Corporate Governance & Human Relations

Leadership - Integrity - Competence

Home  •  Governance  •  Leadership  •  Human Relations  •  Interpersonal Skills  •  Human Rights  •  Diversity  •  Contact Us

     email this page to a friend

diversity & Informed Judgments


Diversity Page


Diversity & Business

Diversity in a Global Economy - Ways Some Firms Get It Right

Management Tools

Diversity in the Workplace Benefits, Challenges, and the Required Managerial Tools

Effective Diversity Programs

Five Common Denominators Of Effective Diversity Programs

Cultural Traits

Cultural Traits Can Be A Hindrance or a Help

Human Resources

How to Distinguish Yourself As a Culturally Diverse Candidate








Ed Eduljee


Presentation to: 

Judging in a Diverse Society

Supreme Court of British Columbia Seminar

February 1998

(based on a paper prepared September 1997)




Culture shapes and lives in the way we develop ideas, communicate and behave. When we express our values, ideas, and beliefs through our language or behavior, we send messages to others defining “our culture”: our cultural ethos or the set of cultures we have acquired and to which we subscribe. As human beings we continuously process and respond to information. We make conclusions, decisions and judgments. The way in which we make these judgments as well as the judgments themselves, are in turn the information on which others make their judgments. Some of these are judgments about our cultural ethos: our values and beliefs. They form a window into our cultural ethos.

Communications is about understanding. We try to give an understanding about what we are communicating. We hope others will understand our communication the way in which we intended. And the process is repeated when we become the receivers of information.

Up to this point the process seems fairly straight forward and hardly worth the effort of writing a paper.  Until, that is, we introduce a problem. Often, rather than achieving understanding, our communication results in misunderstanding. Among the reasons is the role our cultural ethos plays in influencing and interpreting what we transmit and receive. Another reason is our regrettable propensity to interpret communications beyond the boundaries of the precise messages conveyed. If these interpretations are incorrect they can lead to misunderstandings, a loss of credibility or harmful conflict. At the very least, the misinterpretations are wasteful since they require a further application of time and effort to remedy the errors. Understanding how culture influences and determines or judgments is what this discussion is about.

It is from the vantage point of examining our own thinking processes, that we can understand how others may perceive our characteristic values and beliefs. It behooves us to manage the process of how we arrive at judgments and decisions in our own minds, as well as the process in which we receive and develop for transmission, information and ideas.

These notes will try and examine alternative methods for receiving and processing information that will aid us to better manage the outcomes. Our choice of processes may help to better represent ourselves and understand others, lending respect and credibility to our judgments and decisions.



Many of us have been trained in a linear system of enquiry and judgment based on the Socratic model. Scholars such as Dr. Edward de Bono, a Rhodes Scholar who has held faculty appointments in Oxford, Cambridge, London and Harvard, criticize the model as being limiting and easily manipulated. They observe that the stated objective of uncovering the “truth” is often not achieved. Dr. de Bono has proposed non-linear systems of Lateral Thinking (1970) and Parallel Thinking (1994). These systems propose suspending or delaying judgments until various possibilities have been examined and checking assumptions. Their use together with traditional linear thinking, free us from a dependency on assumptions that may be wrong and which lead to errors in judgment. We are able to broaden our perspective and generate a variety of choices on which to base our conclusions.

Dr. de Bono states that the first stage of thinking, perception, is a fundamental aspect of the human mind ,while the second stage of thinking is language based and acquired. The second stage is also where we do most of our thinking. Culture, says de Bono, is entirely dependent on language based thinking. Dr. George Simons (1989) who has written on how culture influences our thinking, concludes that before we start the second stage of rational enquiry, all human beings (regardless of their cultural background), gather and initially process information in a manner that is universal and which transcends culture. J. Hamill (1990) author of Ethno-Logic: The Anthropology of Human Reasoning comes to a similar conclusion and writes that “ Meaning not only structures validity in human thought patterns but also defines truth.” Further, the author states that cultures structure syllogisms (deductive or categorical logical reasoning) the same way. However, the inventory of true categorical statements varies from culture to culture: “Premises are a variable of culture in the same way as attributed causes.” It is possible for two completely different conclusions to result from the same syllogism in two different cultures.  

We may conclude that while the initial, fundamental thought process is common to our humanity, the manner in which we further process and respond to information is influenced by our cultural values. We may further conclude that with the influence of culture on language based thinking, the thought process can become complicated, with different possible outcomes for the same information.

In reflecting on what happens to information from the time it is received to the point at which it is interpreted and used, I have made use of my observations working in the field of cultural diversity and the research of authors such as those mentioned above. This exercise has resulted in the bringing together of various disciplines such as anthropology, communications, leadership, conflict resolution and psychology into a synthesis of ideas. In this paper, we will start with an examination of universal and culturally influenced thought processes. we will then examine the nature of culture and its function in our being and mind. We will go on to examine systemic responses to conflict and culture. Finally, we will examine alternative thought processes and their net results. I will also use this opportunity to present a hypothesis on primary and secondary values.


Receiving & Processing Information and Ideas

This analysis will focus on activity in the human mind as a response to external information. When we initially receive information through seeing, reading or listening, we immediately begin to perceive and interpret the information. This initial system is a fundamental aspect of the human mind and transcends processes acquired through culture and experience. We begin by asking fundamental transcendental interpreting and differentiating questions (listed later) which require us to make interpretations and conclusions. These initial interpretations and conclusions may start before all the information has been received, since the mind relies on patterns it has previously formed. The patterns are activated by codes we perceive in the incoming information. If the internal discussion becomes loud enough, we stop receiving further information and the preliminary prejudgments[1] are what we use to make our decisions.


Preliminary Judgments

There is a primordial instinct to make rapid judgments rooted in our struggle to survive. The human psyche is constantly faced with a difficult choice: to make a quick judgment and decision before all the necessary information has been received in order to have the competitive edge, or to take the time to gather the necessary information, prevent errors, and thereby increase the chances of success. When we prejudge, we take a chance that the preliminary judgment is sound enough for us to make a decision. If we notice that our prejudgments do not produce negative consequences for us, we instinctively use this route. For complex situations where the variables are many and all the information is not available prima facie, the instinctive use of prejudgments has a greater probability of leading to an error in judgment.

In the sense in which the word “judgment” is used here, we all make judgments from the moment we start receiving information. As we continue to receive information we may change our judgments. At some point we make a final judgment or decision and we use this decision as the basis for our response or actions. For the purpose of this analysis, we are interested to determine what we do with our preliminary judgments and at what point in our thinking process we make the final judgments or decisions on which we base our actions.

 Often, our preliminary judgments form a barrier to further thinking. When they are premature, they can lead to errors in judgment. We have developed institutionalized processes that are intended to  promote the gathering of all the relevant information before a decision is made. However, despite these processes, instead of recognizing that subsequent information may merit the need to change our prejudgment and arrive at a new judgment or decision, we begin to use subsequent information to support the prejudgment. Instead of checking out our hunches, we look for information to support them. It is for this reason that it is best to try and set aside prejudgments until we have gathered and received as much information as is feasible, necessary or relevant. The ability to suspend judgment until all the necessary information has been expeditiously gathered is a skill used by individuals who are characterized as “clear thinkers” and having “good judgment.”


Pattern Making

Dr. de Bono states that when the mind perceives information, it organizes the information through the use of active information systems into patterns. The system allows for very rapid recognition and reaction. The nature and purpose of perception is pattern-making and pattern-using. To illustrate the process, imagine we have a square consisting of a three-by-three grid of boxes and begin to place the numbers 0 to 9 in them. We find that there are 362,880 different combinations in which this can be done, demonstrating the very large number of choices even a simple operation may present to the brain. Similarly, if we stand on the side of a busy street and wait to cross, our brain is confronted with a very large number of traffic patterns which may take a very long time to recognize. Out of necessity, the brain makes rapid sense of the world around it so that we can cross without the necessity of recognizing the large number of traffic patterns caused by changing conditions. This is done through organizing information into patterns. Once a pattern is formed, a single input triggers a pattern. In this way, we ‘recognize’ the scene and cross the road in a reasonable amount of time.

The system of pattern-making and pattern-using results in rapid recognition and reaction. Pattern-making, however, inevitably gives rise to rigidity and stereotypes and eventually negates the dynamic nature of perception.


Examples of the Preliminary Thought Processes

The process we have discussed can be illustrated with two examples of imaginary “survival” situations in which I will ask you to situate yourself. In one example, you make rapid judgments or prejudgments and in the other, you have more time to gather further information .

In the first example, imagine that you are walking in a dark and strange forest, when an animal suddenly appears before you. You immediately begin to perceive the nature of what it is you see (an animal) by comparing what you see with patterns and information you have stored in your mind. You also ask yourself whether the animal is friendly or a threat (good or bad) through a discerning process of evaluation. The pattern that you see before you does not match any patterns stored in your mind and the experience does not relate to a previous experience or prior knowledge on which you can make a good-or-bad evaluation. You start to make prejudgments. You are now faced with the alternatives of gathering further information or basing your actions on your prejudgments. If you have a gun in your hand, one of  your possible actions may be to use the gun if your prejudgment evaluates the pattern and information as bad. Suppose your prejudgment is that the animal will harm you and you kill the animal. Then someone else hearing noises, joins you at the scene. This person provides you with further information and tells you that the animal was harmless and that shooting the animal is against the law. Not only have you unnecessarily taken a life, but you have caused yourself harm as well. You have some further information which changes your initial judgment. You now feel you would not have acted the way you had, if you had all the necessary information. You also become aware that now the internal conversation is language based.

In a second example, imagine that you own a jewellery store. You know that some individuals come to your store to purchase the items you offer for sale. You also know that some individuals may come to your store to steal your jewellery and attempt to kill you. For the first type of individual, you will offer assistance in making a purchase. For the second type, you are prepared to protect your property and yourself . You have an alarm and a loaded gun behind the counter and in close proximity to where you are standing. Each time an individual walks in through the door of your store,  you compare patterns and ask yourself, “is this person good or bad?”. You may ask yourself, “ is this person beneficent or evil?”. You then make a judgment. Your initial prejudgment as the person walks in the door may not be sufficient for you to make your decision on which you act. If your initial prejudgment is positive, but the person is a thief, you will not want to assist the person. Neither, will you want to use the alarm or the gun, if your initial prejudgment is negative, but the person is a customer. At this point, you want to expeditiously gather further relevant information perhaps through  asking questions and listening or observing behaviour. As you gather further information, you reassess your patterns and assumptions. After, you have gathered further information, you will either confirm or change your prejudgment. You will notice that at some point your thought process switched from image-making and image-using to language based thinking. You also notice that changes to the patterns you used and formed as well as changes to your prejudgment come through insight.


Language Based Thinking and Culture

In the examples we have just used, consider replacing yourself in the examples with people from various backgrounds and cultures. You will notice that the initial way in which information is perceived is a natural part of human thinking regardless of the culture or background of the person. However, when the thinking becomes language based, the thinking is influenced by beliefs, values and customs. How do we and others respond to the customers in the second example? What words and customs of greeting do we and others use? Language based thinking takes over the processing of information and makes distinctions, separations and categories. Culture shapes language based thinking, which in turn defines our culture -- a relationship we will continue to explore in subsequent pages.


The Cultural Prism

While the fundamental steps by which we gather and process information, and the fundamental questions we ask ourselves, transcend culture, what we do with the information from the point at which we start to interpret the information, is influenced by culture. Even seemingly technical responses to: Who should I listen to? What shall we discuss? How shall we structure a meeting? are heavily value laden since they (metaphorically) pass through our cultural prism before we reply. The values are grounded in, and circumscribed by, our cultural ethos.

Our cultural ethos is the set of individual values, beliefs and customs to which we subscribe and which we have acquired. The particular set of values and belief systems we assemble is unique to each one of us. The value and belief set makes up our cultural prism. Information we transmit passes through the same prism.

If our value and belief set sounds very similar to what psychologists call a mind set (even though the word “set” is used differently in both cases), it is because the value and belief set (the collection) may indeed develop into a mind set (a hardening) of strongly held values and beliefs.


The Elements of Thinking Summarized

To summarize, the thought process can be described as follows. The process is not necessarily linear. We revisit previous stages depending on the time at our disposal, or on our inclination:

  • We perceive the information before us.

  • We ask ourselves fundamental, transcendental, interpreting questions:

  • What is it? What does it mean? Where does it belong?

  • We ask ourselves fundamental, transcendental, differentiating questions:

  • Is it true or false? Is it right or wrong? Is it good or bad? Is it beneficient/righteous or evil?

In answering these questions :

  • We move to the next stage and pass the information through our cultural prism and begin to use language based thinking systems.

  • We compare the information with data in our personal data bank and established patterns. We further develop the patterns or create new patterns.

  • We classify people and objects. We categorize. We stereotype. We make assumptions.

  • We may take subjective experiences and opinions and convert them into objective facts.

  • We conduct internal discussions. We may gather further information.

  • We then ask ourselves: What should I do about it? What can I do about it?

  • We make a decision and determine a course of action (even if we decide not to decide or act).

  • We store the information and/or we respond.

Defining Culture and the Culture Set

One dimension of culture is ethnicity. Culture, when used synonymously with ethnicity, is the quality of belonging to a group with a set of shared characteristics such as: origins, present domicile, anthropological characteristics, values, beliefs or practices. Origin and present domicile can be further defined as an ancestral country, place or region of origin; one’s own country or place of origin;  present citizenship, nationality or geographical area of residence or domicile. Anthropological characteristics are skin colour and other physical characteristics shared by a group. Beliefs include spirituality or religion. Customs and practices include traditions, folk arts, food, language and literature (or method of communication). Ethnicity, is commonly used to define and label minority cultures. We all, however, have an ethnicity or culture.

We may describe ourselves, or others may describe us, using these characteristics. One person, for instance, may be described as a Canadian of Jamaican or Caribbean and African heritage, North American , Black, an Anglican Christian, and an anglophone. A second person, may be described as a Jamaican of British or European heritage, White, a Catholic Christian and an anglophone. A third person may be described as Jamaican of Indian (East Indian) heritage, Brown, a Brahmin Hindu and a Hindi speaker.

These characteristics have been expanded on and organized in a tabular form on the next page.


Chart: Culture & Ethnicity Descriptors

Shared Characteristics                Example 1                            Example 2                            Example 3

Present domicile:

·       Citizenship/nationality             Canadian                               Jamaican                             Jamaican

·       Area of domicile                        North America                     Caribbean                           Caribbean

(or by province, state etc.)                                                                                 


·       Country/place of origin             Jamaica                                  Britain                                 Jamaica

·       Continental/geographical         Caribbean                             European                  Asian (or South Asian)


·       Ancestral origins                         African                                   European                  Asian (or South Asian)

(or by province, state etc.)

       Anthropological Characteristics:

·       Skin colour                                    Black                                      White                                     Brown

·       Physical characteristics              Sub-Saharan      North /Central European*                   North Indian

                                                                African                   (*Caucasian, a misnomer.

                                                                                c.f. naming North American aboriginals as Indians)


·       Groupings                                     Nigerian                                Anglo-Saxon                Aryan (as in North                                                                                                                                                                                                     Indians & Iranians)


·       Denomination/caste                   Anglican                                Catholic                                 Brahmin

·       Religion                                        Christian                               Christian                                 Hindu


·       First language                              English                                  English                                    Hindi

·       Second language                                                                                                                         English

My purpose in listing these examples, is to show that individuals may share different group characteristics with different people. Can we call all three Jamaicans? When we say Jamaican, are we referring to present citizenship or country of origin? Jamaican citizens themselves come from various backgrounds. Can we ascribe predetermined group qualities to each of the individuals that will predetermine their behaviour because they appear to share one cultural characteristic out of many? Alternately, suppose we use as a defining label what we perceive is the dominant characteristic of each person: Jamaican for the first example, white for the second and Hindu for the third. What do we mean when we put a singular label on someone? What kind of understanding do these labels promote? How do they restrict or confine our understanding? In the dimension of ethnicity alone, we see the beginnings of a complex matrix.

There is another dimension to culture. These are the personal characteristics and social factors that contribute to our values, beliefs and customs. They are:

·       age or generation, gender, physical characteristics,

·       family status, marital status, sexual orientation,

·       economic class, education/schooling, political belief, power and privilege.

and whether we are:

·       aboriginal, native born, or immigrant,

·       orthodox, conservative, or liberal (in maintaining or accepting customs, values and beliefs),

·       independent minded, or group oriented,

To further complicate matters, cultures can be classified by placing them at some point on a number of continua at whose ends lie:

·       traditional or non-traditional cultures,

·       hierarchical or egalitarian cultures,

·       individualist or collectivist cultures,

·       urban or rural cultures,

·       industrial or agricultural cultures,

·       minority or majority cultures, and

·       dominant or subordinate cultures.

The characteristics noted above can also be divided into two groups: acquired and adopted. An individual may have no choice about their skin colour or ancestry. They may have a choice about their religion or present place of domicile. In addition, they may subscribe in varying degrees to the various group values or beliefs. Not all members of, say a religious group, hold the same beliefs or exhibit the same behaviour. Even within a religious group we find differences in beliefs which result in sects or denominations. How closely a person identifies with certain groups and their characteristics will depend on how independent or group oriented is a person, and how traditional or non-traditional is the culture. Certain individuals may suppress their personal behaviour patterns when they are in the company of members of a group to which they belong.

The various characteristics interact differently with one another. When value systems from the different group characteristics (such as country of origin, adopted country, present schooling and generation) come into conflict, an individual can experience trauma and dysfunction.

Culture is not an add-on to our being -- a mantle that can be discarded to reveal the “true” self.  We may choose not to wear the labels. We may deny membership in a group. Nevertheless, our values and beliefs have been moulded by our cultural background. However, we are not prisoners of that heritage. We may think that our various values and beliefs are fixed. If they are, we have chosen to be bound by those norms. We may choose to suppress individual expressions in order to conform to group behaviour. However, as human beings we are endowed with a free will to continue to subscribe to various values, beliefs and behaviours, or develop new ones.

This knowledge is not limiting, it is enlightening and liberating. When we become aware of what contributes to our culture, we discover what was previously hidden. Where we have a choice, in maintaining, adopting or acquiring cultural values, we can begin to make choices. This is not a process of discarding culture -- simply a process of evolving an ever dynamic culture. The key (in more ways than one) is whether these choices are made through our own insight and free will or whether changes are imposed in an effort to extinguish a cultural heritage. The former is beneficial, the latter harmful.

The set of cultural characteristics that come together by circumstance and by choice, to form our personal culture set is unique. Each of us has our own unique culture set -- our own set of values, beliefs, customs and behaviours. Our culture set is also dynamic, it is ever evolving. Our cultural ethos is the essence of our being. No individual is identical to the other.


Confirmation Bias

Throughout our lives, we receive, store, and assign values to information. At some point we establish certain beliefs and values creating a mind set. We also develop a confirmation bias to confirm or support these established beliefs. With a confirmation bias, when we receive new information that does not readily fit the pre-existing information, we either: (a) create information bridges in our own mind so that the new information fits with the old information, or (b) we disregard the new information instead of creating new beliefs or categories that may conflict with our established beliefs. Biases, therefore, tend to “bend” or “skew” information to fit a mind set, in favour of, or against, something. They lead to predispositions, which in turn lead to “unreasoned judgments.” Biases risk accuracy and limit the introduction of new and useful knowledge. Since the chances of making an error of judgment are substantially increased when we process information through a confirmation bias, in the vernacular, a bias has come to mean a prejudice -- an unfair or unreasonable preconceived opinion.

I remember watching a television program when a young ‘skin-head’ had agreed to take part in an experiment. The experiment was to see if he would change his anti-Semitic beliefs. His parents were ashamed of his views and tried to shame him. He spent a week with a Jewish family. He visited a holocaust museum and viewed evidence of a genocide he firmly denied. He spent time with a psychologist (or psychiatrist). Then he had to debrief his experiences and state his views on national television. He remained steadfast in his beliefs. They hadn’t changed. His mind was set. All the new information he received passed through a confirmation bias that either changed the information to fit his established views and patterns or disregarded the information as propaganda. His beliefs were developed through his own free will and will be maintained or changed by his own free will and insight. The methods used above sounded more like arguments: this is your thesis and here’s the antithesis. Now synthesize. Arguments often serve to harden value and belief sets into mind sets since they require a defence.


Stereotypes and Stereotyping

When it comes to beliefs about people and cultural groups, the mind develops its own support network. Confirmation biases create models and mental images. They assign general rules of values and behaviour to the various cultural groups. The pattern-making process is seen as efficient and satisfies the natural desire and tendency to form instantaneous judgments and decisions. It also by-passes the more time consuming process of gathering information each time we meet with a stranger. A code triggers a pattern.

The process for making these general rules of values and behaviours for cultural groups  is known by a term used in the printing trade: stereotyping. Unlike moveable metal type used in letterpress printing that can be changed when necessary, stereotype plates are made by pouring metal into a mould. Consequently, everything printed from a stereotype plate is uniform, unchangeable, and repeated without variation. Today, the term stereotype is used to describe a mental image of a group that is not readily changeable. The metaphor, “to type-cast someone,” also means to stereotype. Stereotypes, whether negative and derogatory, or positive and complementary, fail to accommodate individual differences and in most cases misrepresent a person. Like the words discrimination and bias, the word has taken on negative connotations and is commonly used to mean negative stereotyping. Stereotypes are often created to satisfy a confirmation bias.

Biases cause subjective experiences to be converted to objective facts to develop and support stereotypes. Let us say we come across a car driver who is causing us concern and who we perceive is of a different “culture” from our own. If we have a negative confirmation bias towards that cultural group, rather than observing that a particular driver was driving in a manner that caused us concern (the subjective experience), we add information to the stereotypical image of all persons of that heritage, namely, that they are “bad” drivers (the objective fact). From that point on, we may start looking to see if  other “bad” drivers belong to that cultural group as a reinforcement of our confirmation bias and a validation of our stereotypical image. If we see someone from our own cultural group (however, we define it) driving “badly”, we are less likely to ascribe that quality to every member of the group. It remains a subjective experience: “that person’s driving upset me,” rather than an objective fact: “all members of my cultural group break traffic laws.”

Members of one cultural group may assist each other in developing and confirming negative stereotypes about another cultural group. News reporters may gratuitously label criminals as belonging to a particular cultural group while they may not follow the same procedure with their own cultural group. Police officers may apply extra zeal enforcing the law when dealing with individuals who are visibly different. One of the cumulative results of these actions is the construction of negative cultural stereotypes.



Sometimes cultural groups promote a stereotypical image. In some cases, observation may confirm that a majority of individuals belonging to a cultural group behave in a particular way. In such cases, the cause of the stereotypical image is not our confirmation bias, but the representation of a particular group, or research. Even in such cases, it is best to check out if a member from a group subscribes to particular values or behaviour. Making assumptions on the basis of stereotypes can lead to errors that impact our credibility and cause harm to others.

     Human identity is partly shaped by recognition or its absence.

When we misinterpret or misrecognize a person or group and

mirror back a confining or demeaning picture of them we inflict harm.

We impose a form of oppression and imprison people in a false, distorted,

and reduced mode of being. (Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism and the

Politics of Recognition. 1995)


Fact Sheets and Profiles

The great danger of developing and relying on fact sheets or profiles of particular cultural groups is that they are for the most part simplistic and may be used as a form of stereotyping. They do not accommodate the complexity of an individual’s values, beliefs and practices. Well developed profiles do have a place and are useful in developing cross-cultural understanding as long as we use the fact sheets to understand a culture or group norms, but not a person. Well developed fact sheets are rare and hard to find. They may help us understand why different value systems have been developed and how they manifest themselves in behaviour. They may broaden our perspective and help us see experiences through cultural lenses other than our own. A reliance on prior culture-specific knowledge, however, is not necessary or even recommended as the route to competency in working with, and understanding, people from different cultural backgrounds. It is far more desirable to keep an “open” mind and seek to become competent.

     We often misrecognize or misinterpret problems because we require prior

knowledge in order to accurately frame the problems we see. (Garrison,

Parks & Connelly, Defining the ‘Philosophical and Cultural Values’ Performance

Domain. 1991)


Checking Assumptions

In instances when assumptions cannot be set aside, the literature is replete with exhortations to check assumptions -- assumptions about culture and assumptions about the premise of a “problem.” Like a mathematical equation a linear thought process ends in an incorrect result is we feed it incorrect information. Checking out cultural assumptions with someone requires tact. It may be preceded with an enquiry and explanation of the reasons for the check. We may ask someone: “I would like to understand your situation a little better. Would you feel offended if I ask you to tell me something about your cultural background?” Most individuals will appreciate the effort made to understand them as they would like to be understood rather than as others would like to understand them.


The Fear of Differences

Often, our fear of individuals and groups who we see as culturally different and competitive, is not a fear of the cultural differences, but a fear that if these individuals or groups ascend to positions of power and authority, they may act in the same discriminatory way towards us as we treated them.

This fear of people who are different (xenophobia) is old. Early contact between different groups or tribes was often a competition for resources threatening security and resulting in violence. Today, xenophobia may be the cause when long term residents oppose the introduction of newcomers who are different, fearing a loss of jobs or a depletion of resources. Ultimately, this translates into a loss of power for the residents.

Fear can be a powerful motivation for the use of thought processes of prejudgment, confirmation bias and negative stereotyping -- and the final outcome: discriminatory treatment that results in conditions of disadvantage for others. It may not be possible for someone to suspend judgment, make informed decisions and treat others fairly, if the fear for survival persists. In a society conceived on competition between cultural groups, this fear is real. Discussions about alternative thought processes will be ignored.


Problems and Dilemmas

Differences which are a source of disagreement and conflict may or may not contain value conflicts. According to Bridges and Hallinger (1995) dilemmas contain value conflicts, problems do not. They propose that it is important for decision makers and administrators to differentiate between problems and dilemmas.

Problems may be the result of prejudgments and consequent decisions and actions. A lack of understanding can be restored by a mutual increase and deepening of understanding. This increased understanding can provide parties with the means of a mutual resolution of a conflict.

Dilemmas on the other hand are caused by a clash in values. Values are rooted in our culture and may have become an integral part of our being. While individuals may accept errors in information, they will resist a change in values. Dilemmas resist mutual resolution. Compromises may be accepted in the short term, but are likely to result in future differences and conflict. The usual systems societies have devised to overcome dilemmas is to enforce predominant values or impose solutions. The question is: do we have other practical alternatives?


Systemic Responses to Value Conflicts

Decision-makers and administrators are under increasing attack for failing to recognize and respond to value conflicts, and for being blind to the social problems value conflicts often create. Alisdair Macintyre (1984) notes that individuals assuming administrative roles have an archetype of a bureaucratic manager ever present in their minds -- roles that are defined by culture and which serve to frame or limit the actions of people assuming these positions. Maintaining bureaucratic systems of leadership and control has become increasingly problematic in communities characterized by social and cultural change. Historically, decision-makers and administrators have viewed their role as protecting the inherent stability and goodness of the system by consistently enforcing policies within closed hierarchical systems. These bureaucratic systems of rules and policies define and delineate action-guiding principles of human behaviour. How people ought to behave is defined by the rules and policies of the system and organization. “Good” administrators ensure continued “fairness and justice” by enforcing seemingly objective policies, rules and regulations (adapted from Larson & Ovando, 1996).

One of the reasons otherwise competent judges, adjudicators, mediators, negotiators, leaders, decision-makers and others find it difficult to deal with certain conflicts is because the conflict may be grounded in culturally different values and because the models or systems developed to resolve these conflicts are in themselves reflections of the values of a particular culture. The process may not permit the most understanding of individuals to resolve the conflict in a manner that is just and fair to all concerned. We need to ask ourselves if our objective is to seek a just solution or to faithfully follow a particular process regardless of the outcomes.

A primary task for the discerning thinker is to determine what process can best help us arrive at a decision that is fair and just to all parties. In other words, the task is to examine various alternative processes that have a common visionary outcome and to then design a process that works in achieving the outcome. This is no easy task. This is also not a call to dismantle institutions and systems that have made this country so attractive to peoples from different cultural backgrounds. Most of these people choose to be subject to our laws and institutions because the laws and institutions are perceived as fair and just. Nevertheless, we are far from perfect and we are still searching for ways that work for various groups within the wider national institutions. With a little effort we can serve the cause of justice (the ultimate primary outcome) to an even higher degree. Our choices will determine whether our institutions develop as inclusive institutions through an evolutionary process, or whether we follow a parochial model of different institutions for different ethno-cultural groups. Where parochial institutions are separated by differences in secondary values, inclusive institutions are built on the sharing of deeper primary values. 


Shared Values

While dilemmas may resist rational solution and values may resist change, not all values are as immutable and in opposition as is commonly assumed. Individuals make value shifts when they are secondary values not in opposition to primary values. We may discover these primary shared values are rooted in our common humanity while secondary values are grounded in the different experiences and beliefs of cultural groups. This is my hypothesis. By probing deeper, we may discover primary values that are shared and which have primacy over the secondary differences. A quest for security leading to happiness, or a life without fear, are for instance, ideals that transcend most culture-specific values and to which many aspire.


Moving from Fear to Understanding

When we interact with individuals we have an opportunity to build community. The essence of community is the sharing of goals and a collaboration in achieving shared goals. The mark of a leader is the ability to help discover a shared vision or goal and develop motivation to work collaboratively towards the goal. In an inclusive community, the fear of differences (and we are all different) is replaced by a healthy curiosity. Mistrust is replaced by a desire to understand others as they would like to be understood.

Understanding others as they would like to be understood does not imply that we have to agree with a particular value or condone a particular behaviour. It simply means that we have delayed judgment until that understanding has been reached, enabling us to make an informed and credible judgment or decision -- one that will be respected. 


The Alternative Routes and Their Net Results

The combination of prejudgment, a confirmation bias and a negative stereotype increases the likelihood of an error in judgment which can negatively impact the credibility of a particular decision and the decision maker. When an individual does not have the ability to act harmfully as a result of an uninformed decision, they and their decision can for the most part be ignored. When the individual is in a position of influence, power, or authority, the outcome of this thought process can be discriminatory treatment towards a person or group, resulting in conditions of disadvantage and harm.

The alternative route is to treat each experience as unique, set aside assumptions, stereotypes and prejudgments and go about the process of becoming competent in that instance. With this route, our objective is to develop as deep an understanding as is feasible, understand others as they like to be understood, and then make final judgments or decisions. The net result is informed decisions that are respected and which contribute to the credibility of their author.





Augsburger, D.W. (1992). Conflict Mediation Across Cultures, Pathways & Patterns. Westminster/John Knox Press.


Avruch, K. and Black P. (1992). Conflict Resolution in Intercultural Settings: Problems and Prospects. George Mason University.


Banks, J.A. (1996). Multicultural Education, Transformative Knowledge and Action. Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. New York Teachers College Press.


Banks, J.A. & Banks, C.M.A. (1995). Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education. Macmillan.


Bellah, R.N. (1986). Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Harper &Row.


Bridges, E.M. & Hallinger, P. (1995).  Implementing Problem Based Learning in Leadership Development. ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management.


Burns, J.M. (1978). Leadership. Harper and Row.


BBC Training Videos & Notes.         - Crosstalk

                                                                - Crosstalk at Work.


Carrithers, M. (1992). Why Humans Have Cultures. Explaining Anthropology & Social Diversity.  Oxford University Press


Copeland Griggs Productions’ videos: Valuing Diversity (3 tapes).


de Bono, E.            - The Mechanism of the Mind (1969). Jonathan Cape. Simon and Schuster.

                                - Lateral Thinking (1970). Ward Lock Educational.

                                - Parallel Thinking (1994). Viking.


Devlin, R. (1996). Judging and Diversity: Justice or Just Us? Paper presented at The Court in an Inclusive Society. CAPCJ Home Page


Eduljee, E.            - A Glossary of Terms: Cultural Diversity (1996). The Heritage Institute.

                                - Guidelines for Successful Cross-Cultural Communication (1996). The Heritage Institute

                                - Understanding Culture (1997). The Heritage Institute.


Glassie, H. (1992). Cultural Basics, Educating with the Grain. Lecture given at Indiana University.


Hall, E.  - Beyond Culture (1977). Doubleday Books.

                 - The Silent Language (1981). Doubleday Books


Hamill, J.F. (1990). Ethno-Logic: The Anthropology of Human Reasoning. University of Illinois Press.


Harris, P. & Moran, R. Managing Cultural Differences. Golf Publishing Company.

Huber, M. (1997). - Cultural Analysis of a “Cultural” Occurrence.

                                -Self Awareness Framework for dealing with “Cultural” Occurrences. Charts prepared for a BC Provincial Court Judges Conference: the Court in a Multicultural Society, Fairness and Impartiality in Decision Making.


Larson, C. & Ovando, C. (1996). Preparing Administrators for Multicultural Leadership. Paper presented to the AERC, New York.


Keesing, R. (1981). Cultural Anthropology. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.


MacIntyre, A. (1984). After Virtue. University of Notre Dame Press.


Maturana, H. & Francisco, V (1987). The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding. Shambala Books.


Minninger, J. & Dugan, E. (1988). Make Your Mind Work for You. Rodale Press.


Sandole, D.J.D. (!984). The Subjectivity of Theories and Actions in World Society in Conflict in World Society: A New Perspective on International Relations, Editor, Banks, M. St. Martin’s Press,  \New York.


Shweder, R. (1991). Thinking Through Cultures. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.


Stewart, E.C. (1972). American Cultural Patterns: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. Intercultural Press.


Simons, G (1989). Working Together. How to Become More Effective in a Multicultural Organization. Crisp Publication.


Taylor, C. (1995). Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition.

Thresher, B. & Biggin, J. (1993). Manage the Message. Century Business.


[1]The word “judgment” will be used in these notes to mean a “conclusion made in our mind after a discerning process of evaluation.” In this fundamental sense of the meaning of the word, we all make judgments all the time. It is simply an element of our thinking process. It is not used to mean an opinion, moral opinion, or a formal judicial decision. For the sake of clarity, when we make a final judgment on a matter, I will call it a decision.



email this page • © Ed Eduljee, Heritage Institute