Seeking to Understand


Several students and work colleagues asked me about my recent trips to Paris and London. I’ll share with you what I have been sharing with them: As is often the case, my main focus during my recent travels was on trying to find “balance”…..trying to listen to as many perspectives as possible — “to seek to understand before I am understood”.

Since I was in France a week after the horrible tragedy in Nice, it was clear that many people were understandably upset and scared. As one person stated, “Harry, if one crazy person can murder nearly 100 innocent people, including children, with a truck……what will be next?” Several people called for stopping all immigration and investigating all Muslims as possible terrorists. By really listening and trying to understand their perspectives, I was able to understand what they believed and why. However, as usual, it is critical to understand ALL perspectives. I had that opportunity one morning while renting a car to take Julie and Daniel for a ride to visit the chateaus along the Loire River. The manager of the rental car agency was a wonderful young man who saw me reading the Financial Times and wanted to hear my perspective on the recent events in France. I respectfully suggested that since he was living in Paris, I would love to hear his perspective first. Wow! Did I hear another point of view! He told me that he was French but that he was scared to live in France and was wondering if he should leave. He explained that his mother was French and his father was from Tunisia, and his family was Muslim. He told me that everywhere he went he was looked at suspiciously and constantly being asked to show identification. He stated that he was horrified at what happened in Nice and told me that no true Muslim would do what the killer in Nice did. He reminded me that among the 84 killed in the Nice attack, 30 were Muslims. So there is the challenge…..how to minimize the chance of future acts of terrorism AND respect the rights of citizens regardless of their religious beliefs, race, or culture?

Okay, one more example of the need for a “balanced perspective”…..I arrived in London shortly after “Brexit” (a truly amazing time to be in London). Much of what I had read previously in the media focused on two views: 1) that the UK wanted to separate from the European Union because they saw little economic benefit from the union, or 2) that the “average Briton” did not really understand the purpose of the European Union. In London I heard a very different story from the local shopkeepers and taxi drivers (my usual source of basic views and perspectives). I found the people I spoke with very informed and reasonable. It appeared to me that they did understand that in a world becoming more and more global, there was a need for Europe to operate as more of a “union” to compete economically with the U.S., China, and Japan. However, and it is a big HOWEVER, they really were struggling with “how can we continue as a democracy when decisions are being made in Brussels by bureaucrats who are not elected and who the U.K. has little influence over?” The fact that the EU was “dictating” how many immigrants should be accepted into the U.K. was hard for them to accept…I must admit that it sounded somewhat logical.

It reminded me again of the quote I mentioned in my last blog post……”life is much simpler when you only understand one side of the story”.

The folks in the U.K. also asked me for my view of the U.S. presidential election…hmmmm, I think I will save that discussion for my next blog post 😉

I am always interested in your views and perspectives.

5 comments

  • Up close and personal, Harry. I am very glad that you talked about this…..

    My first thought was , there is cause for hope that balance, harmony and understanding are possible.
    These folk are able to voice an opinion, even to a stranger. They want to share their perspective and are looking for your understanding, from one individual to another.
    And there are examples of balance amongst people within culturally diverse nations.

    WRT your comments re France : Acts of terror are intended to elicit fear and reaction. Reacting by blaming others who hold different cultural or religious beliefs to one’s own is emotionally easy…. and very dangerous.
    There can be no balanced opinion, let alone debate, when such crime is disguised or interpreted as the consequence of religious or cultural difference. Fear beats out reason.
    The need is that there will be enough people who will take advantage of their right to speak freely , and speak up for balance and reason.

    National equilibrium around cultural and religious tolerance shifts, person-by-person, one-by-one.
    It will take true individual leadership, across a lot of individuals, to overcome that challenge you identified: Minimise terrorism whilst respecting citizens rights.

    I have lived and worked in Paris, London and Singapore . The most harmonious place from a racial, cultural and religious tolerance perspective was Singapore. With so many different people thrown together into a small island space, you would expect conflict. Not in my experience. The opposite in fact.
    All religious holidays were recognised, by everyone. The foods of different cultures were celebrated by all. Everyone worked. Each racial group was recognised as contributing to the economy.
    It always felt a safe place to be.

    I am not suggesting this sample-of-one is a model solution to the challenge.But perhaps it’s an indicator of what’s possible.

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  • Great post professor! Nothing beats going out and listening to real people. Social Media, and increasingly traditional media, is enveloping us in closed space where the views of our friends and contacts resonate continually and “balancing” views are drowned out.
    Hope you had a good time in two of the best cities in the world.

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    • Hi SJ, I really worry about these 24 hour “news shows” that usually are not “balanced” at all…..they are usually completely slanted to one extreme or the other, making it difficult for people to truly obtain a balanced perspective on any topic. I hope you are doing well warm regards, harry

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  • Smajil Selimagic

    Professor Kraemer,
    Thank your for the time that you took to inform us of your impressions from the trip. I am always amazed how you are able to see the world thru such balanced and objective lenses.
    I really appreciate the message that can be summed up in a short sentence: “We, the humans living on earth, can only succeed if we are all working together and not against each other, or we will ultimately all fail, regardless of who may be winning at a particular moment”.
    Thank you for your message!

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