A United States Institue of Peace & Burning Man Project Podcast
Have you ever wanted to work in a community or culture that was radically different than the one you grew up in?
The Culturally Attuned podcast and curriculum, a partner effort between the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and Burning Man Project, explores this question. The podcast and course will share real world stories, lessons, and practical advice for people who work in a range of settings around the world and who may find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings. The premise of cultural synergy is that people can be more effective, productive, and cooperative in their interactions when the strengths of their cultures are combined and thus add value to the other. The combination of backgrounds, approaches, and perceptions within a group or between two people is greater than those of the individual. Together, such groups can achieve outcomes they may not be able to reach individually. This series provides concrete examples from practitioners that will aid in developing a learning posture, integrated with both humor and humility, such that it is possible to continually grow the skills needed to do good work in the world.
Whether you’re a seasoned traveler, a Burners Without Borders volunteer, or just wanting to make better connections with your neighbors — there’s something in this project for everyone. Join us! As narrator David Yang, USIP’s Vice-President, Applied Conflict Transformation, takes us on a journey of listening and learning.
What is the Culturally Attuned podcast?
What happens when cultures collide? How can we bridge our differences to make the world a better place?
Roman Haferd went to a good law school and he works for the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office. Yet his work on behalf of justice is not as a lawyer. Rather than writing briefs or taking cases to trial, Roman heads a team of facilitators who seek “restorative justice.” Their work builds connections between perpetrators and victims, facilitating dialogues that aim to find justice in the heart, not in the courtroom. At its core, restorative justice attempts to break the cycle of crime and punishment.
Cultural humility requires us to put aside our assumptions and open our minds. While we may have resources and know-how, that does not ensure that we have the best approaches or plans to meet the needs of people in another place or culture. An open mind and taking the time to listen to locals helps us to re-frame problems as well as determine what people need with more confidence. And, it is equally important to think through the consequences and potential pitfalls of any plan of action.
When we set out to help in some other culture or community, we have learned that we should shape our project through what practitioners call “human-centered design.” This doesn’t mean altruistically imagining our own design to fit the humans we think we see. It means investing in the community – with its members leading the design process.
Working with a partner across a cultural divide – for example, in a negotiation – we may face a request or an action that we must refuse. In that difficult moment, we should look first for the motive behind the action and frame a response that helps our partner retain their honor and thus sustains mutual respect. A vital start can be our acknowledgment of the history of the other person and their culture.
In many cultures, meaning is often expressed non-verbally. So, be aware of body language, expression and tone of voice. Misunderstanding is often due to poor communication and misperceptions. So, one must be prepared for different forms of communication and to work to find meaning across cultural divides.
People who live amid violent conflicts suffer trauma–and even inherit it when that conflict has extended across generations. While trauma can harden us against our perceived foes, remarkably, people can use shared traumas to build connections, even with those we have seen as enemies.
Working across cultural divides makes it all the more critical that we avoid prescribing solutions to problems, and instead elicit them from those we’re working with. That is Mike Zuckerman’s career-long focus—from San Francisco to Greece to Uganda. He discusses how he does it.
The human brain is hardwired to constantly scan for cues that signal safety, trustworthiness, and social desirability among others. As we work among people of different races and cultures, it’s vital that we stay aware of these patterns within our own selves, because they drive our biases. If we don’t notice our own patterns, they can obstruct valuable connections with people around us.
In this final episode of Culturally Attuned we travel around the world to hear stories from five seasoned practitioners on how to work and communicate effectively across cultural divides. From their parting advice we learn the importance of cultivating relationships with local counterparts that create trusting, inclusive, and mutually beneficial connections.
Laurette Bennhold Samaan was born with roots in three distinct cultures. But even as a multicultural native, she says her missteps have taught her how cross-cultural competency is never fully natural, and cannot be reduced to formulas. Identity, context, and humility are critical.
Burning Man Project’s Kim Cook has — literally — danced on the cross-cultural divide. She recalls lessons in cultural competence from her work in creative enterprises like theater and hip-hop. (And one day … there was that chocolate cupcake.) For Cook, humble persistence is the way to overcome our inevitable gaps in cultural understanding.
Any relationship is shaped by a first meeting. To prepare those encounters, USIP trainer and cross-cultural expert Stephen Moles suggests we go beyond what’s in the rule books. Stephen suggests an approach for this work that he’s built from experience in more than 65 countries.
How do we build trust across cultural divides? USIP’s Leanne Erdberg has spent years seeking trust across the most painful of chasms, with former violent extremists in the Middle East and Africa. Erdberg shares her story of what she’s learned.
Tom Price has built a career helping marginalized communities, from Native American tribes to hurricane-ravaged towns, to locals facing the Ebola virus in Liberia. He warns himself, and us, against the temptation of the outside benefactor to imagine that — because we have resources and privileges — we also have the solution to a community’s problem.
We accept our need to show cultural respect. But Brazilian psychotherapist Kerley Most says West Africa taught her the difference between learning a culture and absorbing it. She notes the extraordinary value of correcting our mistakes. While as guests we are often given a pass on cultural norms, that’s a privilege we should try to decline.
Cuban-American-European mediator Juan Diaz Prinz says cultural competence means understanding not simply cultures but people and their values — honoring both the community and the individual. It means creating a space with another person in which they can safely talk about problems and seek ways with you to address them.
Everyone’s identity is multi-layered, giving us various possible points of connection with one another. Stereotypes obscure those possibilities, as Afghan Taliban negotiators found when they talked with Tamanna Salikuddin, an Indian-American Muslim diplomat. Salikuddin explains how she seeks each individual’s identity to build trust for negotiations.
The Culturally Attuned Podcast was created by Burning Man Project and the United States Institute of Peace.
Executive producer: Dominic Kiraly
Co-creators: Christopher Breedlove, Kim Cook, Dominic Kiraly
Audio engineer and Sound designer: Tim O’Keefe
Contributors: Honey al-Sayed; Jeffrey Helsing, Ph.D.; Kye Horton; Justine Ickes; Stuart Mangrum; Namiko Uno
Narrator: David Yang
Cultural Synergy Online Course
This course aims to prepare individuals working in communities across the world for episodic or sustained intercultural interactions. It will help such newcomers develop more appropriate mindsets for effective and sensitive engagements with those from another culture, whether working on conflict resolution, security, peacekeeping, humanitarian relief, development, international business, or community resilience building.
This course focuses on the complex concepts of culture and provides real-world examples to explore them in a practical context. The tools, insights and approaches highlighted in this course are intended to enable the learner to collaborate more effectively with their local counterparts by increasing intercultural competence and striving for cultural synergy.
To illustrate these key attributes of intercultural competence, the course draws upon real examples as scenarios for the learner to explore the challenging choices we face when engaging with another culture. In doing so, it also draws upon the insights of practitioners who have worked in many different cultural environments and faced unique challenges working across cultures. The course will also provide practical tips and reflective questions in each chapter as well as in the conclusion. These serve as reminders of how to be more productive and harmonious in intercultural interactions.
This course was designed and developed in partnership between USIP and Burning Man Project and draws upon experiences and insights from many seasoned practitioners from both organizations.
By the end of this course, participants will be able to:
- Cultivate relationships with their local counterparts to create trusting, inclusive, and mutually beneficial connections.
- Describe the foundational aspects of culture that influence intercultural interactions.
- Understand how culture influences the attitudes, values, and behaviors of themself and others.
- Realize the importance of knowing about and respecting cultural norms of others (without necessarily finding such norms comfortable).
- Learn how to accept differences and how to respond effectively and respectfully to situations in which cultural barriers or miscommunication arise.
- Enhance their ability to adapt their behavior and attitudes to be more effective according to local cultural norms.
- Discover tools to find what they have in common with people from other cultures.
- Become much more conscious of how they are perceived by others.
- Be mindful that having resources, expertise, power, and privilege does not mean that one has the solutions or automatically knows what others need.
- Realize how we are all shaped by the power and privilege we have in addition to our own culture and values.
Burning Man Project is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Your donation is fully tax-deductible to the extent allowable by law.
Cover image designed by Tanner Boeger