Biology challenges our intercultural theories. That was one of the themes that stood out for me during the 4 days I spent in Dublin with about 400 other inter-cultural trainers, coaches and researchers, at the SIETAR Europa congress this year. Several researchers have been applying Neuroscience to help explain our culturally driven behavior. Among them BrainSkills and CultureMove.
The science has proven that our brains are wired to connect with others, and according to Matthew Lieberman of UCLA Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, this need is even more fundamental than our need for food or shelter. However, it turns out there is a catch – our brains are wired to connect but only with people who are like us, people who are recognized by our brain as “familiar” and therefore are not seen as a threat. But it doesn’t stop there. The discovery of neuroplasticity – in other words the affect that our thoughts have on changing the actual structure and function of our brains – means that we have the ability to change our brains to become more kind, compassionate, caring and accepting of the other.
My mind instantly went to the hundreds of thousands of refugees who were forced to flee their homes and familiar surroundings to completely alien, and in some cases hostile cultures and lands. Their hosts are pressing upon them the need to integrate into their new culture. They are asked to completely rewire their brains – to override unconscious habits and patterns and to manage complexity and ambiguity. But their hosts are also faced with the need to rewire their own brains – to create new neuropath ways to help them build the ability to appreciate others’ needs and perspectives even those they don’t like or disagree with.
Not an easy nor straight forward task, but science has proven that it is attainable. Time to apply all the learning to give humanity a chance.
*Photo by Sushi-boy