Borders, Flags, National anthems, passports, visas, WALLS, boundaries and territories. It’s not just simple geography, it’s the mindset that creates our national consciousness or is it a means to divide and conquer?

Categorizing things is a skill that we develop starting from the day we’re born and reinforced throughout our education and environment. It is ingrained in our very being, and used to process the way we understand everything from math to the arts. We categorize people by gender, color, nationalities, culture, faith, political system or status, and the list goes on.

Is this just the way we are programmed to operate? If not, then how should it be?

Let’s simply look at the facts.

Yes, we are different, we do things differently and conceptualize things in ways we comprehend and are content with. So, what’s not acceptable about that?

We live in a time when somehow being different is not ok but rather the source of the wave of polarization that is effecting all aspects of society.  The old saying my way or hit the highway has become the prevailing winds of change. The loudest voices are screaming out that our differences are not interesting or unique, rather that they are to be looked at with precaution or even fear. Beware they are not like us, we are right, they are not!

When children meet, they are innocent, curious and intrigued by the world around them, particularity the differences; they don’t see white and black, blue eyes or brown, skinny or fat, rich or poor. But soon they learn perspective from parents, teachers, and their environment.  If the perspective is “us and them” then, the way they see differences  are no longer intriguing; rather they are met with fear, bias, misconception and prejudice.

If left unchecked, we grow up in an environment that is continuously injecting negative and stereotypes, into our mindsets (we let it), until our view of others is distorted by all kinds of misconceptions and negative perceptions.

What to do then? Through modifying our perspective, we can learn to take those misconceptions and create an opportunity to learn the facts about a certain culture or faith, nationality or ethnicity with the same curiosity and openness we had as children.

I also learned that it starts with me. Every one of us needs to first learn about ourselves before we can begin to understand others.  Call it our Cultural Values. Once I understand my underlying values, cultural norms, habits, traditions, the political identity and faith I proclaim, my comfort zone in going about life, I can begin to understand what drives my behavior and my perspective.

This perspective to accept who I am before others do, and that who I am may or may not have to do with where I was born, my traditions or faith, is critical to self-development and harmony in society. I call this Nationality vs Personality, and knowing the difference is the first step in building your Cultural Intelligence. What tribe or people I belong to or nationality I hold certainly does not represent a whole society, and conversely individuals that share with me faith, culture, or a political identity do not represent me. We each have our own, one of a kind, finger print, eye scan and DNA.

The perspective to be comfortable with myself in my own skin, strive to make others feel comfortable in their own skin, make sincere attempts at understanding others, empathize, sympathize, tolerate, creates an environment where we can live in peace and harmony.

For us to connect with each other, tear the WALLS down between us, we need to start with the basics. Greet each other with a smile at first glance, share a meal with a stranger, sit-down and have a chat, ask and answer questions, clear a misconception and clarify a perception with enthusiasm, passion, sincerity and laughter; cherish the moment and seize an opportunity that may never present itself again.