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Mindfulness and Cultural Awareness

Mindfulness and Cultural Awareness

‘Mindfulness’ is an increasingly common term. We hear it bandied around by ‘celebs’ who have discovered mindfulness meditation as the means to a stress free life and we have heard the term used by people who try to practice ‘living in the moment’ whilst shrugging off stresses of the past or unrealised anxieties of the future.


Mindfulness also has its own unique meaning in the cultural training world.


In cultural training, it is essential to be mindful of one’s own cultural constructs.  How can the cultures of others be truly understood if an individual fails to understand the impacts that they themselves have on others due to their cultural conditioning? Essentially, if you can’t be mindful of yourself, then you certainly can’t be mindful of others.


Individuals who are not mindful of other cultures are described within the cultural training field as ‘ethnocentric’. As a black and white example, the world view of an extreme ethnocentric citizen dictates that:


•    Their own particular culture is the only true reality
•    Their understanding of the world is driven entirely by their own personal life experiences
•    They judge others by their own cultural norms
•    They find it difficult to appreciate cultural difference; considering those who do not operate by the same cultural code as ‘misled’ or plain and simply ‘wrong’
•    They do not reach out to people of other cultures and neither do they try to understand them


Although there’s a natural tendency for people to exhibit a degree of ethnocentrism (clearly most people are more comfortable with ‘what they know’) most people become less ethnocentric throughout life.  They learn that there are different life views, different approaches and different ways of thinking or doing things and hence they become far more ‘mindful’ of the world around them.  Many people actively grow from being in diverse situations.  They become mindful that the world is not a black and white one and they become openly receptive to learning from others.


Through cultural training, as a specific topic, participants are able to gain an understanding of the way in which our cultural surroundings influence the way in which we think, act and behave.  The training encourages people to be mindful that people of different cultures might view the world through a different cultural lens.  Clearly the way in which intercultural peers approach time, space, relationships, team work, project delivery etc. might be different to the way in which the participant approaches these things.  


By being mindful during exchanges with others, not only do we understand that differences may be there, but we also appreciate and welcome these differences. Culturally mindful individuals understand that there are different cultures at play and they use their skills to get the best from the situation they are in. The spoken word is not the only cue that they will use.  They will also be mindful of differences in body language, proxemics, tones of voice, ways of discussing topics and arriving at conclusions, ways of problem solving or debating etc. Through cultural empathy, the individual is also more likely to adapt their behaviour to accommodate that of their intercultural peer.  


As a basic and generic concept, mindfulness is essential to human growth. Whether it’s practiced through meditation, practiced in our day to day lives with self and others, or specifically, practiced during intercultural exchanges, the principle of ‘living in the moment’ is a healthy and positive attribute. Although formal training is a great way to accelerate the growth of this skills, training is not essential and one of the best ways of developing this skills is to be conscious of ‘living in the moment’, being aware of ourselves and others and appreciate the impact that we have on those with whom we interact.

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