I had a cold recently and I thought it fits into the topic of common sense perfectly. Any time someone found out about me having a cold and not feeling well, they had their own advice as to what I should be doing.
“Oh, poor thing! Hang in there and drink lots of tea with honey!”
“Sorry to hear that… Lots of garlic and you’ll be fine!”
“Drink lemon and ginger tea, that always helps!”
“Paracetamol, warm blanket and stay in bed. Hope you feel better soon!”
“Chicken soup always works! Make sure to have some.”
“Have something spicy, like some curry or something, that will kill all the viruses!”
I could go on. The point is – everyone has something that works for them when they have a cold. It’s a result of their trial and error approach to healing a cold. But also, most likely, the household they grew up in and the home methods of curing mild viruses.
Everyone has own perception of what’s ‘common-sense’ and ‘normal’.
None of the above is a bad advice. In fact, all of them seem perfectly reasonable and also so well-intentioned, which I’m very grateful for. But if I were to have chicken soup with spicy curry for lunch, followed by a mix of teas with ginger, lemon and honey… well, then… I would probably feel even worse haha!
I had to make my choices, based on my perception of what works. At one point I did also get a bit annoyed at all the advise that was given. Although I appreciate my friends’ care about me, after a few of those messages I thought to myself that I have my own brain and I’m fine! I know what to do and don’t need all the advise that was unasked for, it would have been enough if they just said “sorry to hear you’re ill, hope you get better quickly!”.
Challenge yourself to expand your perception and build your cultural competence
I would like to encourage you to take up an exercise in the coming week. Make note of the moments when you came up with advice for people, which they didn’t ask for (regardless of whether you end up sharing it with the person or not). Then think about what thoughts and beliefs stand behind this advice. Once you identify them, write down what other ways of viewing the situation could potentially be applied, using your creativity and cultural knowledge you have at the moment.
For example, if I were to share with someone the advice that they should drink a lot of tea with ginger and lemon when they have a cold, my rationale could be that:
a) I’ve always done it and it helped me,
b) ginger is an anti-inflammatory product so helps the recovery, and
c) drinking warm beverages helps keep the body warm, so that you can ‘sweat-out’ the illness.
Now, whether those are true or not, or medically justified in any way, is not relevant for this purpose. I do it, because I believe that it will work and I advise it to another person because I believe that it will help them too. But… are there any other solutions or perspectives on this? What if my common-sense solution is not the only one? What if this person’s frame of reference is different from mine? They didn’t ask for my advice after all…
Curing a simple cold may sound like an insignificant example. However, it does relate to other situations in life where you make ‘common-sense’ decisions or give common-sense advice. Have in mind, that all of those are filtered through your lens of seeing the world. Those same decisions though may not serve you if put in a completely different context.
My friend told me once about a time she was travelling in Ecuador. She and her friend (a local) were driving through the city, coming back home. He was driving through all the red lights without stopping or slowing down at the crossings. To her it seemed ridiculous and completely unsafe! The common sense for her would be to slow down before a crossing and stop at red lights, to avoid an accident. To him however, it was safer to continue going straight ahead. “If we would stop anywhere in this area, it is more than certain that someone would come up to us either attacking us, or wanting to rob us”, he said, “so it’s safer to continue moving forward!”. His common-sense thinking seemed to be more applicable to the context they were in.
Think of what you consider common-sense
Practice taking other perspectives, practice challenging your notion of ‘normal’. What are the things that feel so obvious to you and so ingrained in your behaviour that you almost don’t notice them?
A few examples from me to help you get started:
Speaking to strangers: it’s ‘obvious’ for me that you don’t speak or chit chat to strangers on the street or with shop assistants. The belief behind this is generally that speaking to strangers is considered weird, and potentially dangerous. It was always the thing that parents and grandparents repeated – “Do not talk to strangers, just walk away if they chat to you”. In the UK however, it is far more common, and a bit of harmless chit-chat or banter with people you don’t know is not necessarily considered weird (though there is a line!). Living here changed my perception on the beliefs I held so strongly before.
Hosting guests: Very common in Poland is that when you are hosting some friends and ask them if they want something to drink, they will reject your offer at first. You will need to ask them at least twice for them to agree to have something to drink. You are likely to hear “oh no, no need to, don’t bother at all!”, and then when the person asks again, accept the offer (“alright, if you insist 🙂 I’ll just have some tea”. If you come with that polite attitude to Germany, you may find that you just won’t receive any drink unless you request it. That could potentially trigger some unhelpful thoughts in your head: “How rude, they didn’t even offer me anything to drink”, while in reality, they just understood your “Oh, no need, I’m fine” as “Oh, I’m fine for now without a drink, I’ll say if I want something”.
Normal tea: When you come to Poland, and are offering tea to someone, they might say they want a normal tea. By default, this means just black tea. But would it be the same everywhere? What does a normal tea mean, really… If it’s the most popular tea that people drink, then in some parts of the world it might be jasmine tea, or green tea. And you might be surprised if you expected black one.
Checking taxes: To me it feels common sense to check on your tax situation as you move abroad or are somewhere for a longer period of time. This is only common sense for me because I have been in the global mobility space for a while and helping people sort out the logistics of their moves. But for someone who is relocating for the first time and has a lot of other things to think about, it may not be as obvious! They don’t know what they don’t know. Until they get to a point where the tax year ends and suddenly they wonder what to do.
What are the things you consider common sense or obvious that seem not to be so obvious anymore when you work with people from other backgrounds? What are the things you do in your work that feel easy for you, but you see younger colleagues struggling with those?
Make note of these things so that you can better support the colleagues you work with and build trust, which is so important when working with people from backgrounds different than your own.