October 19, 2008

Good day, team,

This week’s challenge is about connectedness. Having returned from two weeks’ vacation in France, I want to share some observations I made while traveling that are applicable.

I first traveled to Europe in the summer of 1970. I had just graduated from high school, and my mother took my sister and me as a gift. We traveled throughout the continent and found the diversity and specific cultures of each country to be not only very interesting, but also surprising. As Americans we were accustomed to living in a large country where everyone spoke the same language and had molded their cultural European, Asian or African ancestry into an American melting pot. But in Europe, we’d get on the train in one country that had its own language, foods, currency,  and traditions and, within an hour or two, get off the train in another country where it was all completely different. We were amazed by and challenged to relate to people who lived in such unfamiliar cultures.

Today, the world is a very different place. Most of the European countries now share one currency, the euro. It has united them in ways that they are still learning about and created a European economic entity that did not exist before. English is spoken in most countries (even in the countryside), since almost all European children are taught English as a second language from the minute they start school, and this common language allows people who might not otherwise be able to communicate to understand each other.

I found the French to be particularly interested in our upcoming election. In Paris the cafes and bars were full and lively. Over cafe au lait or wine, we found ourselves talking with others about what we thought of the candidates, what was important to them, how they felt about their own president, etc. Overwhelmingly, people emphasized that our president needed to understand the importance of reaching out to partners across the globe. They felt it would be detrimental for all if America isolated itself and continued to see itself as the dominant world power that needed to stay separate in order to maintain it’s position.

Ironically, they would then complain about having to pay for everything with one currency and bemoan having become more connected to other European nations with the advent of the euro. I think they feel that their unique identities have been threatened in some ways. But their understanding of the world as one whole is quite strong.

The second week we traveled to our friend’s home in the Perigord region with it’s gorgeous farm land and abundant culinary delights. While we were there, we heard of the European leaders gathering to put together a plan to save their financial institutions. The stock market in the U.S. had plunged, and its effects were being felt worldwide in such a profound way that the Europeans had to take swift action.

Our conversations in the cafes and bars became even more impassioned. Now it was not just about hoping we would elect someone who would partner, but also about ensuring that the new president of the United States truly understood how connected we all are. As one Frenchman said to me, “We are not separate anymore. It’s like dominoes: When one country falls, we all suffer. The health and welfare of the U.S. financial system is as important to us as it is to you. And we can no longer see ourselves as being completely independent. We hope you elect someone who is willing to work together with us.”

Your challenge this week? See how connected you are to others. Maybe your company is reorganizing, and you’re suddenly working with a new team or a new partner. Find your commonalities and work from your combined strengths. Try reaching out to your partners and be open-minded enough to see their point of view, even if it doesn’t match your own. Think about how your actions each day influence many others, even the people you don’t see. Your e-mail could easily be sent to 100 people in a matter of minutes and has the potential of affecting each person who reads it.

Just as we are connected to the earth, we are also connected to all  the beings on it in profound ways. Spend some time this week thinking about your connections (both seen and unseen) to others and work to strengthen those connections. Perhaps you just tell someone that you understand they are different from you, and with that understanding you become more emotionally connected to who they are and what makes them unique.

Have a great week!