Unbridgable Cultural Differences

I have just finsihed reading the late Michael Zacchea book, The Ragged Edge-a chronicle of the US attempt to set up a new Iraqi Army in which its soldiers are to be oblivious to the cultural divides within “Iraqi” society. Major Zacchea, a marine, was advisor to the 5th Division of the Iraqi army. The book chronicles the failure of this endevour, focusing on the cultural chasm between the Americans and the various Iraqi tribes. The book is a fascinating read for those of us interesting in organizational change and cultural differences.

I worked once with a group of Mexicans and Japanese in a project. The cultural gaps were unbrigable. If people do not share anything whatsoever in common about the meaning of time, attention to detail, approach to problem solving, communication to clients and share at least some understanding of what “respect” is, they cannot work together.

Those who follow chronic conflicts in the Middle East know how important the cultural divides are to making the conflicts unsolvable, as Prof Bernard Lewis pointed out during his entire career.

I have been following the coverage of American media about the war in the Ukraine. I truly believe that there is a cultural lense-distortion which prevents the west from understanding why Russia is at war. These same lense, by the way, threw Mubarak under the train, and encouraged Gorbachev to procede to undo a system without anything else to replace it.

So is dialogue the best way to overcome such differences? Or do good fences make good neighbours. Or both. That is a critical question that OD consultants need to ask themselves. I think that Michael’s book provides an answer. A good one.


And thanks to Madelaine Sayko for referring this book to my attention.

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3 thoughts on “Unbridgable Cultural Differences

  1. Michael would be so honored and touched by your comments. I think you would have enjoyed talking with him.

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