Jo is a hypothetical citizen of the future. She lives and works in the year 2025
and finds herself in many situations where she encounters people whose
beliefs, religious or otherwise, are different to her own. On occasion, Jo will
make decisions about groups against whom people of her own ethnicity hold
some grievances – at times members of those groups will have issues with
Jo’s ethnic group.
Dressed in the futuristic fashion of a 30-something businesswoman with a
major deal on her mind, Jo power walks away from the smart baggage
carousel in a distant international airport just as her name comes up on the
screen. Her bag over her shoulder, she sees Yousef Abdalla, a dark-skinned
man with a long beard clothed in traditional dress, holding a folder in the
corporate colours of her potential client. Thoughts start racing through her
mind, 'he is a fundamentalist'. A woman covered from head to toe, with not a
strand of hair showing, walks a few paces behind him, ‘probably sexist too,
here we go’. When he notices her, he looks down and something about his
body language suggests some discomfort. ‘He must have thought Jo was
short for Joseph'.
Her competitor, Adam Pieters, has also picked up his bag. When Yousef sees
him they embrace each other and chat in a common language. Nonetheless,
Jo knows that if her offer is better than Adam’s she still has a chance to get
the deal because her education has prepared her for situations like this.
Jo has learned to notice her own reactions in her body and mind and to apply
this ability to cross-cultural situations. She notices the tension in some of her
muscles, her heart rate, and something in her stomach. This alerts her to her
own discomfort and gives her an opportunity to think critically about her
initial assumptions.
Jo has learned to use ‘and’ when others would naturally fall into ‘either or’
thinking. She can hold ideas that don’t fit together in her mind. Jo reflects on
the woman walking behind Yousef and provisionally decides it is possible
Yousef treats women in a way that she disapproves of, and that he might be
a very sensible, compassionate, decent, human being who shows respect to
women in a different way to that which she is familiar with.
Jo has learned to apply critical thinking skills to situations involving divergent
beliefs and rash judgments. She suspends judgment of Yousef’s religious
beliefs, reminding herself that she knows little about them. She resists the
temptation to mix everything she ever experienced or read about devoutly
religious people and project it all on to Yousef, while recognising that he may
have some beliefs and attitudes that could make it challenging for her to work
with him.
She has learned to develop empathy with people different to herself, and she
will tactfully seek to understand this man and perhaps the woman who is with
him and their world. She considers the situation from Yousef’s perspective
and acknowledges that he, too, may be feeling uncomfortable.
It might be that Yousef sees Adam as an insider and Jo as an outsider. Jo will
be alert to this and will refuse to categorise the situation as one of ‘us and
them’. She will insist to herself that she and Yousef are just two human
beings. Jo has learned how to find commonality and common values within
difference and may explore how Yousef stays true to himself just as she stays
true to herself. She will seek to develop rapport and trust with him.
Jo has learned to stay curious about different cultural norms and, before she
puts her hand out to shake his, she will ask how men and women greet each
other in his community. She has learned to relax about making mistakes
because it is an unavoidable risk in a diverse world. She will confidently and
diligently make her best effort, and she will apologise if people get offended.
But she won’t be too fazed by it because she has learned to see the funny
side of cross-cultural bloopers.
In spite of all that, Jo recognises she might not get the deal because
sometimes you just don’t. If that happens, Jo won’t assume that a woman
can’t do business with any of ‘those people’. She is resilient to confronting the
challenges posed by diversity.

Intercultural understanding scenario