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!