Cultural Intelligence: Understand What Shapes Opinions

Our assumptions and opinions are mostly acquired unconsciously.

Posted Sep 08, 2020

Nobody doubts it anymore: our VUCA world has become unpredictable and uncertain as rarely seen before. Directly or indirectly, we have all been affected by events such as the coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matters protests. We have learned that these things will have a long-running impact on all of our lives.

What has struck me repeatedly over the last six months of global disruption on a number of levels, is how everybody has their own opinion about what should be happening and what should have been done by governments around the world. People are highly opinionated and make these opinions known. It has made me wonder again: How do we develop opinions? Where do they come from? And how does a culturally intelligent person view and understand opinions?

Representations become reality

In his book, Thought as a System, scientist Daniel Bohm writes: “Thought is creating divisions out of itself and then saying that they are there naturally. The divisions between nations are regarded as being “just there,” but obviously they were invented by people. People have come to accept those divisions and that made them be there.”

This is exactly what has happened with the concept of race. The concept was invented by people to justify their acts, and since then the concept with all its connotations is “just there.” Nobody questions it anymore. It has become part of our unconscious thinking. A representation becomes reality: a projection onto the world flipped by the mind into something that actually possesses the property inherently.

In his other book, On Dialogue, Bohm states that it is key to expose the contingency in where thoughts and beliefs come from. We need to examine the genealogy of our assumptions and opinions. They are mostly handed down by teachers, parents, TV, books, internet, and such. Because the genealogy is unconscious, it is hard to overcome the assumptions, which tend to be experienced as truths. What you like is determined by what you think and that is often a fixed pattern.

To cite the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius: “All is as thinking makes it so."

Collective thought is powerful

According to Bohm, the collective thought is also more powerful than the individual thought: language is entirely collective, as are most of the thoughts in it. Thought is a subtle tacit process, which is common and shared. It produced the nation, and says that the nation has an extremely high value, which overrides almost everything. There is pressure to think that way, against evidence.

If we have a culture, it means we share a meaning: the significance, the purpose, the value. Society is based on shared meanings; culture is shared meaning, the cement that holds society together. But society is not an objective reality, it is a reality created by all the people through their consciousness.

Be open-minded to alternatives

On the other hand, cultural intelligence demands open-mindedness to alternatives—to the possibility that one’s own views are false: everything is negotiable, nothing is sacred. Cultural intelligent people listen to each other’s opinions, suspend them without judging them. They are concerned with meaning, not with truth.

To create dialogue, we need an empty space, open and free. Freedom makes possible a creative perception of new orders of necessity, to suspend assumptions, to suspend reaction.

In all the discussions we have about the pandemic or any other burning issue, let us exercise our cultural intelligence. Let us not try to change anybody’s opinion—just be aware of it, and identify where our opinions and the other person’s opinion come from.

In the end, to communicate is to make something common and to create something new together.