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I was approached last week by a student from one of the professional universities in the Hague looking for information. She and her fellow students were preparing a fictitious case regarding a merger between KLM, Air France and JAL. Her task was to examine training possibilities to insure that the merger addressed cultural differences.

Coincidentally, I had a meeting planned for the next day, and one of the people planning to be there was formerly one of the directors of KLM during the actual merger with Air France a few years ago. One of his responsibilities during this time was defining training for cabin personnel in dealing with the cultural changes during the merger. A perfect match, in other words. I invited her to join the meeting.

The meeting went very well. The student, Marieke Harderwijk, was very professional and adhered perfectly to our agreed-upon protocol. Later in the day I received the following email from her:

Dear Mr. Salazar,

To begin with, I would like to thank you from my heart that I was able to be a part of the meeting today.

Secondly, I marvel over the fact that you, whom by all appearances seem to me to be a very modest and self-effacing man, have an enormous amount of knowledge and experience. You gave me, a simple student, just like that the chance to attend a very important meeting, sight unseen. There are few people on this earth who would have done that for someone.

I find it especially inspiring how you use your knowledge and experience also in daily life to make the world a better place, such as your project you mentioned between the church and mosque.

Thank you so much!

With warm regards,

Marieke Harderwijk

Even though one doesn’t necessarily help others for extrinsic rewards, this email was certainly a reward for me. I was surprised, and humbled, to have received it. The following Monday was Martin Luther King Day in the US, and his quote sums up my feelings,

“An individual has not begun to live until he can rise above the narrow horizons of his particular individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. Every person must decide, at some point, whether they will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ’What are you doing for others?’”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 11, 1957

I thank YOU, Marieke. From my heart.

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While not exactly a New Year’s resolution, which usually wind up in the trash anyway before the first month of the new year is out, this is a realization of sorts. If I’m doing anything other than focussing on the business, I’m not only wasting my time, but also that of my contact.

Okay, this seems like a patently obvious statement, but there’s a situation in particular that I’d like to relate. Earlier on this blog I’d spoken of my plans to start an Interfaith Dialogue here in Almelo. My goal is to do in my private life what I do for business, namely: facilitating those from different cultures to work together for greater understanding and benefit. I related in my post from 15 September, 2010 (“The Imam says . . . “) my first visit to the mosque to discuss the possibility of a cooperation with my own church. Why the “business-like” approach should even be a question says a lot about my approach until now.

It suddenly dawned on me, as I was sitting with the Imam and the Board Secretary for a follow up visit on the last day of 2010 that I hadn’t stated my case clearly enough: what’s in it for them? Worse yet, I was waiting for them to offer me something. Why? For some reason I had the idea that they would welcome an enthusiastic non-Muslim in their midst. As if they were sitting and waiting for me all this time. Somehow I was expected a hearty handshake, a brotherly slap on the shoulder and shouts of, “Welcome!” Instead, their attitude was somewhat suspicious, as if my motive was to try to sell them something. Or, worse, to convert them. After some time of circling around the main issue, the Secretary confided in me , “Listen, we’ve got plenty of volunteers. That’s not the problem. What we need, however, are volunteers with vision, experience and education.” Ha! Bingo! The light suddenly switched on – of course: if the added value is not crystal clear, why invest in it? Just because it’s my so-called “free time” doesn’t give me the right to waste their time. Time is valuable, whether it’s for business, pleasure, personal or private. 

So that means back to the drawing board. Or, rather, to the drawing board for the first time. Project proposal, official position from the church (something like “Intercultural Dialogue Coordinator”), and presentation to both church boards. Let’s get to work!

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Leo Salazar

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