Today I am writing about a dirty little secret called prejudice. Perhaps you think that it is not such a secret – that prejudice is everywhere? Sadly you would be correct, but the type of prejudice I am referring to is not the organized variety (although even organized hate groups sometimes wear sheets or masks over their faces). The type of prejudice I am thinking of is more subtle and to me even more dangerous. It is a hatred of the heart. This is a feeling that causes one person to cross the street when a different type of person is going to pass by. This feeling is something that educated people do not speak of out loud, but sometimes it is even the person they work with. . It is a silent, often ill-informed dislike based on culture, history, politics, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, and economics. It could be caused by anything which makes one human stand out from another.
As I travel around the world working with amazing people, I have come to this conclusion: it is impossible to harbor hatred in your heart for a “group” of people or a culture once you get to know them individually.
It is as simple as it sounds. If we want to stop hating and mistrusting each other, we should all put down the remote controls and cell phones, get out, and see the world. When traveling it is vital to keep an open mind to all cultures and meet people with an open heart. When you do, you will find people are more alike than they are different. I constantly see examples of misunderstandings caused by language or culture barriers, but almost all can be taken in stride with the right attitude. Most people are not trying to be insulting; they simply do not know what is expected.
This is also true of business, both international and inter-state. Study your client’s history to understand their behaviors. Approaching each person as an individual is tough to do, but worth the effort. When you stop believing that “your way is the right way” and let go of paranoid notions of culture war, suddenly the world opens up and you are able to enjoy the process.
Everywhere I go it is important for me to try to represent my country and myself as decent and kind. Sometimes I meet tourists and wish they also felt this way. I have heard horror stories from hotel employees of being mistreated by their guests from many countries. I can help them handle the situation but it is difficult to hear. Just because someone is serving does not make that person sub-human. People who work day and night to make others more comfortable should be treated with respect – always.
Sometimes it is not only abusive guests employees have to deal with, but bad managers who need to treat their employees better. For those managers (you know who you are) I have a message: Your employees are the people responsible for the company’s vision; they interact with your customers and carry out your strategies. Treat these people well or watch your business and reputation fail. If you cannot look your employees in the eye as equals, work to improve your vision.