Thursday, February 26, 2009

Drinking Tea on a Path to Change

It's amazing what can be accomplished over a cup of tea. We, in the west, could learn a lot from the art of sitting and talking about things over a cup of tea.

I think many people are obsessed with 'fast solutions' in our day and age. We want things to be fixed... fast. There is an impatience about things that I don't think has always existed. When did we lose that ability to wait and work for things and allow them to happen, rather than forcing an instant result.

Whenever I'm here in the Middle East, I'm reminded that there are other ways of doing things besides the ones I've always known. Things move slower here. People have an unbelievable capacity to wait. There is a willingness to just 'allow' things that is rather foreign to those of a western orientation of thinking.

I have been party to many 'meetings' over tea. Sometimes the discussions are serious and focused, but often it seems that nothing is really happening. The talk might be trivial, not seemingly related to the expected reason for meeting at all. Yet, if you are around this sort of activity long enough, you see that very important subtexts are occurring. Relationships are being forged. Trust is being established. Rapport is being built. It is all going on below the surface, in a way that might appear trivial to the casual observer, but the significance is apparent to those familiar with this process.

Conversation and sitting together are a prelude to any sort of resolution of conflict here. The same is true for making business deals or handling issues within a friendship. There is a sort of unspoken protocol about being willing to sit with someone, drink tea and create the 'base' for doing what needs to be done.

It's really an interesting concept. It cannot be rushed. it takes a lot longer than many of us 'efficiency nuts' might be comfortable with. The results, however, are deeply satisfying. There is a by-product to all these encounters, which is a weaving together of people into a community. The relationships that develop are just as important as whatever issue is being addressed.

I remember, prior to my first trip to Bali, I was being instructed on important cultural practices that I would encounter. The person described the 'bartering system' that we would encounter in the markets. We were told that the important thing to understand is that you must ALWAYS negotiate. Always. It isn't optional. The Balinese people would think us very strange if we did not barter. The bartering in Bali is not meant to be adversarial, nor is it really about getting the 'best' deal. It's about creating a relationship. That is one of the ways that people in that culture create and cultivate relationships. The Balinese people enjoyed the back and forth interactions of reaching a price that is 'good for you/good for me!'

We can learn a lot about human relationships from these cultures where more importance is placed on creating and maintaining connections. It is harder to mistreat people that you have a connection with.

Now... if people from 'different groups' could just sit down together over tea... and allow that process to work it's magic. What a different world it could be.

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