One of the most profound performances that I have ever experienced in my life was Colm Wilkinson’s rendition of “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables.
The story of redemption, love, and the human spirit in the face of adversity resonated deeply with me as someone who comes from a nation whose heritage has an unfortunate and painful history of fighting for freedom.
Over the last year, as so many young Ukrainian lives were taken in the unjust war that Russia escalated in Ukraine, I became even more emotional when experiencing this musical.
But that specific moment, Valjean’s heartfelt prayer to God asking Him to protect and spare young Marius’s life, and bring him home, hit me especially hard at that time.
Perhaps it was because I was a new immigrant to Canada then, and any mention of “Returning Home” made my heart ache.
As a cross-cultural coach, I spend a lot of time reading, having discussions, and reflecting on the meaning of home for all of us across the globe. What I observe is very interesting and revealing.
While many people associate their home with “where their heart is,” equally many associate the concept of home with the place itself, even if they were not born there and inherited that feeling of home from their ancestors.
My own Ukrainian community can be a vivid example of this. On my life journey, I have met many amazing Ukrainians who were born outside of our motherland and rarely visit it but undoubtedly consider Ukraine to be a “home” and deeply cherish everything that represents our heritage.
Many around the world cannot understand why Ukrainians care so much about a “piece of land” in this brutal war. I frequently get the question: Would it not make more sense to give up land to save human lives? My response to all of you thinking the same: No, it would not. Because you see it as land, and to us, it’s HOME.
In his recent book “Digital, Diverse and Divided,” David Livermore shares insight that “Westerners treat the idea of home fluidly… We might feel nostalgic about where we grew up, but our identity is not as strongly linked to geography,” states the author. Only 13% of Australians, 21% of Canadians, and 32% of Americans say that where they were born is extremely important to them. But for many people around the world, home isn’t just where you are; it’s who you are and the people you trust.”
I felt deeply touched by the example in the book when the author describes how a Sudanese woman longs for the smells and sounds of the Nile River and refers to the Moon as the only thing that seems to be in common with “home” and stars at it every night. The Moon is a “tool” that I often use in my work with immigrant families that are separated. Looking at and “talking” to the same Moon helps people feel togetherness during times of separation.
Throughout history, places have held varying significance across cultures, often shaping traditions, beliefs, and social structures. Our connection to a place plays a crucial role in shaping our identity, often influencing our sense of belonging, values, and self-perception.
To indigenous people, connection to their land is central to their identity, and unless we all understand deeply on a personal level that the land is home for these communities, no one official Land Acknowledgement will be good enough.
Why have I decided to share these thoughts today?
Because, as usual, I want you to:
a) become culturally curious and open your hearts and minds to different ways of seeing, feeling and experiencing this world.
b) think again about what flexibility in the workplaces might mean to your diverse employees.
In general, in Ontario and Canada, employees need to work for their employer for at least 5 years to be eligible for three weeks and 10 years to be eligible for four weeks of vacation.
Many immigrants need longer time off in a row to travel HOME. Instead, we often offer them rigid policies on “flexibility” and, in the best case scenario, Fridays working from home.
Ten years of waiting to come home.
Centuries of waiting to come home…
Would you manage that well?
The role of place across cultures is profound and multifaceted, shaping everything from spiritual beliefs and identities to cultural practices and social structures. By recognizing the power of place, we can better understand the rich tapestry of human experience and the diverse ways in which our environments influence our lives.
As we continue to navigate an increasingly interconnected world, fostering an appreciation for the significance of place can contribute to a deeper understanding and respect for the myriad of cultures that make up our global community.
As global citizens, we must appreciate and learn from the uniqueness and diversity that place brings to our lives. By doing so, we can foster a more inclusive and empathetic world, where cultural exchange and understanding flourish. By taking the time to explore the significance of place across cultures, we are reminded of the interconnectedness of humanity and the shared experiences that unite us, despite our differences.
I wish you to be at home – whatever HOME means to you – land, place, person, road, or any other beautiful something.
It feels good.
*At Quiet Tenacity, we believe that a successful future requires cultural curiosity. Every business is a people business, and every person in a business brings their own unique cultural beliefs. These beliefs have the potential to inspire or create misunderstandings and conflicts. That’s why we’re here to help you develop your cultural intelligence, whether it’s in your personal or professional life: on your team, in your organization, in your community, or in your country.
We all operate in the global environment now. Are you ready with your global skills?