The Goodbye Season is here.

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Okay! So here we are again – the end of the school year and some of our best friends leave. That is the most dominant and hard part of the expat life. From the moment we start nourishing a new friendship, we know that sooner or later it will end. And we might never meet again.

I remember how absurd and unreal it was when I did this for the first time some years ago. That last hug at the last lunch together with that friend you have experienced so many new and unfamiliar things together with. You have helped each other through days when the idea of living in a completely different culture, not knowing how to communicate or living far from your family, doesn’t seem that good any longer. But you have also enjoyed amazing adventures while exploring the city, strange food and the international community. You share memories and emotions that you might never be able to share with anyone else. So you hug, say goodbye and walk away. You know that you will keep in touch for a while, but if you’ve lived this kind of life for some years, you also know that keeping up a friendship only on Facebook comments is hard.

Yesterday evening it was time for one of those hugs. To me it’s a little bit easier if my friend, who is leaving, is going to Sweden, since I come from Sweden and know that I will be there every now and then. The probability of us meeting again is much bigger, I keep telling myself. Saying goodbye to someone from another country, going to yet another distant part of the world, makes it worse.

No matter how sad it is when people are leaving my life, the benefit of meeting people from all over the world is bigger. Every day I enjoy seeing what my friends all over the globe are showing me on Facebook and a couple of times I’ve been able to visit old friends in the country where they live now. The lessons I’ve learned about myself, my values and my culture, by getting to know people that I probably would never had met otherwise, is amazing! It’s the best course in personal development you could ever do! But it’s a tough course. You have to invest a big part of yourself, your time and your emotions and it will take a while before you know if it was worth it. Maybe you have to realize that this person is not quite a match for you and start all over with someone else. If you’re lucky you will meet someone you really like and a friendship is growing. That part of your heart and how you enjoy being with that person will be gone when she or he leaves. I allow myself to grieve. But I also, as a mantra, keep telling myself: The sadness I feel when she’s leaving, is a proof of the love and friendship I’ve experienced with her. That makes sense doesn’t it? If I had no friends, I wouldn’t be sad at all at this time of the year. And that would be very sad!

So I know that most of my expat friends out there are experiencing this right now. I hope you are doing well in balancing the sadness and the joy!

How I Would Build My Own Country From Other Cultures.

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I grew up and lived 45 years in Sweden, then moved to Istanbul, Turkey and now I live in Shanghai, China. Three very different cultures. I can see a lot of pros and cons in each culture. If I were to create a country of my own I would like to take some characteristics from each country. I wouldn’t be the first one trying to build a new country or society like that. When Atatürk founded the new Turkey he looked around the world to find the best bank system, the best school system, a good alphabet, women’s rights etc. Just when you start up a new country, group or organization everyone is open minded and enthusiastic. You remember where you come from and clearly see the necessity of a change. But after a generation or two, there are no firsthand memories of the old days and the wish to invite change is not that great any longer. Culture sets in!

I read a good definition of culture a while ago: Culture is the way we do things around here.

“Here” could be in this family, in this school, in this neighborhood, in this country, in this organization. That gives us comfort and predictability. We know how to behave and what to expect here. But it deprives us of the openness and readiness to evaluate if there might be even better ways of doing some things. And eventually we might even think that the way we do things around here is the absolutely best, truest and only way for everyone …

But how can we make room for that openness? Firstly I think we have to feel secure. Fear is always the threat to any change! The problem is that “security” means so very different things to different people. For some it’s to know that there’s an armed force outside the door, for others it’s to have friends and family around, for some to know what every day will look like. If we could feel a bit more secure in ourselves, knowing that we are all humans and there is a wish to be happy in everyone, that might open up for new ideas. I know that might sound very difficult, but if you have ever lived in a culture different from your own (in another country or another family) you might have realized that you have to trust in yourself and relax in knowing who you are and what you want, because you can’t rely on understanding what the people around you are going to do next!

Secondly, we have to be curious. Why on earth are they doing like that? First try to understand how it can be that they have such a different way of doing things here? What are the pros and cons? Are there any aspects of this that would actually be more beneficial to me than the ones I’m doing?

Thirdly, remind yourself of your core values. Do you really know what is truly important to you? Sometimes we get so focused on all the little everyday things and get irritated and discuss it endlessly (and media is doing a good job helping us here!), instead of putting it in perspective and see that it actually doesn’t matter at all.

So in my imaginary country I would take the warmth and hospitality of the people of Istanbul, the good sides of their honor culture, where you take care of each other in society, the flexible driving in Istanbul (you could always make a U-turn anywhere, using some smiles and hand waving), the food, the writing (you spell everything exactly the way it sounds – or vice versa). From Shanghai I would choose the ever present focus on your own health for a long and energetic life, the creativity and eagerness to make business, the readiness for change every day and adults’ enthusiasm in what we in West would think of as childish amusements. And I would love for women in my country to feel that it’s absolutely okay to be a director of a big company and dress in a Hello Kitty dress, with a Peppa Pig dangling from her cell phone! From Sweden I would bring equality; both parents engaging in their children, household and each other’s career. I like that the whole society structure, as well as in organizations, is pretty flat and that we respect people for their contribution instead of their authority. I would bring the care for nature and animals and the pretty well functioning justice. I’ll take the fresh air, midsummer celebration and tasty BUTTER!

That would be a great country! But if the inhabitants would also think that this is great that would be the end of it. “This is great, but let’s look around and see how we can be constantly influenced by others to make it evolving and developing forever”. That would be my motto!

“It’s a fact. That’s true!”

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These days we hear a lot about “alternative facts” and jokes about “the truth”, coming from the circus in the US. We laugh because we know that there can only be one true fact about something. You can’t have alternative facts. A fact is a fact. And a truth is a truth. Based on the facts most of the time.

At the same time we know how facts and statistics can be used in any possible way, depending on your purpose. Which facts you choose to report and which ones you omit. I’m a little bit troubled when I see how the different news channels, without even trying to hide it, clearly choose the facts that they think make the best “news”. How will the audience be able to see the big picture and be able to make their own opinion about what’s going on if they never get “alternative facts”?

And who decides what the truth is? Is it the conclusion someone at the news desk draws from the chosen facts? Is it something we have been told for generations or always done in our culture without questioning it? Can you make a reference to a god and immediately everyone has to believe that it’s a truth? Is it true because it’s the latest scientific proof?

I think that most of us want to live in a truthful way. So how come that we have so different ways of looking at the truth? It bothers me to use the word “truth” since that immediately implies that the opposite, or even the slightest deviation, has to be untrue or false. As if there only exist one good, true side of each opinion or action.

In honest, deep discussions I find that most people agree that everyone wants to be good and truthful, but how come that we too often completely forget that and look at actions and beliefs of people on “the other side” as if they were stupid, less intelligent than we? If I believe that my opinion is the truth, how can I accept that their opposing opinion is just as true? Not just true to them (no wondering since they are stupid?!), but actually as true as my truth.

I don’t say that we should be passive and just accept actions and speech that we find wrong, but I think it’s of great value to the overall development of societies, if we start by trying to figure out how it can be true in different ways to different people. Only then can we grow and continue the discussion on a higher, more developed level.

What is a good life?

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Today I got inspired by a talk by Arianna Huffington. She said that when we say we want a good life, we usually mean a successful life. And by successful we usually mean a life were we have gathered a good amount of money and power. This is quite a modern way to look at life. In ancient time, the Greeks used to talk about the four pillars to a good life: giving, wellbeing, wisdom and wonder. What a completely different way of looking at it!

What I find fascinating and sad is that most of us probably know that to be able to earn a lot of money and gain power, we have to be creative, make good decisions and see new solutions. But that is almost impossible to do if you are tired, stressed and out of balance. We know that too. But still we admire people who seem never to sleep, have hundreds of projects going at the same time and never being lazy, relaxing in the sofa the whole Sunday.

Arianna Huffington talks about an experiment where people got two choices: Either they should sit all alone, without any devices or anything else, in an empty room for a long time, or they should sit in the same room getting electric shocks. 47 % of the men preferred to have electric shocks instead of sitting alone with nothing to do! Isn’t that tragic! (Only 25 % of the women choose electric shocks, which is somewhat reassuring though!).

But how can this be!? How can it be hard to do the nice things we know we have to do, to be in balance? Is it cultural? It seems like more and more top leaders are confessing that they have been meditation for years, but never told anybody. If it would turn out that meditation or sleeping a lot or taking 30 minutes time for reflection in the middle of the day is what cool leaders do, will that change our view of how to look upon our work?

After more than four years of not working the way I used to do, I still feel a bit ashamed if I have not been “productive” enough every day! But I am getting better and better at thinking about my meditation or breathing in mindfulness as a productive thing to do. I can see how important the balance in my life is, not only for my harmony but also for my relations with my family and friends. Being more balanced also makes it easier to make decisions or find out what we truly want, because we have a better access to both logic and emotions when we aren’t constantly involved in something non-real happening in our minds or our cellphones! It will even prevent you from accidents – if you are in balance, you will see that stone or hole in the road and you will not fall. You will not fall, because you are totally in the present, alert about what you are doing, using all your senses here and now.

Just one last thing that Arianna Huffington also said that made me think; She commented on the fantastic technique we have today, that brings us this enormous amount of knowledge – how will we now gather that into wisdom? So much knowledge and so little wisdom …

I have read and heard about Arianna Huffington and her Huffington Post for years, but never actually heard her speak or understood what she is doing. Here you can see the 30 minute speech that I was inspired by today: Arianna Huffington – Reimagine. Everything.