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November 19, 2008

The lie of cultutral difference

I am writing a book on Trust right now. So I thought I would try some of it out here to see what sort of response it gets. I am going to post the first chapter online if you are interested in getting involved, commenting and being a part of the process at all.

...Sometimes issues like this are mistakenly referred to as cultural dif-ferences. This is one of the great lies of our time.

I have been fortunate enough to have seen most of the world and to have lived in many countries. Surprisingly, in all countries where there is a deficit of trust, many of the “cultural” attributes are the same.

That’s because it has nothing to do with culture; it is behavior caused by a lack of trust.

I don’t care where you come from in the world. People are basically good and fundamentally honest. But people will live according to the structures where they exist and they will strive for survival. In my experience the USA, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom are fine examples of how a trusting society defines behavior.

These are countries where there is a rule of law, where people do trust that their governments have set up institutions that, on balance, work for the best interests of society, and where you can generally trust people in positions of power to make decisions based on sound judgment rather than undue influence.

Yet they are home to millions of people who have fled persecution, people who have taken the decision to leave societies where doubt was institutional. Distrust was a part of how they worked, who they grew up to be and how they educated their own children, societies where doubt was not the exception but the rule.

And once they arrive in an open and honest society it all falls away.

Lebanese people and Israeli Jews live side by side in New York and London without violence or suspicion. People from the Philippines who were active revolutionaries under President Ferdinand Marcos live in peace in Australia. And throughout Africa child soldiers are being rehabilitated into functioning members of society.

People are influenced by their surroundings. They try to live up to the expectations placed upon them, and take on the attributes of the structures that they live in.

No matter who you are, where you live, or what area of business you operate in.

Is your environment defined by doubt and mistrust, or by honesty and transparency?