cultural intelligence trumps empathy

inuit child

We all like to think we can show empathy.

We like to think we can hear someone’s narrative and ‘stand in their shoes’.

For many of us this might be true. We may have honed our awareness skills, fine tuned our listening skills, twizzled our emotional connection antennae. We are empathetic.

But are we?  Really? To what extent is our ability to show empathy merely a product of our ability to find meaning and sense from our lives and relate it to another’s experience? Another person brought up in the same language, the same country or world area, the same belief system, the same society? Meaning and sense making may be intrinsically linked to our own life experience. So maybe empathy has geographic and cultural boundaries?

If you sat down with a Australian aboriginal, or with a Chinese gentleman aged 80, or a native Inuit child from the snowy north, would you be able to truly connect with the meaning in their lives? Could you read the signs in their faces? Connect with the significance in their tale? Understand their underlying value and belief systems?

Over recent years we have added emotional intelligence (EQ) to cognitive intelligence in the form of IQ. Terms we are all familiar with.

Now, cultural intelligence (CQ) is emerging as a third intelligence.  Can we really be open to learning and meaning making when we meet another culture, another society, another upbringing? Or do we have to learn to do this? And without it, is empathy merely a hollow aspiration, or a distorted falsehood?

 

neat living?

image

I need to cut the grass. It’s a routine during three seasons. Mostly a chore. Weekend job.

We cut a lot of things that grow.

Outside we not only cut grass, we prune roses, clip shrubs, pull up weeds, lop branches.

On our own bodies we clip nails, cut hair, exfoliate skin, pluck eyebrows, shave underarm hair, trim beards or shave them off all together; each day, often at prescribed times.

Most of this cutting seems to serve a tidiness purpose.

But our children grow their knowledge and we cut that too. Don’t do this, don’t say that, run away and play, not now, because I say so… Not tidy. Just timely. For us.

Our own knowledge grows wild, unkempt, organically. We prune that too. Discarding things which might be useful because they’re someone else’s opinion, experience, idea, viewpoint. Tossing our own experiences aside because we cannot find meaning or make sense of it. Often because we don’t have time to. Not tidy. Just timely.

Meanwhile, out of control, inexorably, experience washes over us. And we randomly accept knowledge and learning every day, through every interaction, every experience. Our brains filing it away with dutiful order and precision. Some to be recalled, some to be lost forever in the grey matter. There is no real plan, no real order, no tidy symmetry. Structured randomness.

Unkempt sense making, messy knowing, time restricted learning, disorderly growth.

Neat gardens, neat hair, neat nails, neat lawns, neat children.

Neat lives?

 

making sense or making meaning?

making meaning making sense
Is there a difference for you between making sense of something and making meaning?

For me, making sense is largely, though not completely, a cognitive process. It’s one that facilitates understanding. It is how I comprehend things in the world around me.

So, if I look at the picture above, I might deduce that this is a teddy bear, that this teddy bear looks soft. He is brown. I know that teddy bears are toys, that often children have them. I might make sense of this teddy bear as a child’s teddy bear. A bear that has been posed to cover his eyes. Equally I might understand that teddy bears can be adult gifts to reflect tenderness, affection, love. I might be curious about the teddy bear’s size, because I know bears come in many sizes, and without background in the picture to contextualise and offer perspective I have to surmise whether it is small or large.

Making sense in this way is how we exchange and gather knowledge about our world, how things work, how to use them, their purpose.

Meaning making and seeking meaning however are inherently human processes at the heart of our humanity. Making meaning facilitates significance. It bonds us to our purpose and sense of self and creates a richer, deeper connection than simply understanding, or making sense. It highlights patterns to aid with new learning, new connections and systemic thinking. It stirs our emotions. It connects us to our experience, our memories, our values, our personal story. In short, it makes us human.

So, for me, the bear picture might remind me of my own teddy bears from my childhood. I might connect to the memories of my own children and their lives now as young adults, way beyond the teddy bear years. I might notice the teddy bear makes me sad and I might recall other times I have been sad. It might equally remind me of happy times. It might remind me that I too sometimes hide. Or that I like a hug. It may bring back memories of parents, of childhood games, of key events in my human story.

In this way meaning making is important. It connects our world experiences, our interactions to people, to activities and to things with our own sense of self. It connects us to our memories, and to our personal story through a deeper somatic awareness. It is more impactful, but also more useful, in that it enables us to form both new and tangential connections, which offer new learning, new meaning and new possible futures.

I can be taught to understand the world around me, to make sense of it, but making meaning of it is a very personal experience.

Maybe it’s the same for you?