There are two toilets on the 1st floor of the building where I often deliver cultural responsiveness trainings. Both toilets are available for everyone to use, they are spacious, have automatic doors, handrails and other aids, and are well equipped for people with disabilities.
One day during a break, just a few minutes before resuming the training, I quickly found my way to the toilet.
I hurriedly pressed the green, palm-sized button to open the door. The door was automated and started to open inwards. I slid myself inside and turned around to lock the door, but the door was still in the process of opening fully.
After a while, “Click”, the door finally opened fully, and then after a brief pause started to close.
“Why didn’t you close it manually?” some may ask. Of course, I tried before in the past, and I know that doesn’t work with this toilet. You need to wait for it to close automatically.
I stared from the door that was closing extremely slowly, to the black palm-sized lock button and to a sign that read You can only lock the door when the door is completely shut.
I thought, “I should have gone to the toilet downstairs, there are so many compartments, it would have been much faster than this. I shouldn’t have said to the participants to come back from their break according to Japanese time, in other words, to be punctual (before the break we were talking about different time orientations across cultures).
The door was taking its sweet time to close. I felt anxious and a little frustrated, I also had to fight the temptation to unbutton my pants to get ready. “The door is still open I can’t do that.” I thought myself. I took a deep breath and exhaled. “Click”, I heard the sound; the door was finally closed. I quickly sat down on the toilet and then realised I didn’t press the black button to lock the door, the green light was still blinking at me. I quickly reached out to the button and locked it, luckily the button was reachable from where I was. “I am safe”, I thought.
I hastily finished and was washing my hands in a rush to quickly go back to the training room where all the participants would already be. Then came an “Aha”, yes, I got it. It was one of those light bulb moments. I was a little annoyed with myself but also had to laugh. This toilet was such a great cultural responsiveness training ground! Why couldn’t I even wait the extra few seconds peacefully and calmly for the door to open and close??? I couldn’t even wait for the door so how could I possibly manage to allow time to notice signs and signals that indicate cultural differences and see things from different perspectives.
Our days are busy. We are constantly doing things, one after another and pressed for time. Just waiting for a few extra seconds for the toilet door, or the lift to open and close becomes a nuisance. However, with the same extra seconds, we have a chance to step away from our default programming of behaviours. If we manage to allow the extra seconds calmly and peacefully, it makes a crucial difference in navigating cultural complexities. Those extra seconds determines how interculturally responsive we can be. It impacts human interaction.
In cultural responsiveness training, I often say to people to have a moment of doubt about what they see and what they think and to check if what they think is the truth and explore different perspectives. We badly need the mindful extra seconds to manage cultural diversity.
I pressed the black button to unlock the door and then the green button to open the door. This time I calmly waited for the door to open before leaving. Steadily and joyfully, I walked to the training room. I was in the room one minute before the starting time.
I naturally shared the story with the participants and suggested them to go to the toilet before leaving the training.
Head to the toilet on the 1st floor in Hillview Intercultural Community Centre in Bentley WA for a free quick cultural responsiveness training. You will know exactly what I am talking about. I need to go there more often.
P.S. Some mentioned that it can be unpleasant for some people to talk about things like toilets. However, I feel that the toilet is an example of our everyday life that we don’t even give any attention to. Noticing differences in everyday behaviours/patterns requires mindfulness and sensitivity. Bringing unconsciousness to a conscious level is crucial in intercultural competency development and innovation.
Rika Asaoka from Language and Culture harmonises and unifies people in the workplace and communities. She provides interactive workshops, trainings, facilitation and mediation on Intercultural Effectiveness. Her facilitation style is known to leave a lasting impression on participants. Also as an Intercultural Readiness Check Licensee, Rika is certified to use the IRC, a powerful internationally recognised tool for improving intercultural effectiveness.