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Working Cultural Conflicts

By Thomas Kochman - 09.18.2012

Cultural conflicts are systemic in nature, arising not from malice or bad intentions but from different underlying values, standards, or protocols.

These can be a source of friction, frustration or fun.

Whether it is one or the other depends upon how far away you are from where the conflict occurred or whether you are personally affected.

Mel Brooks’ definition of comedy and tragedy applies here. “Tragedy is when things happen to you. Comedy is when they happen to someone else.”

Jean Mavrelis talks about a conflict between her Jewish dad and Irish mom when members of the “other” group came over for dinner. Her Irish mom, complaining about the Jewish relatives, would say, “They come, they don’t drink, they eat, and they leave.” To which her Jewish dad would retort, “And when your relatives come, they drink, don’t eat, and never leave.”

For Jean –a generation removed—her parent’s argument is now just a story, one that she uses in our diversity training to make a cultural point. For her parents, however, more was at stake. Their difference –because of their emotional investment- was not simply a matter of right and left, but right and wrong, and because of that, more friction and frustration than fun. Read more »