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How To Understand People And Prevent Conflict

Alberta Muembo has a remarkable intercultural approach to people and situations, believing this approach prevents conflict. She coordinates Saskatchewan's first government SME Succession Hub and Solution Repreneuriat programs. She is currently on her way to creating her haircare line, Super Miujiza.

 
Executive Contributor Alberta Muembo

Understanding culture is vital to understanding people. Thanks to the media and other technological advancements, today's world is becoming increasingly diversified, regardless of where you live. This diversity, while beautiful, also brings about unique challenges. For instance, clashes between Western and Eastern cultures over the consumption of certain animal products or how different religious groups disagree over secular laws in some countries. These conflicts underscore the need for a deeper understanding of culture, a task that only a few are willing to undertake.


happy business people in meeting and laughing in office.

At university, I learned that every culture consists of four primary components: language, tradition, beliefs, and customs. In this article, I will focus on language and tradition.


Language

I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where French is our official language. Later, my family moved to Kenya after fleeing the ongoing conflict in my country. The official language in Kenya is English, and since we were a refugee family, we could not afford to attend school. So, my dad homeschooled us for two years. In other words, Dad taught us how to read, write, and speak English.


After living in Kenya for seven years, the United Nations relocated my family to Canada in 2014. This transition was a turning point in my understanding of culture. I realized that speaking English, even with my African accent, did not guarantee effective communication. I had to learn the hard way that languages are impacted differently by each culture. This realization sparked a journey of cultural understanding that continues to this day. 


My first job in Canada was to fold clothing that customers left. Depending on where my supervisor needed me, I had to fold these clothes at the store's front or back. Often, my supervisor asked me to fold clothes at the back by saying, "Alberta, would you like to go to the back?" Fresh from Africa, I needed help distinguishing between a question and an instruction. So, I always gave my honest answer "no." Unknown to me, my answer meant I was constantly "refusing" to obey instructions. This experience and others made me realize how Canadian English is very indirect compared to Kenyan English. In Kenya, a supervisor would say, "Alberta, go to the back." In Canada, I needed clarification because I was utterly ignorant of Canadian culture. Therefore, speaking someone's language is not just about the words but about understanding the cultural context they are used in. This understanding is critical to preventing conflict.


Tradition

Before moving to Canada, I always saw professors dressed in business attire. So, if you visited any college or university where I grew up, you could easily distinguish between the professors and students. Interestingly, this is not the case in Canada. In Saskatchewan, professors and students dress very casually compared to where I grew up. On my first day at the University of Saskatchewan, I noticed a gentleman in shorts; I thought he looked great, except that he didn't trim his beard. I come from a culture where people are very open and honest with each other. People will compliment you if they think you look good and will let you know if they feel you need to do something about your appearance. So, on day one at university, I went straight to this gentleman and said, "You know what? Everything looks good on you except the beard. If you trim it a little bit, you'll look perfect." Then I walked away, just like back in Africa. Can you imagine my embarrassment when I discovered he was my professor? This incident may sound funny now, but it wasn't that day. It was a stark reminder of the cultural shock I was experiencing and the need to adapt and understand different cultural norms.


Understanding and respecting cultural differences is not just a matter of politeness, but a crucial tool in conflict prevention. Effective communication is the cornerstone of any relationship, and it's important to remember that communication is not just about language. It's about understanding the cultural context in which it is used. By putting ourselves in others' shoes and making an effort to understand their culture, we can bridge the gap and prevent potential conflicts.


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Read more from Alberta Muembo

 

Alberta Muembo, Coordinator SME SH and SR, Model

Born in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), Alberta Muembo and her family were forced out of the country due to conflict. Her experiences as a refugee, missionary, student and employee in Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Canada shaped how she perceives people and culture. Consequently, she became devoted to breaking intercultural barriers through storytelling on her YouTube channel, Heart2Heart with Alberta Muembo. She is a firm believer that humanity is interconnected through stories.

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