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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 second One issue of cultural intolerance that I came across was in Hong Kong. I had just joined the university. And after doing a couple of oral presentations in class, I found this group of people who are native English speakers, who were making fun of people from other countries. In this very situation, it was some mainland Chinese students. And the native English speakers were making fun of them, because they could not speak English properly. And I heard them making fun of them. So I told them, I don’t think this is right. Because you have to understand that English is not their first language. Most of the time, it may be their second or third language.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds And if they were in your situation, where it was their first language, they would be able to speak English as well as you. I was in that same situation a couple of years ago. Because English happens to be my third language. And we were taught English in a French way. So if you heard me a couple of years ago, you wouldn’t be able to understand what I’m saying right now. So after telling them about this, I decided to set up a club on campus. The same type of club that helped me improve my communication skills.

Skip to 1 minute and 23 seconds I set up into a small such club on campus, and most of the people who got English as their second or third language joined the club. And this was a long-term solution. The Dutch believe themselves to be very blunt. And they believe themselves to tell the truth, to be very open. But in fact, that isn’t entirely true. So for example, they have a tradition of Black Peter– Zwarte Piet. And he is a Christmas character, who is blacked up. And I, of course, offered a Dutch bluntness about the inappropriateness in 2015 of something called Zwarte Piet. Especially in Amsterdam, where we have many, many community members from Morocco, from the Dutch East Indies, from Suriname, from all over the world.

Skip to 2 minutes and 22 seconds And this, of course, is racist. Of course, to my mind. And I was greeted with outrage. Outrage, real outrage. Even from Guardian reading equivalent arts colleagues who run arts organisations. So that’s interesting. And what I learned from that is I had not correctly read the psyche of my colleagues there. But I could not have done anything else, actually. I could not have not expressed those views. And I could not have been flexible about how Zwarte Piet should be an acceptable part of Dutch culture. And one of the things that I have done in response to that is to invite two choirs from South Africa.

Skip to 3 minutes and 20 seconds An old coloured choir– people who define themselves as coloured, who speak Afrikaans, and who, themselves, although they are culturally diverse– they are a mix of African and Indian– they black themselves up, with black and white on their face. They wear white gloves, and they do a sort of carnival minstrel tradition, which is not a million miles from Zwarte Piet. And the future, who are young African girls, singing in their own language. And the great thing about these two choirs is that they each sing their songs. But then for me, the killer in the concert is they sing together. And that, of course, is the future of South Africa.

Skip to 4 minutes and 3 seconds And that, which comes in my festival in a few weeks time, I think is my cultural way to respond to, if you like, the confrontation over Zwarte Piet. When I have encountered somebody being culturally intolerant to myself, to me, I have very rarely responded to that, for two reasons. Firstly, because it doesn’t matter to me, unless it matters. And what I mean by that, it only matters if it has a direct bearing on whatever is happening around me. If it’s somebody else’s view that they’ve expressed, as far as I’m concerned, that’s their problem. It only matters to me if it’s going to affect my progress in one way or another.

Skip to 4 minutes and 48 seconds And so that’s really the main reason why– the first reason why– I very rarely respond to it. The second reason I very rarely respond to it is because I have always played a long game. And so, an example of this is when I was a very young barister– a trainee barister, in fact. A pupil barister, we call it. I experienced intolerance, probably of the worst kind.

Skip to 5 minutes and 16 seconds The details are irrelevant, but it was pretty shocking. To the extent where I had to leave the place that I was in. And I just thought to myself, well, we’ll see about this. And fast forward eight, nine years later, at least one of the people at the hands of whom I received that intolerance came to a place where I was now in charge. And I had to make the decisions about whether or not they were going to enter the place in which I was working. And so I’ve always got a long game in mind, and very often, if it doesn’t directly affect my situation, I’ll leave it.

Skip to 5 minutes and 57 seconds Because I’ll just get on with what I’m doing, and I’ll remain focused on what I’m doing. The position is quite different if I see somebody else who is being affected by such, and I’m in a position to make things better. Then I will speak out. I often encounter this in my legal world. And very often, I’m having to represent such. And you see it before you that the situation is going down a certain road, and you know the reasons why. Because of the background of the person, or their situation. And you know that if you were representing somebody else in an identical position, but with a different background, the result would be quite different.

Skip to 6 minutes and 37 seconds And then you fight like crazy to make that change. And if necessary, you point out to your tribunal the differences, and why they need to be aware of them. Even if they don’t intend to be intolerant in that way, it’s always useful to point out that they are, in fact, by their actions, demonstrating that intolerance.

Our experiences of cultural intolerance

“Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” - Malcolm X

We need to stand up to cultural intolerance wherever we find it. If we don’t we miss opportunities to learn and to teach. Listen now to a series of leaders who will share with you their experiences of cultural intolerance, when they have encountered it and how they have dealt with it.

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This video is from the free online course:

Developing Cultural Intelligence for Leadership

Common Purpose