Saturday, October 02, 2004

A Magic Mirror

Someplace I read (or heard) about a type of magic mirror -- instead of seeing myself when I looked into it, I would see how others perceived me.

    I think a more powerful magic (than the magic in the mirror) would be the magic found in a magic book whose pages told me what to do with what I saw in a magic mirror...

I have had a rare chance to experience something like the magic mirror. Through work, I was able to have a 360 degree review/survey of my performance and tendencies. The survey canvassed people I work with: peers, supervisors, and direct reports.

There are some comments and scores in the results that have been difficult for me to accept. I felt sad after reading them and I began to wonder:

Why don't they understand me?
(they should try harder to understand me)

It's very surprising to me how much misunderstanding can occur between people from the same culture, language, profession, company, and workgroup. Sometimes I feel that people try harder not to understand each other than they try to understand each other.

After I typed the previous sentence, I realized:

I should not be asking why don't they understand me. I should instead be asking myself:

Why don't I understand them?

Magic Mirror
(Text for the Book of Thoughts)

Because I don't know where to buy a magic mirror, I have had to invent my own. Whenever I catch myself thinking:

Why don't they understand me?

I will think of a mirror, and reflect this question into:

Why don't I understand them?

Friday, October 01, 2004

New Teeth Can't Be Far Away

Another person called about my motorcycle today -- she is going to check it out this weekend.

I would have stared at you in disbelief, if you would have told me last year that I would be selling my bike, so that I could fix my teeth, so that I could get in the Peace Corps.

This is starting to remind me of the song "There's a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea"...

Have a good night!

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Details to Dental

Well, the good news is: someone is interested in my bike. They will probably come and check it out this weekend. So, to get ready for them, I spent a hour detailing her (of course, my bike is a girl). And yes, she does have a girl-sportbike type name.

As soon as I sell my bike, I can begin my dental repairs. I'm hoping to have those repairs done by November 1st so that I do not have to delay my medical submission waiting for my teeth.

Only if my bike was a chopper, than I could say:

I'm selling my chopper for some new choppers.

(forgive me, it was just too hard to resist)

I was just thinking:

  • I wonder what other medical deficiencies the Peace Corps medical tests will discover?
  • I wonder if they will be bloggable?
  • I wonder if they should be blogged?

(of course I'll write about them -- it's always more fun to write about secrets, especial if they're taboo)

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

A Peace Corps Paradox

Chapter 1: A Paradox Appears

There are a few questions from my interview that have continued to stick in the back of my mind. The questions hinted at an interesting paradox that can occur for Peace Corps volunteers.

The Peace Corps has a three-part mission:

  1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans.

During my interview, I was asked questions about my ability to flex myself into another culture. They were trying to find out if I could be a cultural chameleon. There are very good reasons for this -- things like personal safety and acceptance.

This "request for conformity" and the Peace Corps mission seems to lead to a paradox:

    How can I teach others about my country and myself, if I have to become like them and conform to their culture?

Chapter 2: A Team is Formed

I once worked for a large company that was experiencing significantly above average attrition in their minority workforce. The heads of the company created a "tiger team" to study the issue, document the causes, and propose solutions.

Initially, the team was made entirely of members from the minority workforce. Shortly after they were formed, the team determined they needed a member from the majority workforce to help gauge potential backlash from any of their proposed solutions. To this day, I am still surprised and happy that they picked me.

Chapter 3: An Answer is Found

My first days on the team were difficult. Normally, at meetings, I was used to speaking out, and speaking a lot. During the first days, the issues discussed were foreign to me, and when I spoke (or attempted to speak) I realized (and others realized too) that I knew very little about what I was trying to talk about. I could tell that I was loosing my chance to be a contributor because I did not really understand the issues at hand.

I quit trying to be who I was, and I started to just listen, watch, and help with basic tasks. I was learning and absorbing -- not trying to teach others who I was.

At some point during the process, People started asking me questions. They were also listening to my opinions and conclusions. It was a seamless transition that came on so slowly that I did not notice it until it had been going on for some time.

During our post-mortem. One of the team members said (paraphrased because I can not remember it exactly):

    When Jay joined the team, I felt there was no way he would be able to understand our issues and concerns. Now I know that's not true. He has changed my opinion of him and others like him. I have seen him learn, understand, and empathize with our issues.

Chapter 4: My Answer

How can I teach others about my country and myself, if I have to become like them and conform to their culture?

To be accepted by people of another culture, I must first seek to fully understand their culture, the people, and issues they face -- I must walk in their shoes as much as possible.

Initially, just my presence may seem so different and could cause skepticism in the people that I am with. I will have to show them I can learn, understand, and empathize.

The process of first seeking to understand, will in the end, teach others the best thing about my culture and myself.

(This is definitely going into my book of thoughts)