Sound familiar? You are in a foreign country and your phrasebook query elicits smiles, whispers, and children’s wide-eyed fascination. The person, to whom you are speaking, gently tells you that instead of saying “Thank you,” you spoke of diarrhea. After a shocked moment, you all have a good laugh and end up discussing life over a bottle of wine.

I wish these moments on everyone. For me they represent the connection that can be possible anywhere, anytime, with anyone. How would you like to live in that kind of world?! A world, in which a miscommunication is simply that–and maybe even a chance to talk more, to clarify, to connect, to discover–yourself and others.

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What is different about communicating in a foreign country and communicating on your own turf? I believe it is the willingness to hear past the semantics, and to give the speaker the benefit of the doubt.

My assertion is that if we view each person as a Culture of One and if we communicate as if interacting with a foreign language and customs, we would have that connected world.

When dealing with an obvious difference of language or culture, the willingness to understand and to see the similarities in another person is more prevalent, despite the potential faux pas that can occur. This leads to a friendly or neutral interaction. It seems clear that if a person is raised with a different language in a different culture, her words and behavior may have a different connotation than mine. So, I don’t take things personally. I ask questions to clarify meaning and intent.

We each have a unique set of circumstances and experiences that gives rise to a very specific perspective that is reflected in everything we say, all our behaviors and reactions, and our interpretations. These interpretations fine-tune our perspective, and around it goes.

So, Jane Doe may have been born in 1983 in the U.S.A. with hundreds of other children, AND she was raised in New Hampshire, AND in the town of Bakersville, AND in the school district of Mount Washington, AND in the Family Doe, AND on Maple Street, AND…, AND in her own head. Each sphere represents an added layer of “culture.” The overlap of shared perspective is diminished with each layer. Jane Doe lives in her own unique point of view framed by her own unique set of beliefs. Her culture is, therefore, similar and yet unlike that of John Smith, also born in 1983 in the U.S.A.

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If you grew up using the same language as another person, it is easy to believe that she has the same connotations for each word as you do. That leads to arguments and being right about what another person said.

How often do you experience a person angrily saying, “But you said _______!” only to hear the rebuttal, “I never said that!” This is not communication, and it causes a disconnect.
Communication happens when the message that Person A sends, can be repeated by Person B, and Person A can say, “Yes, that is what I said.” This requires listening and being open to the meaning behind the words. It requires the willingness to understand a different perspective.

Speaking the same language obscures the fact that we each have a unique perspective and subtly different connotations and interpretations. It is BECAUSE we believe we are speaking the same language and meaning the same thing, that we feel justified in our position, and communication breaks down.

Applying the concept of Culture of One would allow us to step back. In the space we create, there is room to seek clarification and hopefully to deepen connection.

~SH

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