The great Australian cultural cocktail party

Our vision of culture is heavily shaped by the idea of a world view influenced by place; that culture is a continual flux of beliefs, values, and behaviour shaped not just by who you are, but where you are, and where you came from.

Within those overlapping influences, we also teach the idea that culture is an ABC summation of attitudes, beliefs, and customs that characterise the way groups of people appear, and respond, to others.

Australia has been a multicultural country from the outset. One of our recent Culture Connects workshop participants told us in her graduation cultural tale that the First Fleet was made up of no less than 64 nationalities.

Our record of welcoming the adventurous, the poor, and the dispossessed from all over the globe grew with the gold rushes, and climaxed with massive waves of immigration in the aftermath of the Second World War. Multi-national and refugee immigration continues at a high level by world standards. The great Australian cultural cocktail party has no apparent end.

Two feet on the ground

I’m a Samoan Scottish New Zealander at home in Australia. In Pacific Island and Maori culture, we have a concept called turangawaewae, which basically means ‘your two feet planted on the ground’. Culture for me is where you are physically located, and the influences that are brought to bear on you as illustrated in the Bronfennbrenner model.

Bronfenbremmers model

The Bronfenbrenner diagram shows the four circles of family, school/work, community, and peers overlapping.

At the conjunction where all four have a variable influence is where you find culture.

Unlike ethnicity, culture isn’t transmitted through our DNA.

It’s an acted-out process in which place influences your world view, which shapes your beliefs, which in turn stimulates your behaviour, and ultimately defines your culture.

For example, Pacific Islanders are spread between many locations — Samoa and New Zealand in my case — but also Fiji, Tonga, Cook Islands, Tahiti, and many more. In terms of their ethnicity, or their biological profile, all are Polynesian. But culturally, they are quite different, just as Europeans or Africans or Asians have hugely divergent cultures.

Cultural intelligence

In the context of cultural intelligence, particularly in a workplace or organisation, you can compare individuals and organisations to countries.

Mahana Culture deals in cultural intelligence at both levels. We help individuals reach an understanding of their personal heritage and ethos, and how to express it confidently in varied cultural, work, and social settings. And we help organisations come to grips with their own constituents’ cultural diversity, and how to weave it harmoniously into a common declaration that makes people proud to work together because of their differences, not despite them.

Call Tavale Ilalio of Mahana Culture on 1800 MAHANA (624 262) to learn how to harness cultural intelligence as a unifying theme in your workplace or organisation.

Article written by Roger McDonald and Gregg Morris, co-facilitator of Mahana Culture’s Culture Connects program

* Urie Bronfenbrenner, US psychologist known for his work in ecological systems theory in child development.