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Thread: Delivering Cultural Competence

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    Council Member Commando Spirit's Avatar
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    Default Delivering Cultural Competence

    Dear SWJ patrons,

    I'm about to embark on a MSc dissertation for a Human Resource Development with Performance Management masters. My intention is to look at the training delivery required to deliver cultural competence to a post-modern Army.

    Why this?

    Well, Cultural Competence is the way of things now and of those to come in post-modern conflict. Time being the good old ubiquitous constraint within the military where and when does this training take place? Should it be delivered as on the job training (OJT)? Or should there be bespoke courses provided for those that require it? At what stages throughout a military career should this training be delivered?

    As an example, the British Army are delivering their cultural training in a framework of three levels:

    a. Cultural Awareness.

    b. Cultural Understanding.

    c. Cultural Competence.

    This is great, but what is the best way to deliver this training? Is it by categorising it into levels as the British Army has or is it in another way?

    I would be very interested to know the thoughts of those out there in SWJ. If there are any people who are already delivering such training then I'd love to hear from you, if you are prepared to share your best practice.

    Many thanks,

    Cdo Spirit
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    Council Member BayonetBrant's Avatar
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    let's get Nichols in here to talk about the USMC culture and language training... he's a great resource for that.
    Brant
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    Council Member Commando Spirit's Avatar
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    Thanks Brant, new to SWJ - how do I go about getting Nichols then??
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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Commando Spirit View Post

    As an example, the British Army are delivering their cultural training in a framework of three levels:

    a. Cultural Awareness.

    b. Cultural Understanding.

    c. Cultural Competence.

    This is great, but what is the best way to deliver this training? Is it by categorising it into levels as the British Army has or is it in another way?
    Welcome Commando Spirit.

    If by cultural competence you actually mean "Not causing offence out of ignorance, and learning something useful about the indigenous population," then you have to be pretty careful as to what you are describing with the word "culture," - which is why I am a "cultural training" sceptic.

    Yes, Rifleman Doomweeby and Cpl F*cknuts have to have some education, but why elevate that to understanding and competence? What's the point and what does it gain you?

    PS: Cranfield?
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
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    Council Member Jason Port's Avatar
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    I am sure Nichols will be here momentarily - and likely to disagree with me. The idea of awareness for the Corporal described my Mr. Owen (I served with a CPL F-nuts - I wonder if it was the same guy.) is critical towards doing less harm than good when interacting with the populace, and especially critical during latter phases of the operation. As we move from "Kill em all" to "make love, not war" we have to know how to approach the targets of our love.

    However, ensuring that our troops are "aware" of the culture of a foreign nation is almost an impossibility today. Sure, in Iraq and Afghanistan, we are in a position to train prior to deployment in theater. However, what about that Marine unit aboard ship on way to Iraq and diverted to the next hot spot, where cultures differ from their initial target. The Army's current training systems fail to address this need.

    Conversely, this lower awareness is great until you need true understanding. As rank nears senior enlisted or junior officer, tact and social graces become more important. Further up the ranks, they become mandatory. This is the strongest reason for the Foreign Affairs Officer position on many staffs. This expertise becomes the commanders Culture Expert. Unfortunately, in Iraq and Afghanistan we either didn't have enough theater specific FAOs or we didn't trust them apparently, so we developed the Human Terrain team. At the end of the day, the short fix is the FAO expertise, until we can train more to be knowledgable of the area of operation. It seems to be the only approach short of hiring 20 guys to be smart on each country, and then neven letting them go. (Although, i might suggest that Defense take better advantage of the other agencies who have experts and that they share across the board better)

    It is almost as though you need a digital system which you could pull out and train your soldiers on the run to the fight. Hmm, if only such a system existed. . . Nichols?
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    Council Member Commando Spirit's Avatar
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    Not Cranfield; I'm out in the Field Army delivering the Training and Education! Two very distinct terms which probably aren't required to be debated in this thread as I could bang on for days!

    Scepticism accepted and indeed understood, but for the moment, put aside; there are a number of Coalition partners operating in Afghnaistan who are convinced that developing the cultural understanding/awareness of our militaries at all levels from your Doomweeby's and f*cknuts' to our three and four stars is the pathway to success in that particular theatre. If that really is the case - and you clearly disagree - then how would that trg/education be delivered? If so many are that interested in it then surely there must be delivery models out there that have had varying levels of success.

    I accept that whilst the lowest level of training does in some small way mitigate the risk of causing offence to the local population, do you not agree that there is a requirement to better understand how decisions are made in theatres such as Afghanistan?

    In the military decisions are a way of life, often made with only 80% of the information, even less of it being factual, and often made under pressure of time or danger; maybe both. Given the military 'drive' for quick and workable solutions, if our Commanders can better understand how decisons are made in other cultures then perhaps this will enhance or success in Afghanistan for example?

    Moreover, perhaps we should be looking at our own culture. By that I mean organisaitonal culture of dropping 1000lbs of high explosive on an area in which we think an insurgent grouping is in hiding? The Cultural Competence, to my simple mind, requires us to become better aware of our own culture and perhaps prejudices before we can stand a chance of investigating others.

    What is the point and what does it gain you? Good questions but I'll leave those open for others to join in on before I monopolise the thread!
    Last edited by Commando Spirit; 12-14-2009 at 03:39 PM.
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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    It is a very interesting problem that, IMHO, most militaries go about in the wrong way as a result of a) how the military PME is structured and b) the assumed requirement to have a top down model. As a bit of context for my comments, I've taught cultural Anthropology on and off for 15 years and, from what I have seen of military PME in the area, it is pretty poor on the whole.

    I suspect that part of the poorness of most cultural training (awareness, understanding, competence, etc.) is due to a really poor understanding by many people of what they actually mean by the terms. Let's take those three terms or levels that you mentioned, and I'll give you my take on how I think they should be understood and what the consequences of such an understanding can be (something usually not talked about).

    Cultural Awareness

    At its simplest, all this refers to is that the student / soldier should realize, in their gut as well as their head (thumos vs. logos if you want to go all Greek ), that people can and do organize themselves in different ways to achieve similar goals (actually, homeostatic, psuedo-end states).

    As a consequence of this realization, students will tend to start questioning whether or not the way their own culture / society organizes to meet a given need is the "best" possible way to do so. Generally, people will still stay in their "comfort zones" (i.e. their own cultural responses), but they may get attracted to some of the "fringes" (low frequency distribution options).

    Cultural Understanding

    Again, in its simplest form, this should refer to two things. First is a mental set of rules or patterns on how cultures organize to meet basic needs; something along the lines of a broad topology of cultural organization, with some basic rules for how to analyze the various forms of cultural organization. The second thing is more of a "mental" or "psychological" ability of the student to move into the "head space" of at least part of another culture; think verstehen as used by Wilhelm Dilthey). This goes back to Dilthey's observation that"

    All science is experiential; but all experience must be related back to and derives its validity from the conditions and context of consciousness in which it arises.
    Source
    So, using this definition, someone who has achieved "cultural understanding" should be able to a) make sense of a given culture and b) be able to mentally "shift" into it after some time spent immersed in that culture.

    The primary consequence of this type of understanding is that people are more likely to "detatch" themselves from their own cultures.

    Cultural Competence

    To my mind, "cultural competence" is a more generalized development of "cultural understanding"; sort of a graduate degree version of an undergraduate "understanding". Someone who has achieved this, however you measure it, tends to be abstracted from their own culture - they can act within it, but it does not have the "aura of Truth" that a culture needs in order to control its members. As an example, Anthropologists who have done a fair bit of fieldwork tend to tal;k of themselves as standing "betwixt and between" cultures; people who move between them, but are not solid, absolute members of any of them even while having strong ties to multiple, often conflicting, cultures.

    At any rate, that's my take on how these terms should be used; probably more of a hindrance for you than a help but, then again, I'm an Anthropologist .

    Cheers,

    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Commando Spirit View Post
    ......who are convinced that developing the cultural understanding/awareness of our militaries at all levels from your Doomweeby's and f*cknuts' to our three and four stars is the pathway to success in that particular theatre. If that really is the case - and you clearly disagree - then how would that trg/education be delivered?
    Depends on what you the training objective is. The British Army has a culture. How would you teach a "civy" about Army culture? I'm not sure an education package is going to usefully inform an outsider to the degree where he can leverage that for anything more than very limited effect. I met quite a few British Army officers who couldn't "get" British Army culture.

    I accept that whilst the lowest level of training does in some small way mitigate the risk of causing offence to the local population, do you not agree that there is a requirement to better understand how decisions are made in theatres such as Afghanistan?
    You can effectively instruct soldiers how not to cause undue or unintentional offence. I've done it. Try and explain "honour killings" of family members in a way that soldiers can usefully use. - "Don't talk to their women, (she is a possession) or else their brothers may kill them," -( and that's OK?) is useful, because it has a direct consequence.
    Given the military 'drive' for quick and workable solutions, if our Commanders can better understand how decisons are made in other cultures then perhaps this will enhance or success in Afghanistan for example?
    That sounds good and briefs well. Give me an actual example.
    The Cultural Competence, to my simple mind, requires us to become better aware of our own culture and perhaps prejudices before we can stand a chance of investigating others.
    Why do we want to be "culturally" competent? Do we actually mean, understand things better so we might better employ force to gain success? Isn't that what it really boils down to.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Council Member Commando Spirit's Avatar
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    Marc,

    Far from it, they are very close to the definitions that we are indeed using; the trick is how to develop a training and/or education solution to best deliver in these three areas? I take the point of the PME being poor constructed for this specific area of expertise and it is for that exact reason that I have started this thread. I am keen that the emerging models are looked at critically throughout my thesis and have some views, unsurprisingly, that will be quite 'radical' in most military circles.

    I think that the best solution should lie somewhere between on the job training (OJT) which looks at culture rather more generically, thus avoiding the diverted Marine unit alluded to above, and the more formal classroom based education. Of course we need to have some Mission Specific Training (MST) but in most theatres, other than those that are just opening up, this is delivered during the Receipt, Staging and Onward Integration (RSOI) phase of a roulement.
    Commando Spirit:
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    Council Member marct's Avatar
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    Hi Commando Spirit,

    Okay, I've got more than a few thoughts on that (just ask Red Rat !). However, I have to rush off to meetings and won't be able to post anything for the next 6 hours or so.

    Cheers,

    Marc
    Sic Bisquitus Disintegrat...
    Marc W.D. Tyrrell, Ph.D.
    Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies,
    Senior Research Fellow,
    The Canadian Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, NPSIA
    Carleton University
    http://marctyrrell.com/

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    Council Member Stan's Avatar
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    Lack of (awareness of) one’s own behavioral rules leads to misinterpretations - I call it simply Cultural Diversity.

    Not everyone is prepared to step out of their comfort zone even if it leads us to see and do things differently. I wouldn’t start trying to teach a young soldier about cultural awareness before he/she was taught self-awareness.

    Teach cultural diversity as an advantage instead of some painful power point or virtual tour 10 minutes into deployment.
    If you want to blend in, take the bus

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    50 cents:

    The civilian world handles this by sending its leadership hopefuls to assignments in foreign countries.

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    Council Member jenniferro10's Avatar
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    Default some (hopefully) helpful information

    Some general statements about the current state of cultural education in the US military, as I understand it:
    1. The coursework available at cultural and language centers of the Branches, part of PME (Professional Military Education), is different than the PDT (PreDeployment Training) being delivered to units en masse.
    2. Each Branch has gone about creating their own distinct academic and philosphical approach to their training program design and content.
    3. Most research done on cultural training programs has been done in the business management sector, which can be problematic: the same behaviors that indicate a trainee's successful implementation of a cultural training program the business setting may indicate failure in the military setting. However, management research does has something in common with military doctrine as it relates to cultural programs: it makes a distinction between education (retention of country- or culture-specific facts) and training (acquisition of techical skills for use in situations). Suggestion: Black and Mendhall are two authors from which I learned a lot about the "training/education" distinction in cultural programs.
    4. Still more problematic is the moving target of training doctrine: be prepared to see a lot of doctrine changes- fast- that reflect the requirements of COIN on the US military's training system.
    5. The cultural knowledge and skills requirements for training Iraqi police officers are drastically different than what is required for infantry (i.e. war and MOOW have different requirements, as do the various MOSs, as do the distinct nature of each branch...).
    6. The final test of any cultural education or training program: operational relevance. Period. If you know the language and art history of Wherever-stan perfectly and score a 100 on the test, but have filled your brain with facts irrelevant to conducting succesful operations, your program is not successful. A full understanding of culture in the area of operations is not required for successful operations, but total ignorance of the culture is a good way to create unsustainable "victories".

    Broadly speaking:
    -USMC, after initially taking a cultural awareness ("sensitivity"?) approach, has changed course and now uses systematized questions that can be used by both planners and operators to assess both the cultural inputs to a situation and the possible outcomes of an operation. They have two great textbooks that outline their approach, both of which are available for free.
    -Both the Navy and Air Force focus on "cultural competence", and teach servicemembers general behavioral tools that will enable them to succeed as they interact with the servicemembers of other countries and with "locals" in the area of operations.
    -The Army focuses on job aids and PDT with general culture- and country-specific information about history, language, and broad cultural norms.

    When Mr. Owen objects to cultural training and calls it "impossible", he makes a good point. However, the fact is that cultural training is a requirement of COIN, welcomed by servicemembers engaged in training local counterparts, and a permanent part of the operations planning process (the decisions for which are being made at much lower rank than they were even 5 years ago). Ship: sailed.

    So if cultural training is a given, what is the appropriate "training delivery required to deliver cultural competence to a post-modern Army"? It may be too late for you, but for me, the real issues are *not*:
    -the appropriateness of cultural training *at all*
    -education vs. training
    -cultural competence vs. cultural understanding vs. cultural awareness
    -or even the "correct" academic underpinning for interpretation of cultural facts.
    Instead, I wonder if the correct way to deliver the best cultural training is through computer simulation (online gaming? Second Life? individual scenarios?), practical exercises, classroom study, or some other method.

    I have a lot of resources for you, and will DM you on this.
    Maimonides: "Consider this, those of you who are engaged in investigation, if you choose to seek truth. Cast aside passion, accepted thought, and the inclination toward what you used to esteem, and you shall not be lead into error."

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Another hint

    Commando Spirit,

    Try 'TT' aka Terry Terriff, who has studied the USMC adaption and is now in Calgary IIRC. Occassional poster, so maybe worth emailing and a PM. Google him to find if my memory is off target and his bio has: Conduct research on change in military organizations. Most recent work has been on military change in the US Marine Corps.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 12-14-2009 at 10:47 PM. Reason: Clarify SWC name and add last sentence
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Surferbeetle's Avatar
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    CS,

    Welcome.

    You pose some interesting questions, and its good to see that the British Army finds them worthy of institutional support. Now if we could just get the US Army to get serious about them as well

    Quote Originally Posted by Commando Spirit View Post
    My intention is to look at the training delivery required to deliver cultural competence to a post-modern Army.

    Why this?
    Understanding different cultures enable societies to effectively interact with one another in mutually beneficial/productive ways. The flip side of this understanding allows security folks to efficiently find, target, and destroy opposition.

    Quote Originally Posted by Commando Spirit View Post
    Time being the good old ubiquitous constraint within the military where and when does this training take place? Should it be delivered as on the job training (OJT)? Or should there be bespoke courses provided for those that require it? At what stages throughout a military career should this training be delivered?
    IMHO it all starts with small group language training to be followed by a few years spent living 'on the economy' where the language must be used daily. Regular reassignments to the language area over the course of ones career are key to developing ones expertise and ability to add value. This presupposes a training infrastructure focused on language excellence and resourced institutional incentives and traditions which demonstrate that such skills are indeed valued.

    Daily bilingual, trilingual, or better training starting at the entrance levels of basic training, rotc, and the academies is where the rubber meets the road. Until that occurs things will be limited to case studies and continual education demonstrating the value of language/cultural training for today's decision makers/resource allocators. Much of the practicing Iraq/Afghanistan cohort has lived through the cost/benefit equation for language and culture and I suspect that as they continue to rise through the ranks we will see the needed changes...it's a slow process however.

    Regards,

    Steve
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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jenniferro10 View Post
    When Mr. Owen objects to cultural training and calls it "impossible", he makes a good point. However, the fact is that cultural training is a requirement of COIN, welcomed by servicemembers engaged in training local counterparts, and a permanent part of the operations planning process (the decisions for which are being made at much lower rank than they were even 5 years ago). Ship: sailed.
    I do not say it is impossible. I'm saying that like most things the "WOW-COIN" generation has stumbled across, the intent is good, but the execution and understanding, are usually either wrong or over stated.

    a.) What do we mean "culture?" - it's a woolly imprecise term of no actual use to soldiers, in the context it is being used.

    b.) The primary requirement is to teach soldiers how not to cause offence or make situations worse by being rude or disrespectful.

    c.) The British Army did this for 200 years and took it for granted, when and where it actually mattered, and it was done via local language training - in theatre, to officers.

    We're close to making "COIN" into a pseudo-science, (some already have) and we need to start getting rid of some of the rubbish attached to that. IMO, ditch the "cultural competence/understanding" stuff and instead boil it down to:

    • Language training (3 levels)
    • RELEVANT Local beliefs, customs and courtesies.


    Keep it simple and effective.
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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    Council Member Tom Odom's Avatar
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    We're close to making "COIN" into a pseudo-science, (some already have) and we need to start getting rid of some of the rubbish attached to that. IMO, ditch the "cultural competence/understanding" stuff and instead boil it down to:

    Language training (3 levels)
    RELEVANT Local beliefs, customs and courtesies.
    Wilf

    Stan and I were immersed in this stuff for decades. We still are. I agree that some take it too far. We need to tone it down to make it achievable and relevant. I have taught this on the platform and mentored it in the field.

    Local beliefs, customs, and courtesies are the exterior trappings of what is important. If you miss those it makes communication and understanding difficult. If you only teach those, you only get the dog's bark and not why the dog is barking.

    The basic rules to me remain:

    1. they don't think like you
    2. everything they do with, for, or to you is agenda driven

    I can then hang the language, customs, etc on the framework and start to understand the effects of these things, the reasons for them, and then the golden ring--what they are likely to do next.

    Best
    Tom

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    The basic rules to me remain:

    1. they don't think like you
    2. everything they do with, for, or to you is agenda driven
    If "agenda driven" begins to seem a negative quality, we do well to recall that everything we do with, for, or to them is also agenda driven and that their agenda is as compelling to them as ours is to us. In many cases their commitment to their agendas is likely to exceed ours; what's being done by both parties is being doen in their communities.

    I'd add one more rule:

    When you see people doing things that make no sense at all to you, don't assume that they are stupid or deranged. Assume instead that there is some element in the picture that you don't see... because there are always elements in the picture that you don't see.

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    Council Member Stan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    ... and then the golden ring--what they are likely to do next.

    Best
    Tom
    Dead on the mark, Tom !

    This I consider to be the singular indicator of true integration - Second guessing your adversary in his own back yard ! Tom and I would literally cruise around a population of 5 million as if not a care in the world - during a civil war, social and political upheaval.

    Well, we also liked the gunfire and watching the tracers every evening over a barbecue at Tom's was kinda neat too

    However, even with the best FAO training available and purported years of experience, some just didn't get it
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    Council Member William F. Owen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom Odom View Post
    We need to tone it down to make it achievable and relevant. I have taught this on the platform and mentored it in the field.
    My point and I concur 100%

    Local beliefs, customs, and courtesies are the exterior trappings of what is important. If you miss those it makes communication and understanding difficult. If you only teach those, you only get the dog's bark and not why the dog is barking.
    Well I assumed you would teach the "Why", not just the "How", because you again are 100%.

    My biggest take on this is yes, we do need to teach "common sense stuff." -cos it's not so common. - but I get annoyed when "common sense stuff," that needs pointing out, gets treated as "rocket science," and "discovery" - because its sets you for compounding the error every time. Folks love to pile on process.

    Going abroad? Some language and knowledge of customs maybe useful? No?
    Infinity Journal "I don't care if this works in practice. I want to see it work in theory!"

    - The job of the British Army out here is to kill or capture Communist Terrorists in Malaya.
    - If we can double the ratio of kills per contact, we will soon put an end to the shooting in Malaya.
    Sir Gerald Templer, foreword to the "Conduct of Anti-Terrorist Operations in Malaya," 1958 Edition

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