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Lessons From An Unplanned Life As An Interculturalist

13 Feb 2021 8:16 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

by Neal Goodman Ph.D.

Dr. Neal Goodman, CEO of Florida-based Global Dynamics Inc, is an internationally recognized authority on Cross-Cultural Competence, Global Mindset, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. A leader in DEI since 1963, his wealth of experience makes for a great reason to publish his lifelong journey as an interculturalist. Organizations and publications from around the globe seek his advice on creating globally inclusive organizations. He received SIETAR’s 1995 Outstanding Senior Interculturalist Lifetime Achievement Award and serves as Professor Emeritus at Saint Peter's University. He is most proud of his two daughters and grandchildren and still publishes articles, among them Best Practices in Unconscious Bias Training.

I have spent most of my life teaching, training, and facilitating in front of thousands of groups, but you may be surprised to learn that my voyage has been completely unplanned. For those of you beginning your journey, you may discern some tips or danger zones you may want to avoid from the story below. For those of you in the midst of your careers, or who are veterans of our field, you may find this an opportunity for stop and reflect on where you are and why you are committed to learning.

There has been one constant in this unplanned life and that is that I have learned the most from people who are not like me. That learning comes as a direct result of my curiosity about others. During the mid-60’s, my mother wanted me to build up my resume for college so she recommended that I apply for a youth leadership retreat. Unknown to her, this was a Civil Rights camp and the experience was life-changing. I knew I wanted to do something to end bigotry and injustice. I delivered my first workshop on Racism and Prejudice while not yet a Junior in high school. My peers at the retreat represented every race, religion, gender, and ethnicity (which was how we thought of diversity at the time). I learned much from the other participants as I listened to their stories of prejudice and discrimination.

In my Junior year, I was put into an English class with the most feared teacher in the school. She measured competence by one’s handwriting and mine is still is the worst I have seen. We could have not been more different, but when she found out about my activities in the Civil Rights movement, she would tell me to skip the books she was assigning to the class and gave me several novels by James Baldwin (always handed to me after class in a plain manila envelope). And so even while still in high school, I led numerous youth meetings where we discussed how to eliminate bias in our lives, schools, and communities.

At the retreat, I also met two Jesuits who were part of a panel on religious diversity. They taught at a Jesuit College in my hometown and asked me if I would consider attending a Catholic college to help the Catholic students learn about Judaism. Little did they (or I) know that I was about to become a devout agnostic, but I did decide to attend the Jesuit Saint Peter’s College. As part of a minority group, I quickly learned much more about Catholicism than I helped Catholic students learn about Judaism.

The Jesuits were inspiring and ironically coaxed me into spending my Junior year at Hebrew University of Jerusalem- which is not a Jesuit college. This was the summer of 1967 and a month before my arrival, a major war was fought between Israel and its neighbors. I was leaving the urban unrest (protests and riots) of New Jersey for the war zone of Jerusalem. As it turned out, my closest friend in Israel was a Baptist from Minnesota, who had been in his last year in the Naval Academy when he saw a vision of Christ on the beach in Jacksonville, FL, and decided that he had to leave the Navy and become a Baptist Minister. We could not have been more different- a tall deeply religious Minnesotan who knew that the Vietnam war was justified, me a city kid from New Jersey who was non-religious and was involved in many anti-war protests – yet we learned the most from each other. During this year, I also spent considerable time with communists on a kibbutz, Palestinian Arabs, and students from Africa who were studying at the school.

Coming home from an international experience can be very daunting. I could not relate to my fellow NJ students and I was looking for something international and I found myself working for the US Mission to the United Nations. Again, here is a working class, college student learning from two U.S. Senators who were at the Mission during my stay.  We could not have been any different but their sage advice to avoid a political career shaped my career goals.

I learned from my experiences that I could not solve the race issue in the United States, could not bring an end to conflict in the Middle East, and could not bring world peace to humanity. So what does an idealist do for a career? I became a College Professor. Ironically again, I was offered a position at Saint Peters’ College barely one year after graduating. At the time, it was a temporary position but ended up lasting for 35 years.

During much of my career, I suffered from “Imposter Syndrome”. Even though I had a doctoral degree from NYU and was publishing articles, I expected someone to come out and expose me: a working-class kid from Jersey City with little to offer. What I lacked in confidence, I made up for in certainty about my love for learning and helping people reach their full potential.

As a faculty member, I would have my students read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Wall Street Journal. Almost 50 years later, I would be facilitating Unconscious Bias programs at Dow Jones. At Saint Peter’s College, I created an International Student Exchange Program that allowed our students to study abroad, and it brought international students to our campus. I also began to facilitate seminars on Internationalizing the Curriculum at many colleges and professional meetings. Fortunately, this led me to meet Rick Detweiler and Nan Sussman who both encouraged me to consider applying for a sabbatical at the East-West Center, a think tank in Hawaii. At the SIETAR International Summer Institute in Washington, I met with the top scholar at the Center and he told me that the Center was not interested in those who were “teachers” only researchers. Later at the Institute, I publically challenged his research and rather than disagree with me, he approached me later to invite me to spend a year at the Center. Hawaii’s multiculturalism was a perfect fit for my curiosity. At the Center, I was on a team that focused on how to teach others about our respective cultures. I was the only American on a team of people from 12 diverse cultures from Asia. I worked with luminaries such as Richard Brislin, Dan Landis, Paul Peterson, and others. Again, I was learning from others who were very different from me.

My background in Social Psychology and my interactions with others led me to recognize that there are multiple perceptions of the same reality. To be successful, I needed to learn how to see the same situation from multiple perspectives simultaneously. I came back from the Center re-energized and created an Intercultural Studies program at St. Peters, which led me to reach out to faculty from other disciplines. The program was multidisciplinary and my courses were co-sponsored by the Sociology and Business departments- something akin to blue states working with red states. Crossing over to learn about others is critical to me and to those in my programs.

When I returned from the Center, I found little academic interest in the field of intercultural relations or diversity from academic disciplines. Through a mutual acquaintance I was invited to attend a small meeting of corporate heads of learning and development. My perceptions of corporations were radically altered as a result of this meeting. Once again, meeting others with an open mind led to learning. The goal of these learning leaders was to create more successful international assignments for expatriates. I understood that their corporations’ self-interest was at the center of their goals, but this provided me with the opportunity for me to implicitly promote the agenda of mutual respect and understanding to a much wider audience. I knew that I needed to facilitate their ability to build bridges of understanding to be successful in the increasingly culturally diverse and geographically dispersed workplace and marketplace.

Join us next month for part two of Neal’s journey: founding Global Dynamics and developing state-of-the-art consultancy and training services.

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