How an increasingly global, interconnected world will challenge you to adapt or perish.
Our brains and body have evolved over the last few million years in response to a number of factors. Going from primarily quadruped to biped, traveling larger distances to forage for food, using tools, developing sophisticated symbolic language and living in increasingly complex communities, among them.
Pressures and opportunities
It seems reasonable to say that the rapid changes in our human societies in the last one thousand years and even more so in the last one hundred, have accelerated pressures and therefore opportunities for human evolution. Of course, when speaking of evolutionary change in species, this time-frame is just an insignificant blip. It is, however, reasonable to assume that we will continue on this path for the foreseeable future -if we don’t destroy ourselves first.
Mono- or multicultural adaptation
As our world metaphorically shrinks, we have two basic ways of responding to the demands that this shrinkage brings with it. We can either retrench and try to hold on to what is no more (our culturally unchallenged, homogeneous environments of yore) or we can try to figure out what adaptive behaviors, both in our short individual lives and from an evolutionary perspective, will serve us best.
We can see how people in all realms of life are trying to figure out which path to take, be it in politics; reactionary or progressive, in work life; follow the old career pathways that worked for previous generations or reinvent what the meaning of work and career should be now, in communal life; build community online or in person, and in the way we communicate; iPhone or eye-contact.
It is likely that adaptive behavior will look differently depending on the person, their stage of life and development, and from an evolutionary perspective; what allows us to survive and thrive in the short term may turn out destructive for the species in the long run.
The future is global and multicultural
What does this all have to do with the title of this post? The long-term trend for human behavior, adaptation and evolution has been in the direction of travelling larger distances, dealing with new physical and social environments and developing increasingly sophisticated ways of seeing, communicating with, and interpreting the social world. It has helped us to conquer the planet -often to the detriment of other species- and prevented us from going the way of the Dodo and Dinosaurs as well as other competing hominins (=modern humans, extinct human species and our immediate ancestors).
It seems that we have reached an inflection point in human history where our technical prowess maybe taxing our emotional, social and cultural flexibility and ability to the breaking point, at least as far as it concerns current generations. Here again we confront the question: do we fight it? Or do we acquire the skills that we need to adapt as fast as we possibly can? If history is any indication, then it’s not much of a choice: adapt or perish. Given the fact that our line of homonins has been able to adapt quite spectacularly, I’m optimistic that we will.
What does it take?
Call me biased, but I believe that the glue that hold our complex societies together is communication. We have evolved to be a super-social, interdependent species. However, being a competent communicator in one’s own cultural environment doesn’t necessarily translate to competency across cultures.
To be a competent cross-cultural communicator one first has to learn to truly see and preferably feel-in-to the shared principles -with their associated emotional significance- that guide people’s behaviors in other cultures. It is only then that we can infuse our communications -verbal and otherwise- with the sensitivity-to-context that makes them effective.
What does it do?
Practicing multicultural communication is a high level emotional and cognitive skill. We are challenged to use our highest level emotional, cultural and executive intelligence to piece together a new reality that was not truly visible to us before. As with everything; practice makes us better, and what we practice is what we become. Becoming a competent multicultural communicator allows us to roam the world, opens doors, enables us to truly see, and empowers us to pick and choose what we want to engage with in order to live our best life.
Becoming a better communicator in any (multi) cultural context always starts at the same point. We practice listening deeply to those who are different from us. We take advantage of the fact that we are all humans with the same basic mechanisms for meaning making, the same basic fears, needs and desires. We all wish to be seen for who we truly are, we require safety, connection, dignity and respect. When we listen from that place, we facilitate expanding our ability to see beyond our own cultural limitations and to understand what we could not before.
As always, I look forward to your comments, questions and experiences.
P.S. A Photographic Cultural Voyage to Andalusia
I was recently made aware of a unique opportunity to expand your cultural horizon in an exciting and extremely fun way. The Cultural Psychologist/Executive Coach Anne Ferrier and International Photographer Wayne Eastep have banded together to offer a cultural photography voyage to the South of Spain. The goal is to guide you to see Andalusian Culture and Landscape through a new lens -literally and figuratively. Jam-packed with cultural experiences, cultural competency and photography classes, it promises to be both an experience of a life-time as well as a life-changing personal growth opportunity. For more information go to: