Take the Off Ramp America!
Cross Cultural Competency Begins at Home
Even before the January 6th attack on the Capitol, Americans were veering towards a head-on collision with each other. But on that day, I realized that the skills I’ve sought to put in the hands of those who work across oceans and continents would be better placed in the hearts of those deployed here at home.
In 2009, I left the halls of congress to cover natural disasters, conflicts and wars overseas and returned two years later to cover the White House, but the conflict and tribalism followed me home. The lessons, challenges, and mistakes I made during those experiences and others that followed provided the basis for my new book, Crossing the Divide, 20 Lessons to Help You Thrive in Cross-Cultural Environments. When I began writing, I created a picture of my target reader, a member of the current and future workforce here at home and abroad in an increasingly shrinking and interconnected world. But on this side of the Capitol riots and all that they tell us about our own country, it’s clear to me now that the audience for this book — is much closer to home. It’s in our backyard. It’s us.
Since I moved to Washington, we have long decried the increasing partisanship and gridlock. But our government was simply holding up a mirror of our citizenry. We should have paid attention and heeded the warning. We are a country divided, and a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Here’s the challenge. We are more divided than ever at a time when our youngest leaders are ill-equipped for conflict resolution.
Human Resources consultant, Linda Gravett, a psychologist and senior partner with Gravett & Associates, told the Chicago Tribune in 2021 of millennials, “Many of them have trouble handling conflicts and don’t have confrontational skills or seem able to deal with conflicts in a straightforward way.” Millenials are born between 1981 and 1996.
“A dependency on digital devices and an increased focus on our social lives online has made it difficult to make the leap to solving in-person conflict,” writes Jori Hamilton in Gen Twenty.
Like Millenials, generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) grew up on technology. They have greater knowledge of what’s out there and more comfort about accessing it. But they don’t know how to disagree agreeably. Human Resources professionals name social skills as a chief concern about this generation. Rather than confront, they unfriend, they cancel the relationship.
Whether by intention or influence, these conflict-adverse trends are impacting us all, no matter what generation we are born into. And it’s a HUGE problem for our future. We must be able to disagree without being disagreeable. We must be able to learn from and speak to those who are different than us, without blame or judgement.
So, America, it’s time to cross the divide. As I write in the book, “you’ll never understand another culture, if you don’t understand your own.” Listening, staying open to learning from others, and taking yourself out of the judge, jury and executioner position, will allow you to comprehend those who differ from you.
Progressives, find a conservative and engage. Religious adherents, find an atheist and engage. White-collar workers, seek out a blue-collar worker and start a conversation. Gen X, start a conversation — or a text exchange — with millennials, or Zoomers. Diversity is what makes America great again. Not America First, or America alone. And if we don’t discover our diversity, we can’t appreciate it. We can’t celebrate it. We can’t leverage it to create a ‘more perfect union’ which is what makes this nation unique.
And let’s not limit our definition of diversity when we talk about what makes America great. Diversity is not only about race, religion, nationality or gender. It’s about ideas; it’s about ways of thinking; and it’s the fabric of this country. It’s time to step up. Take action. You can either deepen the divide in our country, or stop, listen and learn with a coworker, friend, neighbor, or acquaintance who is different from you in some way. That choice will give us direction through the divide. That choice IS crossing the divide.