The arrival of Christmas, and the run-up to the new year, naturally prompt reflection. Looking back at 2013… well, it’s been a full year in many ways. I’ve met some fascinating people, and learned an awful lot. I’ve very much enjoyed the courses I’ve taken at the Traditional Upholstery Workshop in Meidrim, near Carmarthen. The course in London where I qualified in auricular acupuncture. Systema classes at the Cardiff Martial Arts Academy. Incredibly different contexts, but without exception they were times I will look back upon with great fondness.
It seems hardly any time ago now, but in August 1989, I was heading into a revolution, and the birth of the world as we know it today.
That summer, I wasn’t long back from a year working in Southern Africa. I had a bit of money from a temp job in my pockets, and two months to kill before I started at university. While I’d been in Africa, I’d been reading Time and Newsweek whenever I got the chance, and I knew that things were stirring in the Communist countries of Eastern Europe. I decided to take the train to Poland to see… well, whatever was there to be seen. I tried to persuade friends to come along but no-one was up for it so, armed with Fodor’s Guide to Eastern Europe, I went alone. What I found was an upswelling of hope and idealism; a feeling that a better future was on the verge of arriving.
My first real understanding of Nelson Mandela’s importance was due to his absence.
It was in 1988, and I was in Johannesburg Central Train Station, having come down to South Africa from my job high in the mountains of Lesotho. In the deep valley where I was living and working, there was no TV or radio reception, so we were starved of news from the outside world. Whenever I got a period of leave, I would devour Time and Newsweek to learn what was going on beyond the valley walls.
On this occasion, I’d hitch-hiked up the N1 motorway, and was staying in the YMCA a short walk away from the station. After dropping my rucksack off, I’d made straight for the newsagent in the station, and was examining Time. This edition happened to have a story about Nelson Mandela (perhaps this one?), which included a picture. Only, the picture was missing – there was just a hole in the page. Not understanding at first, I checked the other copies in the pile. In every one, the picture of Mandela had been neatly cut out.
It may be that, like myself, you’re about to move to another country. Perhaps you’re engaged in some kind of international business. Almost certainly, you deal with people from different parts of your own country. You may be pondering the best way to handle a proposal, or assessing how someone will respond to a new project. It may be, as the economists would have it, that we are all rational actors make decisions according to our own best interests – but it would be foolish to deny the influences of national or group culture when individuals make choices.
Regardless of our particular situation, it would be helpful to have a method for evaluating the nature and degree of that cultural influence – it might help avoid a great deal of misunderstanding and disagreements!
There is in fact a very useful tool to do just this.