After the hustle and bustle of Florence, the quiet of Monte San Savino was a little unnerving. It is a beautiful small town with a courtyard in the middle with a few small shops and a few locals milling around. The church, with its open door, was calling out to us. I noticed a few people at the front who appeared to be praying – not unusual in the churches we had visited. I walked to an aisle and proceeded to sit down – until my husband noticed something we hadn’t seen yet. The people were surrounding a large basket (the size and shape of a casket) and a picture of an older woman. We had walked into the middle of an Italian wake! We tried to leave as discretely as possible, but I’m afraid we did manage to interrupt the proceedings a little bit.
There’s something about traveling in a foreign country that always leaves me a little off-balance – and very much aware of how different cultures see things very differently. Personal space in lines is very different in Italy than in the USA. For instance, in the USA it is very typical to leave some space in line between you and the person in front of you. In Italy, if you leave any room at all it’s an invitation for someone else to fill that space (the assumption being that you’ve decided to not go that way).
There are less obvious differences within the USA. I’ve heard that there are women in the boomer generation who are offended that Gen X women have never thanked them for paving the way. As a Gen Xer myself, showing that gratitude is not something that had ever crossed my mind – my assumption being that tearing down the glass ceiling was something that they had chosen to do for themselves. Now I’m trying to ask more questions and find out more, rather than assuming I know how and why people think the way they do.
In your work in your organization, what assumptions are you making about people? About your donors? Your volunteers? Your board members? Even your staff?
As you develop materials to share with others, rather than writing based on assumptions, perhaps you can start thinking about questions you can ask to find out if those assumptions are true – or not. Making adjustments to your written materials – and how you interact with others – will be of benefit your organization.