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The weight of entitlement and the context of gratitude across cultures

When it comes to quality of life, what are our rights and entitlements? How is this perceived or expressed in other cultures?

Photo of Debbie Chang
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The fact that we can even ask questions about the quality of the life we live and the context of our influence over these decisions belies a position of immense privilege. For most of us in developed countries, our lives overflow with blessing. But countless opportunities for gratitude go floating by each day as we strain after more and more things that we supposedly need. There is no end to our pursuit of security when the borders of necessity and luxury are never marked out and held firm.

In my previous post, I discussed the importance of active gratitude and its impact on the workplace environment, incentivizing employees through positive reinforcement to contribute above and beyond. However, what I failed to consider in my original observation was the prevalence and context of gratitude in other cultures. Having been uprooted from a developed country in the eastern hemisphere and assimilated to the ways of the western world, I've encountered firsthand through my change in upbringings the ways in which cultural implications of verbal communication can hold significantly different meanings. 

For instance, in India, saying "thank you" to a friend or relative likens them to the role of a stranger. Real friends are expected to be there for each other, to always help out in times of need, as a means of expressing gratitude for the friendship.

On the other end of the spectrum, the means of delivering gratitude must be culturally refined so as to avoid offending the recipient of the gratitude. In Germany, students are expected to knock on desks in lieu of clapping their hands in order to show appreciation for their lecturer and for their educational experience. 

Through learning about different facets in which gratitude is implicitly or explicitly expressed, and the frequency of which it is delivered, I have thus come up with a few ideas on different ways we can incorporate the lessons from my quick spin around the globe, the root of many of these being mindfulness. 

Idea Title

Mindful, not mind-full

How the Idea will inspire the experience and expression of gratitude within an organization.

My idea is to inspire the experience and expression of gratitude within an organization by exposing employees to the practices of different cultures and thus expanding their understanding of different ways people tend to express their gratitude, even if it is in a more implicit or reserved manner. While many of the goals and ideas surrounding fostering a grateful workplace environment trace back to active expression or working towards physical and tangible change, my idea revolves around a role reversal, in which the recipient is working towards becoming more mindful of different sociological and cultural factors that mark their workplace interactions.

Who are you innovating for?

I am innovating for the workplace, but more importantly, mindfulness and awareness are practices that would benefit anyone.

What type of workplaces are you innovating for?

I am innovating for workplaces that are diverse and may have employees who were raised across the globe. Although cultural assimilation often occurs over time, there are still ways in which cultural barriers stand because of longevity, habit, or even lack of mindfulness in evaluating interactions with those from foreign cultures. The United States would be a great place to start contextually, although the idea may also benefit countries such as Japan in which the demographic is less diverse.

How you envision the Idea being introduced to your selected organization?

I envision the idea being introduced to large American corporations through their human resources departments. There will be a mindfulness workshop, followed by interactive demonstrations of different standards of workplace interactions that simulate the expressions and responses of those from different cultures. Partnerships with international businesses would help in implementing the idea because strategic implementation of this idea will help employees see the value in being mindful and culturally aware in the context of their workplace fulfillment.

What obstacles, if any, do you foresee in implementing this Idea, and how would they be overcome?

There may be obstacles in setting aside the time in training in order to implement this program; additionally, it may be difficult to express these different cultural norms in accurate ways that do not perpetuate generalizations or misconceptions that may lead to misconstruing cultures.

How will you test and prototype your solution?

I will test and prototype my solution by demonstrating the program to smaller teams and organizations first, and then surveying the feedback of their employees and whether or not the practices were able to help them be mindful and actively aware of their surroundings and interactions in dimensions that were eluded before.

What immediate next steps will you take if you receive an implementation grant.

Immediate next steps that will be taken will be to draft out a program and to locate the proper human resources in order to execute the solution. I will also need to reach out to organizations that will be receptive to the idea of being willing to invest their time in the training workshop.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: You are exploring an idea, gathering inspiration and information needed to test it with real users.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

My idea emerged through a series of mindfulness workshops that were offered at my previous workplace; these mindfulness workshops were sold to us as ways to reduce stress, but the actual exercises opened my mind to much more than just stress reduction. I guess I could even argue that with the alleviation of stress, I became more actively conscious of my surroundings and interactions, and more capable of living in the moment.

Tell us about yourself

My name is Debbie and I am a student at the University of Texas.

Where are you / your team located?

My team is located in the United States

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Photo of Kenny Tran
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Hi Debbie Chang,

I think this is a great idea with a lot of potential. I look forward to seeing the progress of this idea and believe it is certainly a step in the right direction. Thanks for sharing!

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