George Carlin Would Have Had no Career in Japan

3 February 2010 1 comment

For some reason or other, some folks on the radio were talking about George Carlin, perhaps best known for his bit called the “7 Words You Can’t Say on TV”. George was fascinated with the power of words and how a word like ‘cock’ could be perfectly ordinary and in a barnyard context and send censors scurrying for their bleepers in another.

This reminded me of a conversation I once had with my cousin, who was a pretty good Japanese speaker in his day (and still holds his own – should he happen to read this blog) about the fact that you can pretty much say anything you want on Japanese television – there being no list like Carlin’s, of prohibited words. He (my cousin) decided to test my theory by trotting out every offensive and ‘dirty’ word he could think of in Japanese – ain’t it strange that obscenities are almost inevitably the first words a new immigrant learns . . . maybe it’s only the people I hang out with – and I weighed them in my mind, turned them over, and assured him that ‘yep, you can say that on Japanese TV’. Truth to tell, I have never heard the ‘beep’ of a censored word on Japanese TV – something you hear all the time on TV in North America.

Lenny Bruce used to do bits where he would take offensive words, like the ‘n’ word (don’t have the courage to even type it in this blog for fear of offending someone . . . everyone) and repeat them and roll them around his mouth until they became nothing more than nonsense syllables, robbed of their power to hurt and offend.

The work I do with the DMIS (Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity) has trained me to look at the things that push my buttons, including language and to look within myself for the source of my response. I’ve found that if I take a second to stifle my knee-jerk reaction and look deeper into what is actually causing my knee to jerk, I find that what used to cause my blood pressure to sore and often resulted in angry confrontation (or worse, stifled anger with its resulting frustration and stress) is not worth even a second thought.

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Categories: Musings on diversity

Cultural Relativism and Hair Extensions

19 January 2010 2 comments

Further to my last posting,  a rant about shedding the bonds of cultural relativism in order to be able to pass judgment on the dubious values of redneck cretins and the skanks who purport to love them – as long as it means appearing on a reality show, I’ve decided I ought to reconsider my position on his hair extensions . . . because hair extensions are merely something that make me cringe, but don’t violate my sense of what’s morally or ethically right (gross violations of my aesthetic sense get a pass – but still make me cringe).

Before I started to work with the DMIS (Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity) I used to get worked up about all kinds of aesthetic crimes – backwards baseball caps – and I still have no idea why any person with the sense God gave an oyster would feel compelled to wear a baseball cap at all times – let alone a backwards one. Come to think of it, except for wearing a toque to protect one’s ears from freezing in a prairie winter, why on earth would anyone wear a hat of any kind . . . unless you’re appealing on Mad Men or some film noir . . . but I digress. Ditto, those pants that simultaneously defy gravity while showing too much butt crack to leave anything to the imagination – thank goodness guys seem to have moved on to wearing pants that wouldn’t confound Newton or Einstein. And, as Jerry Seinfeld would say, what’s the deal with people who wear shorts all year round. This is Canada, people, not the tropics!

But egregious as all these crimes against fashion and common sense might be, they don’t affect me in any material way. They don’t insult my (non aesthetic) values, or sense of justice, so I’ve decided to let it all go. It’s amazing how much easier that makes relationships with one’s children and others who ought to take my sage advice, but for some mysterious reason, refuse to.

That’s one of the joys of overcoming cultural relativism and learning to make value judgments that matter. It enabled me to let go of all of the knee-jerk reactions that used to keep me in a constant state of agitation, a hair’s breadth away from a rant.

Categories: Musings on diversity

Cultural Relativism

13 January 2010 Leave a comment

People from ‘mainstream’ culture who are grappling with cross-cultural issues often feel that they are always the ones required by political correctness  to make all the accommodations. After all, they reason, if every culture is supposed to be of equal value then my standards are just one set among all the rest. So that means I have to accept everything that goes on in other cultures because there are no objective yardsticks’.

That is the definition of cultural relativism – the necessity to accept every culture’s behaviours because there are no objective standards to judge them by.

But an interculturally sensitive cross-culturalist does not have to give up the right to make reasoned judgments on whether they are prepared to accept behaviours from another culture or not.

I was watching a reality show called Rock of Love, featuring a redneck cretin with hair extensions who for some reason had a dozen or more skanky trailer trash women with bleached big hair and artificial boobs vying for his attention. In order to win a date’ with said aforementioned redneck cretin, the women had to submit to contests devised for them – the one I saw being a hockey game (that would be ice hockey, for all you non Canadians) against professional women players who were permitted to body check and otherwise physically abuse them. The contestants were wearing bikinis and one of them was knocked down and slammed her head against the ice where she lay moaning for more than a minute (on the ice, in her bikini) until someone in a vaguely paramedic injury came out to haul her to her feet – concussion anyone? neck or spine damage?

The winners of this contest were awarded the opportunity to go on a group date with redneck cretin. His idea of a dream date was apparently to take them to a strip club and coerce them into getting on stage and dance for his – and all the clubs other patrons’ – enjoyment. The one ‘winner’ who refused to pole dance or show her ass to the crowd, was chastised as a buzzkill, by redneck cretin, and risked being eliminated from competition and sent home (to her 3 children).

Cultural relativists would say that I shouldn’t judge his behaviour in demeaning and humiliating these women (who for God only knows what reason were clearly willing to do anything to ‘be with’ redneck cretin) because the women were more than willing and in redneck cretin culture, his behaviour and values were perfectly acceptable.

Not so, say I. I’m not rejecting what I saw simply because I think that redneck cretin culture is beneath me and nothing they do could meet my lofty educated liberal middle class standards. I’m rejecting what I saw because I’ve examined my own value system and believe that I am justified in rejecting redneck cretin’s treatment of women as toys with which he can amuse himself , no matter how abusive he is. It just ain’t right. It’s not how one human being should treat another. His behaviour, and the women’s acceptance of it, debases and demeans all humans.

Seriously, what on earth do they see in this guy? He’s a total douche.

Categories: Musings on diversity

Platinum Rule in a Horoscope

17 December 2009 Leave a comment

I read my horoscope every day . . . of course I believe it only when it tells me good things are on the way. Yesterday it had this to say: “How well do you respect the values of others? It’s easy to think that your own values and your own way of doing things is the only way, and certainly the right way.”

That’s a perfect description of the ethnocentric (monocultural) orientations of the DMIS (of which I’ve spoken in earlier posts – and don’t despair, I will eventually get around to telling you all about it).

The horoscope went on to advise me to adopt a Platinum Rule orientation to life: “Make an inner resolve to better respect other people’s values, even if they are different from yours.” Georgia Nicols, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Now, about that tall, dark stranger I was supposed to meet . . .

Categories: Musings on diversity

The Illusion of Universality

16 December 2009 Leave a comment

I was listening to the last of Robert Harris’ 20 Pieces of Music that Changed the World on The Sunday Edition on the CBC over the weekend and he made a point that illuminates the illusion of universality. He was talking about the physics of music, octaves, and the ‘perfect fifth’.

Wikipedia identifies the perfect fifth as “belonging to the group of perfect intervals (perfect fourth, octave) so called because of their simple pitch relationships and their high degree of consonance.[1] Perfect intervals are also defined as those natural intervals whose inversions are also natural intervals, where natural, as opposed to altered, designates those intervals between a base note and the major diatonic scale starting at that note (for example, the intervals from C to C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, with no sharps or flats)”.

I confess to having no idea what that means, but the perfect intervals are physical phenomena ‘The idealized pitch ratio of a perfect fifth is 3:2 — meaning that the upper note makes three vibrations in the same amount of time that the lower note makes two”. Harris’ point was that although we believe that something so fundamental to our (Western) understanding of music, based on the physics of vibration, must surely be universal to musical systems – it is not. The Chinese 5-note tonal scale has no concept of  perfect intervals, nor does Arabic music.

How does any of this relate to diversity, you might be asking yourself, with some impatience and agitation? The mainstream (in Canada) is so Golden Rule oriented that we believe that despite our surface differences in food, dress, customs, and even religion, deep down we all want the same things from life; that our shared humanity trumps cultural differences. Unfortunately, when we operate from a Golden Rule orientation, we believe that if only we treat everyone as we want to be treated, everyone will be happy.

That belief is the basis of our workplace diversity policies. We believe that if we ‘level the playing field’ by putting transparent systems in place everyone will be able to participate equally. But for people from many cultures, the idea of approaching a supervisor or other superior to have a frank and open conversation about some issue that is bothering us or some behaviour (especially if the culprit is the supervisor him or herself) that we find offensive is about as appealing as open-heart surgery without anaesthetic, and about as possible.

In order to move from the mere fact of organisational diversity (which is merely a circumstance, not an achievement) to workplaces and organisations that recognise, welcome, integrate and harness the energy of diversity, we need to move from what Milton Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (the DMIS) calls the ethnocentric (or monocultural) stage of Minimization to a more inclusive, ethnorelative (or polycultural) orientation to difference.

How would that matter? More about the DMIS and moving from diversity to integration in my next post.

Categories: Musings on diversity

Welcome to Platinum Rule Diversity Consulting’s new blog!

16 December 2009 Leave a comment

My first foray into the world of blogging. Next I’ll be getting a cellphone.

The front page of the Dec 4th Nikkei Business Online was entirely devoted to immigration, along with another 3 inside – under a big banner saying “Immigration Yes!”Interestingly, the first heading under the banner read ‘economic effects of immigration not without their downsides’.

I’ve often thought that demographics, not climate change, was the biggest challenge facing the Japanese. With the population aging, limited forays into immigration, like the generational returnee program that brought a large number of the descendants of emigrants to Peru and Brazil ‘home’ couldn’t really put a dent in the impending labour shortage (recognising that it takes a generation or two for immigrants to become acclimated enough to really fit in seamlessly). The only realistic solution is large-scale immigration.

Germany’s experience with ‘gastarbeiters’ who refused to go home made the Japanese very nervous about allowing temporary workers into their economy and their lives. That time has come and gone, however, and Japan needs to start consciously planning for an influx that won’t be going home; planning that should place as much importance on cross-cultural preparations as to health-related, educational, and bureaucratic infrastructure and to housing.

Categories: Musings on diversity