I recently attended a seminar about “Cultural Diversity” hosted by an non-profit organization for Canadian newcomers (immigrants). While the slides were informative, what I found most interesting was the emergence of my own preconceptions in rather typical situations. Here was the scenario:
1. Halfway through the seminar, the presenter said “Let’s play a card game”. (several groans from the audience).
2. Groups of three sit a different tables. Each group is given a set of rules, which explain how to play the card game, what the magic card is, and so on.
3. We start playing. The first round, we are allowed to look at the rules and talk to each other.
4. I lose the first round and move counterclockwise to the next table. (The winner moves clockwise). I play again with new group members, only this time, the rules are taken away and we are no longer allowed to talk.
5. The second round goes well. I lose again (obviously I suck at this game), and move to the next table.
6. In the third round (with yet another group), I put down a card which won the hand, and am about to pick up the pile. However, to my surprise, the woman to my right snatches up the cards without an ounce of hesitation. I am a bit peeved and think “Oh. She probably didn’t understand the rules. Whatever, she can have it.”
7. We continue. This happens a few more times – other people take my cards even though I had (obviously) won. I start to wonder – “What the heck is going on? Did no one read the rules carefully???“
8. Eventually…I start to smile. I finally get it.
9. In the last round, I’m with a group who is just as non-confrontational as I. When any confusion occurs (as to which card won the round), we look at each other, shrug, and make gentle gestures which say “Sure, you take it this time. (After all, I took it last time)”. Apparently (as we found out later), this contrasted humorously with other groups who insisted with deliberate and exasperated body language that they had the right card.
10. When our game ends, we debrief. By then, most people had figured it out – we were were all operating under different sets of rules. The nagging question of “what does this have anything to do with immigrants and culture???” had been answered. We had a good laugh.
Going home that night, I was amazed at my own inherent assumptions (and automatic conclusions) that everyone else had the wrong rules and I had the right ones.