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About the author:
Ferruccio Fiordispini is a volunteer at AFS Intercultura in Italy, where he was long President of the Local Chapter in Perugia, and is an AFS trainer as well as an EPOT member. He was a trainer and the director of the international school for advanced education founded by the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna of Pisa and currently is the Italian country representative and a master trainer for Emergenetics International.
The beginning of this new century (new millennium, actually) is presenting again the frightening characteristics that books of history have always represented: conflicts, violence, human exploitation, racial and religious hate, wars and even rumours of a third world war!
We at AFS/EFIL can play a relevant role in this delicate historical moment, where new walls are built, instead of new bridges. We are creating bridges, by giving the possibility to young people to live a deep intercultural experience.
We know that the most solid way to grow a generation of open-minded people, ready to cooperate and understand others, beyond any differences in terms of races, religions, cultures, etc. is to invest in intercultural learning.
We know that intercultural competences will work as the right “software” for the globalization, which is the existing “hardware” that the modern technologies “impose” or “propose” (it depends on the point of view) to the humanity.
At the same time, we should avoid the risk of just focusing on the intercultural differences, because we might be tempted by explaining any diversity in terms of cultural elements. There are also other aspects, such as thinking and behavioural attributes, which play an important role.
Who we are is a result of certain characteristics that have “emerged’ from our life experiences, plus the “genetics” with which we were born. In other words, all of us have a combination of genetic tendencies to think and act in certain ways (nature) that have been modified through socialization (nurture) (1). As the saying goes, it helps to choose our parents carefully. We arrive in the world wired to think and behave in certain ways. Then as we grow and socialize with other people, our innate tendencies are tempered (2).
We are all equal, but not the same….we are different, of course in terms of gender and physical appearance, as well as of culture and socio-economic condition. But we are different also in terms of thinking and behaving, just because of the combination of nature and nurture.
Some of us tend to think in a more convergent (rational) way, while some of us in a more divergent (intuitive) way. Some of us tend to think in a more abstract way (“see the forest”), while some of us in a more concrete way (“count the trees”). There is no better no worse, simply there is a big risk of misunderstanding and not accepting each other.
Similarly, there are people who tend to be very expressive and some who prefer to be reserved, people who like to take charge and people who prefer to accommodate, people who flex and people who tend to be rigid with their opinions (3).
Diversity in all these characteristics creates stronger groups, teams and societies. But again, everything requires the willingness of accepting and harnessing differences. From a group dynamics perspective – the team is strong because the individuals on the team are different. We put together a group of people who approach a situation in a different way and if we give it a chance to work- we’ll get better, more thought through, holistic results. There is power in being yourself and knowing that someone else is different from you and will bring their own gifts to the group.
Of course cultural layers have a direct or indirect influence on individual behavior dependent on the social contexts; family, school, and workplace (4). We can therefore also conclude that culture is a complex man-made construct that resides both in our minds (thinking, feeling behaving) as well as in our environmental context (5).
Educating people, especially kids and youths, in understanding their own preferences and attitudes and at the same time understanding those of others, it is the first concrete step of a solid peace education. Understanding means respect, which means dialogue, which means a peaceful relationship among people, groups, societies, nations.
At EFIL/AFS we are able to work with the language of grace. Everything we do is from a very positive perspective. We focus on using the right language to build people up and help them to understand not only their own cultural heritage but also the characteristics of individuals. We know that people are people everywhere around the world. It doesn’t matter- people are people no matter where you go. We all have our struggles and our vulnerabilities, and our values might vary from culture to culture, but at the end of the day there are also core human characteristics, with a similar spectrum of personality differences within every culture.
(1) Pinker S., “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature” (New York, Viking Press, 2002), p.374 (the author asserts that up to 70 percent of the variation between individuals is due to genetics).
(2) Kagan J. & Schwartz K., “Differential Amygdala Response to Novel versus Newly Familiar Neutral Faces: a Functional MRI Probe Developed for Studying Inhibited Temperament” (Harvard University, Biological Psychiatry, 2003), p.854-862
(3) Browning G., “Emergenetics: Tap into the New Science of Success” (New York, Collins, 2005),
(4) Erez, M. & Gati, E., “A Dynamic, Multi-Level Model of Culture: From the Micro Level of the Individual to the Macro Level of a Global Culture” (Applied Psychology: An International Review, 2004) p.583-598.
(5) Spering, M. (2001). “Current issues in cross-cultural psychology: Research Topics, Applications, and Perspectives” (Institute of Psychology University of Heidelberg, 2001).