October 23, 2011

Do I Not Bleed?

"Tug-o-War" from NaviWorks Olympics. The thrill of victory and agony of defeat are universal across cultures.

Westerners and Vietnamese both like to ask me “How do you work with Vietnamese here?  Vietnamese are so different from Americans!”  Then they look at me expectantly, thinking I’ll spin some story about how inscrutable and mysterious Vietnamese people are.

This question always reminds me of Shylock’s speech in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” [I’ve taken a few liberties to suit the context.]

“Hath not an American eyes? Hath not an American hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer as a Vietnamese is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?  If you poison us, do we not die?”

I’ve found that Americans and Vietnamese are 95% the same in our humanity and only 5% different in our culture.  We only think that we’re night and day because we focus on the small differences and ignore the big similarities.

In all the important ways we’re 100% the same.  We both like to feel like an important part of a team.  We both like to feel appreciated.  We both find meaning in an achievement won through hard work and sacrifice.  We both want to feel like we’re constantly learning and moving forward in our careers.

These qualities are not American.  They are not Vietnamese.  They are human.

We all bleed.

So my answer to the question is always “I find that people here are exactly like they are in America.”