Posted by Tom Talbott

PP Roxane Cole welcomed our guest speaker for the day, Catherine Menyhart, Founder of Making Space, LLC. The daughter of a Rotarian father, Catherine was introduced early on to “Service Above Self,” remembering all too well selling Christmas trees on chilly nights. It was also thru Rotary that she was treated to intercultural experiences as a very young girl. At the age of 2, her family hosted their first international exchange student, the first of 25 that Catherine would come to know in her home. Learning, and understanding, different cultures, would become a devotion that she now shares, teaches and coaches on a professional level. 

What do you think of when you think of “culture.” The audience volunteered words such as people, language, customs, music, traditions, values, education, clothing, food. Catherine agreed, and then noted that all of these items are still just the tip of the iceberg, that there is so much you don’t see below the surface that makes understanding different cultures so fascinating and challenging. 

Catherine set forth a series of propositions.

First: “A shared set of values, norms, behaviors and practices held and expressed by a particular group of people.” 

With an American father and British mother, Catherine noted that most people would say, “What’s the difference?” In fact, it was considerable. Her father was an advocate of the American Dream – go out and make your way, go for it, be successful. Her mother – you stay where you were born. 

Second: “The ability to communicate and behave effectively and appropriately where there are cultural differences.”

Some people, or businesses, may have the best of intentions, but the way they go about it can create conflicts. “Let’s get it done” is great, but getting it done appropriately can be tricky.

One can certainly think of Rotary’s work on Polio Plus, where in some tribal cultures there was great suspicion and resistance to the inoculations.   

Third: “Core Intellectual Competencies.”    

A. Self-Awareness. Explore your own identity. How were you conditioned? How was conflict dealt with in your life, in your family, school, work?

B. Awareness of Others. For example, the respect the Japanese have for elders.

C. Emotional intelligence and mindful awareness. When someone walks right up to you and crowds you, crossing that invisible line into your personal space, how do you handle it?

D. Intercultural Bridging. Learning and building understanding and empathy for others.

With a series of diagrams on the slide show, Catherine showed a set of different cultural differences that are very common:

Direct Communication. Say what you mean, mean what you say. What you say is more important than how you say it.
Indirect Communication.
Story telling. How it is said is more important that what is said.  Yes, may mean no or maybe.

Dealing with problems. Some see obstacles and plow through. Others deal with problems by going around it. 
Concepts of time. We are accustomed to meetings at specific times and being on time. If we say 1pm, the meeting is 1pm. In other parts of the world, 1pm is a rather flexible window of time.

Catherine suggested that we explore our own individual cultural identities, urging that we learn to observe in a neutral manner, suspending judgement, pausing and reflecting. Develop empathy and mindfulness of others. 

It was here that she asked who was familiar with the “Platinum Rule.” We know the Golden Rule - “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Platinum version takes a similar, but slightly altered, perspective. “Do unto others as they would like to do unto themselves.” To do this, you need to understand the framework of their culture and their communication styles.  What is accepted here, may offend somewhere else. As we know, it can be complicated. Catherine gave us a lot to think about! 


(Photo L-R: PP Roxane Cole, Catherine Menyhart and President John Curran.)