A few weeks ago, our one-and-a-half years old grandson recovered from the usual cough and cold afflicting most people this season, before returning to his daycare that he loves. On this morning however, as his father prepared to drop him off young R bawled his eyes out and refused to go in. The reason became obvious to all. The two regular staff members who take care of R each day were away sick and a replacement staff member was at the door to welcome the little guy. He would have none of it initially, but eventually relented as the young lady won him over and he toddled over into her waiting arms.
I guess all of us develop our own comfort zone and coping mechanisms to counter unknown or unfamiliar terrain. Whether it is the act of landing in a new country, walking into a work meeting or an interview, or entering a party venue full of unfamiliar guests we look out for someone or something familiar that could give us a sense of comfort and security. You can probably recall several instances when you felt “insecure,” “exposed” or “nervous.” Then, your eyes alight on someone who appears more welcoming than the others. It is perhaps the beginning of a smile on their lips, the warmth in their gaze that offers understanding or simply a welcoming gesture that connects you to them. Something inside propels you forward. Even if hesitantly, you gravitate towards such a person, a complete stranger. This is an interesting dynamic and one that we do not usually stop to think about.
These days we have various life/executive coaches who are able to provide sound guidance and mentoring. One such person told me several years ago that to “break the ice” it was up to me to first make the other person feel comfortable before I could expect a reciprocal response. I have always followed this sound advice and in one of my earlier blogs (A Glass Half Full – August 27, 2016) had related my own experience in this context.
Being one of the many “earlier arrivals,” I am regularly approached by a number of newcomers to Canada, especially those arriving from South Asia, to seek “survival and settlement” advice. As a general rule, most of them arrive with preconceived ideas gleaned from family or friends and social media – be prepared to rough it out; expect discrimination or worse, racism; stick to your own kind (“community”); take any type of job to survive; do not expect to get a job without an “insider” contact etc. There are also other folk, especially those more recently landed in Canada who are self-confident and while prepared for a rough period initially, are willing to reincarnate in the image that could meet the expectations of their target audience. These individuals are generally speaking, able to not just land a job but very quickly find one commensurate with their experience and interest in the industry or sector of choice.
I recall using a Cricket analogy some years ago in a presentation to a gathering of Internationally Educated Professionals newly landed in Canada. Cricket is played in 125 countries including the Commonwealth and while Canada is a part of this group, most Canadians are unaware that our first Prime Minister Sir John MacDonald had declared cricket the National Sport of Canada in 1867! Canadians are ice hockey lovers and know very little if anything, about cricket. Therefore, if cricket lovers arriving here stick to talking about their own “comfort zone” topic of googly, leg-before-wicket and sixers, it would leave most Canadians confounded! We must try to understand the other person’s mindset and approach them accordingly, to get their attention. As a typical example, special effort is required to familiarize others with say, South Asian names that people educated in Canada and used to phonetic spelling, may find difficult to spell or pronounce. Being polite, most Canadians are mindful not to cause offence by improperly addressing another person. This reservation could be easily misconstrued by a newcomer likely to be distraught, in an unfamiliar alien environment.
I discovered this very early in my interaction with people in Canada. Most people would find it difficult to spell or pronounce my name. So, I started introducing myself by saying, “My name is Pankaj. But, just to confuse you the vowel “a” is pronounced as in “up.” So, to correctly enunciate my name, please picture a punk rocker with coloured spiky hair. And that’s how you say my name – “punk” ending with “uj” instead of “ugh!” It proved a perfect ice-breaker and suddenly everyone in the room would visibly relax and smile as they were no longer afraid of committing a faux-pas with my name. It provided strangers the confidence that I would not be offended by any misspeak on their part. It also exhibited a level of confidence on my part, even if inwardly I was nervous! Even when I meet someone now, several years after our first encounter, most people recall my name with a chuckle. I could not have asked for a better calling card that served well as a conversation starter!
It is always easier I think, to create a welcoming environment and invite others to join in rather than seek a breach in another’s comfort zone and try to elbow in.
Like all else, this world is not a perfect place. Famous Urdu poet Nida Fazli’s ghazal beautifully sung by Bhupinder reminds us that:
Kabhii kissii ko mukammal jahaan nahiin miltaa
Kahiin zamiin kahiin aasmaan nahiin miltaa
Jisse bhi dekhiye who apne aap mein gum hai
Zubaan milii hai magar hum-zubaan nahiin miltaa ….
[We do not ever find the complete/perfect world
We cannot get (inherit) the earth somewhere and somewhere the sky is unobtainable
If you watch, every single person is lost in her/his own world
(While) we have the tongue (language), we cannot find anyone (to converse) with in the same voice/mother tongue ….]