Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis


By Jean Mavrelis - 05.13.2011

Meeting with peers is sometimes all it’s cracked up to be.

When you’re in the diversity consulting business, the last thing you want to do is take another trip to a hotel.  I decided to go to this year’s SIETAR conference in Denver –SIETAR stands for Society for Intercultural Training and Research– since our colleague Gudy generously offered her home to us.  I am so glad I did, and I’ll try to make attending SIETAR a habit.

This is the second time this year I had an opportunity to spend time with colleagues in the intercultural field.  We’re kind of an unusual bunch — liminal types or global nomads– people with a foot in many social and cultural camps who often gain in perspective what we lose in the security that comes from thinking that there’s only one right way.

My most recent earlier experience at liminality was at a Bodhi in New Mexico where we had an opportunity to really slow down and be.   That recharged my battery for months.  Just as I was running down, along came SIETAR.  Once again my colleagues renewed my commitment to the work.

Some speakers were on the cutting edge of change around the world, often risking even their lives.  Others shared stories and methodologies for bringing understanding to those whose lives they touch.

Sometimes it was folks venturing out to “go global” who needed direction on how to manage the terrain. Other times they were helping students, or organizations, trying to manage diverse teams.

I’m not a religious sort –although I love ritual of any kind, and certainly am filled with “wonder”, but one line kept coming to me throughout the conference: “Blessed are the peacemakers”.

My favorite session was one in which Peter Fordos showed excerpts from the documentary “Climbing Blind” about Erik Weihenmayer, a blind man who climbed Mt Everest.

A German blind woman working in Tibet with blind children invited him to come to speak to the children.  Erik decided to “go one better” and take the children on a climb.  He found out however, that foisting his desire on the children created a culture clash that almost proved deadly.

He wanted to give them an experience, but what they wanted was a relationship.  Peter used this video to teach the dangers of foisting one’s own leadership values on a group without first understanding who they are.

What a powerful reminder to those of us who tread in these spaces between cultures, trying to create bridges.  Being respectfully present, without making assumptions,  is often the best we can offer.  But doing that often requires slowing down – being in the moment and feeding your soul- something we need to make time for in our business if we want to remain effective.

No doubt, in many of yours as well.


One Response so far

Thank Jean for this SIETAR reflection! Thought provoking and I am sorry that I could not stay the full length of the conference! I’m sorry to have missed the film, Peter, and all of you! Your line – Being respecfully present, without making assumptions, is often the best we can offer” really stood out for me. When I consider your years of experience and expertise – your humility is inspirational, and you are spot on for those of us in this field. No matter what our experience – the sense of humility that you demonstrate, and the freshness of your perspective and your/our desire to feed the soul may be imperative for us to slow down, be present, and be mindfu for our own needs, but certainly for us to continue to be effectivel. Thanks and look forward to when we may cross paths again!

Leave a comment