Cultural Awareness and Mindfulness

Among the pearls of wisdom from Chinese philosophy: Think of culture as shared knowledge that binds individuals together.


Culture brings people together in shared values, practices and behaviors.

Traditional culture also creates bonds through shared understandings, beliefs and practices often passed down through generations. Like mortar cements bricks, so too, does this shared knowledge unify communities and nations.

In this way, culture transcends contemporary politics, and instead, refers to human characteristics and practices; the things that make people unique. This type of knowledge becomes a guidepost, a kind of organic, innate “software” that supports healthy cross-cultural relations.

Racism Grows from Hateful Self-Talk

Like an addiction, one must recognize racist tendencies before change can take place.

When interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds, individuals should stay consciously aware of things outside their comfort zone. Mindfulness, in thought and emotion, along with awareness of prejudiced or judgmental self-talk, is a powerful skill for realizing racist tendencies.

All cultures embrace some kind of wisdom, but that wisdom may be difficult to recognize at first. Crossing into cultural situations offers an opportunity to become more aware of cultural self-talk. Being open to racist tendencies is a start at foiling hostile reactions that may come off as disrespectful or haughty. 

Friendships Influence Culture

In the United States, a friendly proposal to meet up soon may not be followed through, and friends may not be around when needed. In older, more traditional societies, however, friendships and relationships tend to be deeper.

In China, friends are there through thick and thin, or they are a thorn in the flesh. Confucius, aware of this Chinese cultural idiosyncrasy, admonished his students to practice respect: “A respectable person creates harmony and a scoundrel fosters discord,” he said.


This philosophy may have come from the fact that Confucius experienced disrespect while attempting to cure government corruption. He was subsequently banished from his home and forced to roam for 14 years.

Slow Down, Focus on Likenesses

Everyone sees the world differently and has distinct hopes, fears and survival mechanisms. It’s good to know why individuals see the world the way they do. It often comes down to upbringing and life experiences — or lack thereof.

Claiming one’s own ways are, “the right way,” may spawn division and discord.

Mao Zedong is credited with coining the Chinese expression, “Focus on the similarities and save the differences.”


The Chairman reportedly spoke these words during a business meeting as a way of suggesting that the group work on the problems at hand and leave other issues for another day.

Similarly, in 1955, Zhou Enlai, the first premier of the People’s Republic of China, attended an Asian-African summit in Bandung, Indonesia. The head of Chinese government repurposed Mao’s expression during the event to foster a sense of diplomacy among diverse peoples with varied cultural and political backgrounds. Enlai suggested the group focus on similarities. By doing so, he weakened potential discord. His desire to foster harmony became the basis for a successful summit.

When individuals focus on similarities, they support respectful interactions and reduce the illusion of division. Positive interactions create a path for successful cross-cultural endeavors.

Here’s another way to practice this cultural competency: Stop and take a deep breath during stressful situations. This encourages patience, which in turn conveys the desire for a mutually beneficial outcome.

Battle Destructive Self-Talk

It is often easy to detect when an individual feels uncomfortable around people from different cultures.

The game-changer happens when that individual is self-aware and recognizes their tendency to feel frustrated or afraid when faced with cultural diversity. The next step is to forge constructive thoughts.

Awareness of internal dialogue is imperative to achieving cross-cultural success. Curiosity, in fact, is the greatest tool for overcoming negative thoughts. When attentive to such thoughts, one can inquire within to discover the origin and catalyst of that negativity. In this way, destructive thoughts can spur civility, discourse, inclusion and peace of mind.

Inner Dialogue Can Transform the World 

Confucius was a proponent for self-reflection. One way we know this is from a conversation the master had with one of his students, Zengzi.

“I reflect on myself three times daily,” Zengzi said. (Here, the Chinese character for three actually suggests a number in excess of three.)


Zengzi continued: “When interacting with others, I ponder, am I being upright and honest with my friends? Am I applying the knowledge of the Teacher (Confucius)?”

Confucius: A Learner Who Valued Self-Improvement

Self-cultivation was a common topic for Confucius, who famously said: “When around others, they are my teachers.”


He also said: “When around someone of a higher moral standard, aspire to be like them.”


Confucius aimed for consistent self-improvement. He regarded himself as a learner, as well as a teacher. We can use these values to promote contemporary cross-cultural communication.

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