Building trust across cultures

Above – Luke and his wife Charlotte on one of their regular litter-picks.

Nearly six years ago my wife, Charlotte, and I closed our businesses and sold everything, left our community in Jackson, Mississippi and began our journey into world citizenship. We’ve been staying in countries as long as our visa allows, usually three months. We pick countries with low costs of living because we’re just living off our social security income. We find an inexpensive place to rent, shop for local food and cook our meals and avoid tourist traps.

There are two practices we do – our way of being of service, everywhere we go. We pick up trash. In Panama we’re with a group called Basura Busters and everywhere else we pick up and recycle as part of Trash Busters International.

But it is the second practice that I want to focus on here. We’re deep into our 70’s, so we walk a lot (4-5 miles a day) to stay healthy. We often walk where lots of other people are also walking and it is in these interactions with sometimes hundreds of people each day that so many opportunities for building trust arise.

The practice is really quite simple. We smile, we give friendly eye contact, we gesture a greeting, we say hi or good morning (in the native language). We’re ready with compliments for people taking care of animals or children or each other. Charlotte loves to tell people how nice their hair or clothing looks.

Nearly everyone appreciates being noticed and recognized. This simple practice, repeated thousands of times, begins to transform a community. After a while, we aren’t quite strangers anymore and more people start greeting us back. Gradually, the areas we walk in become less fearful, suspicious, and isolated. Harmlessness, care, empathy, and joy blossom.

Now building cultural trust is not just an outer exercise. There is a crucial inner component. We need to be coming from an authentic place of loving everyone. When there are too many people to greet or someone is on their phone or talking to someone, we can send a thought like, “May you be happy,” or “May you be well” or “May you be at peace”. When I see someone is already happy, I’ll wish them to be even happier!

We practice this with absolutely everyone – young and old, everyone. In looking into everyone’s face you can get a good insight into their state of mind, which helps in fine tuning the greeting. Before we arrive in a country, we learn what we can about the people and place. Reading the full Wikipedia article is a good starting place. Have respect and curiosity about what is unique about the place you are going to be in. At a very minimum, learn how to say Hello, Good Morning and Thank You in the native language. If you get in a situation where you agree to do something, make sure you follow through.

One might get the idea to grab the travel guide and look for an exotic location to start this practice. But building trust between cultures actually starts right where we are. It starts with the people closest to us. Every one of us has different backgrounds and experiences and it takes careful listening to recognize each person’s unique view of the world. It is with the people closest to us – those in our household, workplace and neighborhood – that we build the relational habits we take out into the deeper world.

Before our life outside the USA, we jogged in our neighborhood every morning, picking up all the trash we came across and greeting absolutely everyone, those we knew and those we didn’t. Nearly every day since 1999 Charlotte and I have started our day by looking into each other’s eyes and vowing, “I promise to rededicate my life with you to being loving, kind and present.” Today, so far so good. But the practice makes each day alive with new challenges.

The need for healing between cultures is so great, humanity need as many cross-cultural healers as we can recruit. It takes time and perseverance, but building trust is so worth doing. Know that the world very much appreciates every effort you make.

Luke Lundemo and Charlotte ran Computer Co-op for 25 years before retiring. They are long time meditators, participating in global group Zoom service meditations of 2-3 hours several times a week.

Translate »