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Blind Spots

I am an intercultures consultant based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (West Africa).The story I am about to tell you has the potential to help you see something you have been missing. Something important. As part of my interest in learning more about life in Burkina Faso, I went on a tour of an amazing organization called ICCV, which stands for Initiative Communautaire Changer la Vie [1] or, in English, Community Initiative to Change Lives.This non-profit organization plays an important role in supporting a disadvantaged community in Ouagadougou, the capital.

The coordinator brought me and some visiting friends on a tour of their preschool. He promised to also show us the library that doubled as a community center. We jumped in our car and he hopped on his motorcycle. Along the way to the library he stopped. I pulled over on the dirt road and looked for a place to park with a little shade from the scathing heat. He started explaining in French that this was the site of the original school. I scanned the area and tried to get a glimpse of what it looked like beyond the walls of the compound in front of me. At that moment, it looked like any other compound in the neighborhood, with an open courtyard and clay walls surrounding it. I searched for evidence of the former school but only observed elements of normal family life at a compound. My friend took pictures and we started to head back to the car. Just then it hit me. I had totally missed it. The school was in front of me the whole time.

For me a school has walls and you go inside to learn. It is a building of some fashion. The chalkboard embedded into the wall and brick-like formations serving as seats before my very own eyes had blended into the scene. I had been scanning for evidence of a school in the structurein front of me – evidence matching my ideasof a school. This was my blind spot.

In that moment I was struck by this strong example of how powerful our own cultural constructs can be in helping us see or blend out what is right in front of us. It got me thinking: What isa school?

I pondered the benefits of having diverse stakeholders on community or international projects so multiple perspective could be actively shared. I saw immediately the value in this case of having a local take the lead and work toward the goal of providing education– rather than put immediate emphasis on the physical construct of a school. I imagined the barriers for progress that would be set up if (Western[2]) cultural concepts of a school had pervaded. Perhaps the school would never have been started due to lack of funding for the building, not the place of learning. Schools in West Africa can, and often do, take place under a shady tree. The only infrastructure necessary to run a school in this case is a motivated teacher and attentive students.

So today I want to challenge you to think about what you are trying to build in your business (and your life). Step back and look closely:

  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • Where might you be fixed on what something “should” look like?
  • How can you more actively reach out to your colleagues with diverse perspectives and gain valuable insight?
  • Be courageous. Ask your colleagues, “What are my blind spots?”

Don´t miss the chance to see something powerful right in front of you.

Sundae Schneider-Bean is a consultant for intercultures, based in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (West Africa). Sundae helps individuals meet their toughest intercultural challenges with clarity, strength and wisdom. She supports organizations committed to building globally-skilled human capital. To learn more about these issues, check out her publications on http://sundaebean.com

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[1] ICCV-Nazemse stands for the initiative to change lives. It can be found at http://iccvnazemse.org[SS3] /

[2]“Western” here meaning related to North American or Western European cultural constructs

 

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The above article was included in our MONTH YEAR Quarterly intercultures E-Newsletter.

Photo Credit Title Photo: TBD

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