bridging cultures in an increasingly crowded room

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Imagine our world. Increasingly interconnected and packed.

“Our modern civilization could be compared to a common room in which we are doomed to live together, but which does not change the fact that each of us is a different being. More than that, as we become more numerous, and the conforming pressure of of the present civilization increases, we seem to be ever more irritated by others’ dissimilarities, feeling an ever greater urge to defend our individuality against all that may tend to dissolve it in some cosmopolitan sauce – or even against anything that is simply different”

Vaclav Havel – “A revolution in the human mind” 1996, speech before the Latin American Parliament.

This simple metaphor was used by Vaclav Havel to explain the reaffirmation of national and local identities in often violent expressions. I was struck by the simple metaphor that explained (and predicted) the radicalization of some local identities.

I am living in a city in the south of Sweden that is facing challenges with integration amongst cultures. As I am quite enjoying my life here and feeling extremely lucky to be doing a job that I love, I also felt at times that the connection with the community was still missing (as in my other post). This town represents for me a small-scale reproduction of some common challenges of the northern Europe: many people from other countries have been moving here in the recent years to settle and have a better life, and there are significant cultural gaps that need to be bridged.

In the last months I have been reflecting a lot about how do these challenges and hopes relate to me personally and found a close connection in many ways to this topic.

Long story short: I have been witnessing discouraging examples of how a place / community / country can become over time closed minded and unwelcoming to the strangers. I learned from that experience that simply accepting the presence of the “other” and his diversity in a community is not enough to get real integration. We need to reach out and build bridges. Intentionally, with our compassion, getting rid of our fears, accepting the possibility that after meeting “the other” we may change our look at the world – with all the comfort that this gives us. I found in this a strong motivation to explore what’s happening in Karlskrona about social cohesion and integration between different cultures.

The “why”
Only three years ago, had I had inspiration for an initiative (volunteering, a new work or whatever) I wouldn’t have talked much about my motivation. Like those things that are too big to talk about, I would have rationalize it or -even worse- taken it for granted. New explorations in leadership have moved the focus of attention from the process to the source as the most powerful leverage point. Focusing on the “why”, on the inner source of motivation and continuously checking in with that motivation is a key aspect in modern theories of leadership – I compare it with taking care of your fireplace.

I had some beautiful chats so far with Augusto Cuginotti and Kiara Nagel (thank you both!) to check-in with my motivation and explore my quest behind this. From Augusto I got the suggestion to explore my commitment and to look at the “big picture”, ie how this challenge on the small scale is relevant in the world today. From Kiara I got the advice to be ready for some push back, and be ready to carry on when that happens – because there will be some push back.
My passion starts from the belief that intentional transformational change can and does happen, and we have to be compassionate, caring, skillful and graceful to make it happen.

What is happening for now is a round of exploratory interviews with people who have a stake in the issue of integration. I am keeping the conversation very open, exploring how comfortable people here feel in talking about it.

The game of social change is on.

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