Just yesterday I was finishing a long afternoon run, climbing that last big hill before descending into my neighborhood for the final stretch. It was a beautiful afternoon when the sun had finally busted through a dismal 48 hours of bone-chilling temps. Yes, I live in Texas, so those frigid, unrelenting temps were only in the low 30s, but when the wind is blowing, driving a chilly drizzle, a person would much rather be home by the fireplace. So it was that Sunday afternoon presented the ideal afternoon of 55 degrees to lace up the running sneakers and thaw out my muscles and tendons.
Living next to a university campus offers ample opportunities and space for outside activities, especially running. With a rare, but gracious bike lane, I am able to run for miles on the pavement without having to dodge cars (except for the occasional texter). After misplacing my bluetooth ear buds sometime Saturday morning, I wasn’t able to listen to a book while running Sunday. Instead, I was left to my own thoughts, which can scatter all over the place in an hour-long run. So, I was in my own world, what Sherlock Holmes calls his “mind palace”, when I was climbing the final hill alongside campus and just down the road from my home, when a large black truck came rolling up beside me. The driver was approaching a stoplight so at first I didn’t pay much attention, until I realized what was about to happen. By then it was too late to reach without looking like a real pansy. Assuming this was a male driving this jacked-up diesel pickup, he waited until I was in stride just alongside his muffler when he stomped the accelerator.
Now, if you are unfamiliar with turbo-charged diesel engines, you may think my next reaction was based solely on the shear noice of the exhaust. But, if you were raised in the Midwestern sticks of what are affectionately called the Ozarks, like me, you know exactly what happened next. Coming from this geographical oddity whence comes the endearing term “hillbilly”, I was fully aware and MOSTLY unsurprised when an engulfing puff of black exhaust smoke expelled from the exhaust, bathing me and my panting lungs in a shroud of deadly carcinogens. Well, that last part may be a little over the top, but I am sure that too much inhalation of that stuff could lead to death. More importantly, I am ashamed to say, and more at risk, was my pride. Trying to conceal my animalistic desire to jump out of my skin, turn around and shake a fist, and begin yelling unkind statements, I had to keep the larger picture in mind. As a role model to these college students business leader in the local and global community, it was best to just keep running and act like it never happened, hoping that my lack of reaction at least stole some of his joy (lame, I know).
But, if you were raised in the Midwestern sticks of what are affectionately called the Ozarks, like me, you know exactly what happened next. Click to tweet
The second reason I didn’t turn around and chase this truck, making a fool of myself, was because I could relate. Growing up in redneck land, I was once that guy who saw someone running or biking on the side of the road and thought negative thoughts, like, “don’t they know the road is for cars!” (said like a statement rather than a question). I have changed my way of thinking over time, but I have not forgotten my heritage and the way I used to think and act. Not proud, just haven’t been able to shake it. Now that I am the guy running and biking on the side of the road, I immediately expect everyone to see my point of view, that the road is to be shared by all.
The truth here is the me, the runner, and Joe Bob, the jacked-up diesel truck driver “rolling coal” (that’s the street lingo for what he did to me), represent two different cultures. We co-exist in this small town so we are therefore co-cultures. Yes, Joe Bob may not like it, but we are neighbors and we must both learn about and respect each other. I don’t like him rolling coal on me just as much as he doesn’t like having a skinny nerd running on HIS road.
You may have similar stories right from your very communities. Now, just imagine how difficult it can be to navigate cultural differences when we relocate to a new organization, state, region, or country. You will have ample opportunities to think, “boy, my way is the right way and they are idiots!”, but do your best to stop and consider the situation from the other person’s point of view. We don’t have to agree with that other point of view, but in order to thrive in cross-cultural experiences we must be able to at least pause and try to see the bigger picture. Then, once we begin to consider this wholistic point of view, we can initiate the process of adapting in full.