When asked to write an opinion piece, I wondered what to write. The Editor had indicated that I could write about my work with cross-cultural psychologist Harry Triandis on the Culture Assimilator, or why I renamed it “The Intercultural Sensitizer,” or how I was living with the problems brought on by of a stroke I suffered in 2014. Although I would be happy to reply to anyone who emailed me questions about these issues, I feel that there are more pressing issues that I would rather address.
During the challenging times in which we are living, we interculturalists face many questions of how to be and what to do in the world. As a person and a Social Psychologist, I have always been interested in what could be done to prevent violence and harm. Most of my research, teaching and consulting has focused on improving intercultural interactions and communication.
At the 2007 meetings of the International Academy for intercultural Research, ( IAIR) in Groningen, The Netherlands, I challenged colleagues to focus attention on one of the worse kinds of intercultural relations human beings can experience: violent conflict (especially ethnic conflict), and what could be done to prevent it. Out of that challenge, IJIR’s Founder Dan Landis and I published the Landis and Albert (Eds.), 2012, Handbook of Ethnic Conflicts: International Perspectives with contributions from interculturalists from many countries.
Earlier this year, I was struck how much of the division and polarization in the U. S. resembled what had happened in the ethnic conflicts analyzed in the Handbook (Albert, Gabrielsen and Landis (2012) , particularly the demonization of “the other” and divergent narratives about the history of the conflict. I believe that both factors are at play in the current invasion of Ukraine, as well as in the conflict between Trump supporters and non-supporters in the United States.
The current invasion of Ukraine bears similarities to the many conflicts covered in the Handbook: an ambitious, powerful president (Putin) fomented an invasion in the name of his ethnicity, this time by claiming that Ukraine was really part of Russia, not a culturally and historically separate nation. Instead of using differences to divide, he sought to dominate another people by attempting to annex them and justified the invasion by using a false narrative that the Ukrainians were the threatening party and the ones to blame for the carnage.
We have also a seen former U.S. President Trump foment division and an insurrection in the United States by distorting the reality of the result of the 2020 election. Both presidents justified attacks on another group by distorting reality and denigrating members of the other group.
I have always thought that creating intercultural understanding is an important avenue for preventing conflict. Now in the current crises, I want to urge all interculturalists to more actively help preserve the planet, our country and the world.
I hope the invasion of Ukraine serves as a cautionary note to U.S. citizens enamored with Trump’s “strength.” I think it is important to remember that Hitler, Putin, and other dictators were originally elected before they became dictators. As Ukrainian President Zelensky has pointed out in one of his recent videos, and as he has amply demonstrated, strength is not based on raw power, but on good values that are shared.
I know that it is hard to know what to do, and where to start, but I do believe most of us are capable of taking some steps. For example, anyone with a phone can volunteer to call voters in key states in our upcoming elections, as I did in the U.S. special election in Georgia in 2021. One can donate to organizations that help candidates who represent the values of openness, inclusion, diversity, truth, and the rule of law, as well as organizations that fight against hatred, conflict and war and that support peace and democracy. I believe that if each one of us takes small steps. the resulting effect will be great and impactful.
We can no longer afford to be silent because the values that we hold as interculturalists are being threatened in our country and around the world. I believe that at this crucial time of multiple crises, each one of us has to find the vehicle by which we can best contribute to creating a more harmonious and peaceful country and world, in order for the planet, peace and democracy to survive.
I would love to hear your ideas and learn about your action plans. Please mention SIETAR USA on the title of your email, because after a recent hacking attempt, I don’t open emails from people I don’t know.
Albert, R.D. ( 1995). The Intercultural Sensitizer ( ICS) or Culture Assimilator as a cross-cultural training method . In S.M. Fowler and M. Mumford (Eds): Intercultural Sourcebook, (Cross-cultural training methods, Vol. 1, pp. 157–167). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.
Albert, R.D., Gabrielsen, S., and Landis. D. (2012). Ethnic Conflict from an Interdisciplinary Perspective: Lessons Learned, Policy Implications, and Recommendations for Conflict Amelioration and Peace Building , in Landis And Albert (Eds.) , The Handbook of Ethnic Conflict: International Perspectives (pp..587-630) , New York: Springer.