Traveling the World Taught Me the Secret to Talking About Trump

3 months ago
Mark Wilson/Staff/Getty

There is so much anger right now, especially on the internet. The way we are treating and talking to each other is awful. I don't think I have seen one single social media conversation without at least one person calling another nasty names. And the worst part about it is that most of us know better, yet somehow the circumstances seem to give us a "free pass" on inappropriately expressing ourselves.

There is a specific group of people whose reactions are particularly disappointing and to whom this article is aimed at: anyone who works/worked with an international population, has extensively traveled, or had some experience that which should make them more aware of differing cultures than the general U.S. population.

 

At least within my network, regardless of party-affiliation, Trump’s recent “Muslim ban”, a travel ban which included seven Muslim majority countries, angered the above mentioned group. These people, who have had the glorious experience of traveling and expanding cultural perspectives, tend to see the benefits of immigration and globalization, and the Muslim ban, among other recent events, is an affront.

Cross-Cultural Communications

What gets me about this group is how their actions in their own country are counter to the behavioral standard they would hold themselves to when in another country or with an international population.

When I was in Ukraine (have I mentioned that I used to live there?), my experience was that their were a lot of things that I thought were sexist. Upon arriving to my site, I had to meet all the important people who thought I would bring a ton of money to the city. I arrived to the meeting dressed like I do with professional flats, and my co-teacher pulled me aside. She informed me that I need to put on heels before going into the meeting. Having not brought any, the meeting was canceled.

When the meeting was canceled, I was frustrated, but I wasn’t surprised or angry. I wasn’t because, by this point, I had traveled much of the world and gone through several intercultural communication trainings. I knew better than to get mad about something that was so culturally ingrained.

That’s not to say you can’t respectfully stand up for how these ingrained cultural traditions affect your own personal experience. When my husband’s Ukrainian friend came into his house, handed me a bag of vereniki, and told me to heat them up right before heading to the living room, I walked right back into the living room and told him where the pots and pans were.

I even stood up for women’s rights at various points by hosting women’s empowerment camps in my school. But attendance was voluntary, and I wasn’t screaming in anyone’s face to change their cultural values. In fact, we mostly debated.

Ultimately, I accepted that Ukraine has a strong male dominated society, at least compared to my experiences, and there was nothing I could do to change their minds other than engage in a civil conversation.

This principle of being respectful to other cultures while traveling has been forgotten by those “culturally aware” peoples in the U.S.

Other cultures you say?

Yes. My experiences growing up in the deep south compared to my experience living in Colorado are completely different, almost like traveling to another country.

The food, jargon, accents, economic values, lifestyle choices, clothes, hair styles, fitness levels, and even the brands they buy are all different. When I go home to visit, my family mocks me for going out of my way to purchase a bag of salad because I don’t think creamed corn and a can of green beans counts as veggies. And when talking to my friends and family there, I bring out my intercultural communications tool kit to make sure that I am communicating in a non-judgemental way. Because like anywhere in the world I’ve been too, there are aspects of the culture that I don’t like, yet no one likes being told their culture isn’t the greatest.

In this conversation surrounding Trump, we’ve forgotten our intercultural toolkits.

(Literally, as I am writing this, I can hear a million voices in my head saying, “BUT TRUMP, HE’S AWFUL!” Shhhhhhhh voices, listen for one second.)

I actually saw this t-shirt in Russia.

One of my best and oldest friends, Еленa, lives in Russia, and I had the wonderful opportunity to visit her after a ten year gap of not seeing each other. One of the first things she said was that she was excited about Trump being president and she thinks he will be a such a great and strong leader.

My culturally aware and traveled friends: would this be an appropriate time to call her nasty names and lambast her?

Absolutely not. She lives in an entirely different country with different values, and you know as well as I do that would be rude, disrespectful, and inappropriate.

I certainly told her I disagreed with her and explained to her my reasons. I got a lot of replies which surprised me, including some which I thought were naive/ignorant. But we were both respectful, and in the end, I think we both changed each other’s opinions a bit.

This is how we should be communicating with those who disagree with us about Trump.

An interesting part about this is that these people who this article is aimed at (culturally aware, well-traveled people) are the same people who have been posting articles about “Understanding the Blue-Collar Worker”, “Trump Supporters are the Least Educated”, “Trump Supporters Vote Against Their Own Needs.”

Can you imagine what would have happened to respectful conversation in Ukraine if I had posted an article titled, “Ukrainian Women Wear Heels Because Their Society is Sexist”? I'm guessing they would probably react the same way as I do to, “Ten Hypocritical Things That Liberals Say.” I'm not against sharing an article that has inspired understanding, but don't expect it to be the article that bridges communication with the "other side".

Personally speaking, I do think people who supported Trump come from a different culture than me. I am incredibly privileged to have traveled around the world, attained two degrees, have my health, and no significant responsibilities holding me down to one location. For most of my life, I have had good jobs that allow weekends, time off, and benefits. I’ve also been lucky enough to live in beautiful Colorado with a relatively active and progressive civil community, which has caused me to expand my views on controversial topics, especially how I view control over my own body.

My grandfather, on the other hand, the most respected person in my life, has had quite the opposite life and thus quite a different political perspective. He worked at blue-collar jobs his entire life, working about 60 hours a week. He struggled to buy his first house. He is extremely religious, and the Bible is is guide to life.

To my grandfather, I do not post articles, “Why the Older Generation is Holding Back Progression,” because a generational gap is a cultural gap. Like any cultural gap, there is something valuable to learn if you think of it that way. There is always a place for empathy.

I challenge you to engage in the Trump conversation using the same intercultural communication skills that you use when you travel. And then re-post this article so others can remember to do the same. :-)

Check out the original article here, published on February 6, 2017.

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