When I was 18 years old, I found myself in the biggest, hardest, and toughest challenge I have ever been through in my life. I was thrown in an instant in a culture, a place, a country that is amazingly so different from the place I have lived in forever. Bahrain, a small island, and me, an Arab and a Muslim all of a sudden in the deep American conservative South.
I thought I knew how to speak English, being an alumni from a private school that taught most of its courses in this language. Little did I know that I had to literally start from scratch because the southern accent was an alien language to the English I had grown up speaking. Had I freely had the choice, I’d have searched for some Arabs or Muslims, if they existed, and use my way around town by leaning on their experience.
I couldn’t because I was in a military college, The Citadel, living 24/7 with cadets around my age, who already had almost 9 out of 10 things in common. At that instant, I didn’t know that I would face difficulties adapting to the southern American culture and I didn’t even know that I may never be able to teach young Americans something about how Arabs and Muslims uniquely view life. But being the person that I am, always simplifying, sometimes oversimplifying issues, I didn’t think that my failure to enjoy the southern culture with my classmates was due to my lack of proper analysis of cultural differences between us. The saddest part was my inability as I call myself a ‘nice person’ to make great friends with all the other ‘nice people’ out there due to our lack of understanding.
It was only many years later, when I began my graduate studies elsewhere, and my classmates began traveling to the Middle East post 9’11, that we began re-connecting after understanding that it is not who we are, but how we have been raised that gave us the lenses we wear. When Arab students go to America, universities teach them about cultural shock. I believe it is as important to teach American students about other cultures as well.
Travelling and living abroad for many years have taught me one very important factor, it is that if you want to connect with a person who shares nothing with you, you have to not just learn, but understand his culture. Businessmen, for example, have two choices, they can target the market they’re in, or start trading and connecting with businessmen from outside his knowledgeable circle. As the world increases in its interconnectivity, the winners in it are those who are able to look at a product from a perspective that is not of his own.
Information is a product as well. Information today is greatly traded between all parts of the world. From the Far East to the Middle East and all the way to the Further West, information uses various methods to jump here and there in splits of seconds. Information is a product that of which other products depend on, such as consumer products through advertisements. Moreover, stocks and economic well-being is also sensitive to the information that flows. This is why information as a product should be as efficient and truthful as possible because other significantly and essential products we need in life depend on the truthfulness of information.
However, say that we are true in relaying information from one part of the world to the other about the facts and issues on ground, we still lag way behind in disintegrating and understanding this information to know the reality of the market elsewhere.
For example, during the ‘dark ages’ in Europe, Kings and royalties used to be very aggressive in nature where land was their own and people were servants in their lands. And last year, many in the Western world were arguing that the existence of a royal family in the Middle East is that of the ‘dark ages’ and people should send reality checks to Gulf Nations’ government that the world we live in is in the 21st century.
The way I see it is that in this globalized world, there are many losers and only few winners. The winners are those are able to see through the flow of information, and its relative credibility. They will be able to gauge better through their ability to view the world in different cultures whether demand exists for the products they have. The losers are those who insist that the knowledge they have is enough to judge the reality outside. They will always fall short in their predictions and their inability to interact with others outside their circle would be misunderstood.
There are many prescriptions to battle this growing troublesome phenomenon, but in a nutshell, we should start by understanding that culture does change, but it is much slower than globalization.