempt to understand and reach out to others in times of upheaval, dislocation, and fear is an essential expression of common humanity; such expressions can change and unite lives in difficult and uncertain times. These posts were written to aid people in thinking through that challenge; and that is still what they are about. 

In my last two posts I began to explore the challenge of intercultural communication, and its immense relevance, given current issues in the world today. This week, my last post in this series, I’ll outline a few strategies for approaching communications with someone who doesn’t share your own cultural context.

Culture & Communication: What’s the big deal?

Barring language differences, most of us take the process of basic daily communications for granted. The way we greet one another, ask about a bus seat, or navigate an exchange of goods. If we take a slightly closer look, we realize that there’s much more going on than we’re normally aware of. This can give us clues into what might sometimes go wrong. [Read more…]

Misunderstanding Migrants, Part II: Exploring Intercultural Communications

Note: I researched and wrote this series of pieces before the attacks in Paris and Beirut, and the various subsequent reactions. These tragedies, while they change the present context and challenges of intercultural communication, only make this issue more urgent. In the face of frightened reactions, it is of the utmost importance that we maintain the human face of the other, that we make careful distinctions between those who commit violence and those who do not, that we communicate in mindful solidarity with all nonviolent peoples across racial, ethnic, national, and religious difference. It is for this reason that I elected not to edit or rewrite these pieces following the attacks. Every attempt to understand and reach out to others in times of upheaval, dislocation, and fear is an essential expression of common humanity; such expressions can change and unite lives in difficult and uncertain times. These posts were written to aid people in thinking through that challenge; and that is still what they are about. 

Last week I introduced this short series of posts I’m doing related to intercultural communications, given the world’s immense preoccupation with migrant crises in both Europe and South and Central America.

First, we must stress the urgency of sorting out intercultural communication challenges in the face of a situation such as this.  As Bradford J Hall writes, “Misunderstandings all too easily leads to distrusting and hating other communities, which creates cycles of emotional, social, economic, and physical violence that injure the quality of life for us all.”[1] The migrant crisis is already a major logistical and political challenge without adding an unnecessary layer of disputes based on confusion. [Read more…]

Misunderstanding Migrants, Part I

Note: I researched and wrote this series of pieces before the attacks in Paris and Beirut, and the various subsequent reactions. These tragedies, while they change the present context and challenges of intercultural communication, only make this issue more urgent. In the face of frightened reactions, it is of the utmost importance that we maintain the human face of the other, that we make careful distinctions between those who commit violence and those who do not, that we communicate in mindful solidarity with all nonviolent peoples across racial, ethnic, national, and religious difference. It is for this reason that I elected not to edit or rewrite these pieces following the attacks. Every attempt to understand and reach out to others in times of upheaval, dislocation, and fear is an essential expression of common humanity; such expressions can change and unite lives in difficult and uncertain times. These posts were written to aid people in thinking through that challenge; and that is still what they are about. 

During the past few months we have all been hearing a great deal about the refugee/migrant crisis in Europe. For many of us, this situation is in reality far away, abstract, hard to imagine. But with all the media coverage – and now the recent wave of terrorist attacks – it sounds a little frightening, and perhaps we find ourselves chewing on uncomfortable questions: given all the upheaval in the world, will our communities at some point face a similar situation? What is the right thing to do when a large group of people, needing and deserving of basic needs, arrive on our doorsteps? How should differences be accommodated or addressed? [Read more…]

Cultures of Peace: Is it cliche?

Newsletter Edition: February 2015 

In light of recent tragic world events in France and the Middle East I thought it was timely to write about cultures of peace, a phrase we’ve been seeing in many different contexts.

What is a culture of peace?

If you look up the phrase “culture of peace” in any online search engine, it is likely to spit out a long list of varied and disparate results. Environmentalists, musicians, educators, activists, and mediators (myself included now, of course), all have resources online explaining how their work relates to realizing cultures of peace. But what is this broad maxim?

First of all, what is meant by peace? This is a terribly complicated question. If we poll the hive, the first line of the Wikipedia entry on peace reads “Peace is an occurrence of harmony characterized by lack of violence, conflict behaviors and the freedom from fear of violence.” This is a good place to start, but then it gets more complicated. Does peace mean we don’t want any conflict at all? That’s a problematic notion. In conflict resolution we often emphasize that conflict is a part of all societies, and when managed mindfully, it can be healthy, important, and productive (in businesses and organizations, for example). To think through “peace,” especially from a conflict resolution perspective, it’s helpful to turn to the idea of “nonviolence,” which explores more concretely the ways in which conflict becomes harmful and begins to threaten “peace.”

Once the ideal of “peace” or “nonviolence” is outlined, there are many approaches to its realization. A “politics of peace” might be understood as attempting to structure policies of governance in a way that promotes as limited harm as possible to all. Mediation and conflict resolution might be seen as “peace strategies,” emphasizing the active and procedural elements of peace, and employing particular formations of interpersonal peace “making” or “building.” A “culture of peace,” then, implies another angle. It suggests that collective habits, consciousness, and normative practices of interaction can inhibit or contribute to peace – and also that we can learn and choose which kind we prefer. [Read more…]

Mediation & International Conflicts: Opening Understanding

Newsletter Edition: September 2014

I usually start off my fall newsletters by addressing the inevitable stress of the transitions in families and workplaces as summer vacations come to a close. This year, however, the relaxing summer we leave behind feels tainted by the devastating news filtering in every day from fault lines around the world steeped in unthinkable strife and conflict. Many of us, whose daily worlds often seem to keep us strenuously occupied all on their own, are rightfully feeling pulled toward a more acute awareness of the broader, shared political worlds in which we live. However,  the ways in which we receive information about conflict in the world frequently do not help us think critically. In the information age many of these stories fly at us in a rapid, decontextualized and disorienting pattern.  Attempting to regain some feeling of security and locate ourselves in a world shaken by conflict, and the amorphous threat of its spread, we may end up demonizing other viewpoints, rather than being open to increased understanding.

Mediation & International Conflicts: Opening Understanding

Conflicts do not arise in a vacuum. Often the situation hits the news only when it has already escalated into violence or dangerous brinksmanship. In a reality where the possibilities of peace and violence are constructed strictly around powerful actors wielding coercive force, the specter of violence is answered with more violence, and human lives become abstractions. It is important to recognize that there can be other intervention points.

[Read more…]