Listening, cross-culturally is the only way to achieve balance


My favorite teacher used to say “It’s good to be open minded, but not so open minded your brain falls out.” Like the rest of the country, we on Whidbey Island are thinking about a critically important, difficult and complex subject. What is culture, how do cultures affect one another, or more precisely, how do people, who are inevitably shaped by diverse cultures — interact & affect one another. Remembering: “cultures” don’t do things, people do.

If Whidbey island welcomes refugees will our way of life be threatened? An important question.

One place concern is being raised is around touching Muslim women. Touching or hugging, as a form of greeting, is fairly new to even our culture. Fifty years ago, you would have been considered aggressive if you hugged someone you were meeting for the first time. Our culture has evolved.

Cultures are like cells. Boundaries are important, without them life cannot exist. Think of the cell membrane — without it, the cell could not exist. But life requires semi-permeable boundaries, not walls. If the membrane were solid, the cell would die as it could not take in nutrients or give off things it no longer needed.

Health is balance and appropriate placement. Cultural behavior, is to a large degree, about context. Different situations require different adaptations; ideology is not the same thing as culture. Deep listening, cross-culturally is the only way to achieve balance — health for all living together.

The reality is we are all citizens of this one small planet that harbors the only life we know to exist in the entire cosmos. Our cultural agenda had better be to work with life, not against it. There is a new kind of cultural consciousness and cultural maturity being required of us now.

I’m proud of my little community and glad we’re struggling with these big and critical questions. In an interconnected universe, the small can and will be mighty. Let us actively engage in honing our cross-cultural listening skills as we move to evolve our thinking and craft our policies.



Editor’s note: Hendrix is the director of the Northwest Language and Cultural Center.