On cultural bridges – Peggy Liu

I’ve been meaning to comment on this video for a while, as it really has brought back some inspiration on what potential direction to go in life.

For me, I have many interests: I’m a city planner, with a focus on transportation planning, urban design, and community participation.

But, I am constantly reading on sites about graphic design, fashion design, (I am not an expert in these fields) sustainable agriculture, mapping, Chinese contemporary society, Chinese art and traditional music.

A lot of the world’s problems require multi-diciplinary perspectives. Often times, everybody has their own idea of how to change the world. However, without context from other professions, you are left with bubbles; solving the world’s problems are complex and often times you need to have more than one perspective.

An engineer will be great at understanding how things work, but without the policy/market perspective, it becomes challenging. Similarly, dealing with global warming issues with China require cross-global  collaboration. In order to establish that, you really need trust. Trust brings people together; that is extremely difficult to build, and this takes much time.

I need to emphasize this further; if you don’t have trust, if there’s some doubt, a project’s direction or plan can derail.

The phrase cultural bridges really excites me because we need more of that. Everybody has different ways of viewing the world. This also means you have to, as Peggy says, “understand different motivations of different people”.

However, I wish there were more articles discussing how to establish trust using cultural bridges.

The question Liu poses is what industries and jobs can bridge different perspectives together? How to train cross-cultural conveners?

Can I make a stab at this?

It seems that a cross-cultural convener is somebody who has a lot of different interests, is aware of a lot of different things (i.e. generalist), and is able to communicate this to different audiences.

I believe a cross-cultural convener is somebody who has a lot of empathy, asks questions that help bridge people together, is a great story-teller, know how to build trust through social events, activities that are cross-sector, multi-national.

How can you make this a business? Or, if you aren’t that into being specifically an entrepreneur,  how do you make this into a job? For small businesses, how is this not only profitable but also sustainable?

I haven’t figured out this question, but I guess for me, I’ve thought about how I could apply this to my profession as a city planner. I believe that I have to be able to engage different perspectives and develop consensus based on good context.

I’ve thought a bit about becoming a freelance journalist in China (with a focus on urban development issues) while teaching English in China. I believe that I should really expose myself in the world and try out different things before I actually practice city planning. I want to take my time, reflect, and be really good at my craft before coming back and being a city planner. This really involves understanding how to make a sustainable city from a lot of perspectives: economics, energy, environmental science, housing, transportation, marketing, advertising, psychology. This also means actively talking to these groups, teaching them (or through practice) how to communicate their ideas to others in a way that takes into account different people’s motivations. A advertising agency must understand the motivation of a sustainable goods consultant if they want to encourage healthy consumption.

I personally think this takes a lot of practice. Are their companies, teachers, professors willing to hire people to train this sort of cultural-bridge making? (For example, can I be a teacher that offers classes on cultural-bridge making for companies who are interested in investing or doing projects in China?) You really have to practice and discipline yourself to understand other people’s motivations (something I learned in a liberal arts education such as in urban studies). This really takes a lot of friendship building, finding common values. It takes a lot of time.

Can cultural bridge teachers, radio broadcasters (Sinica), culinary tourism organizations help build this? What about leaders in small firms who are able to interpret a client’s motivation? The mediators? What about artists, graphic communicators, people who are in charge of meetings with people from different professions? What about musicians, small restaurant catering services and event planners who coordinate activities just to do cultural bridge making?

I don’t know if I have a answer to this question.


For me, my medium is using art to communicate different ideas across different professions, and let that art provide dialogue, understanding of different motivations.

Any thoughts?

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