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15 September 2016


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Dead right, Phil. The best advice I received prior to my departure for PNG was to keep my ears open and my mouth shut tight for at least the first six months. Regrettably, in my youthful ignorance, I ignored it and shut my ears and opened my mouth, far too frequently - much to the understandable chagrin of those who were trying to mentor me.

And, like you, I have learnt so much more in recent times from our PNG writer colleagues - and to treasure the friendships I now have with Baka, Marlene, Busa and, more recently, Rashmii.

Hi Phil,

It was Michael Foot who said "Men of power claim they have no time to read; yet men who do not read are unfit for power"

I am trying to help a Sepik lady who hopes to stand at the next election. I felt she was being highly critical of the politician who appears to have been the best at his job in the Sepik over the past few years. I felt this was a wrong tactic.
But it turns out that the politician is a relative and she was only trying to help him realize where he had gone wrong. Ha!
It is going to be interesting being a "fly on the wall" during the lead up to the next election.

It's a pity it takes half a lifetime to come to the conclusions that you have outlined Ed.

It's also a pity that we didn't have anyone to teach us those things when we were young. Then again, we wouldn't have listened, would we?

I think I've learned more about PNG in the time I have interacted with its writers than any other time before that. That came not only from just talking to them but much more so by reading what they wrote, the poetry, the essays and the fiction. It's another case of getting back more than you put in.

Having lived and/or worked within several other cultures – Papua New Guinean, Scots, Aboriginal Australian, Chinese, Hong Kong and Japanese during the past 50 years I have learnt, sometimes the hard way, three valuable lessons.

All should have been glaringly obvious from the outset and it is only with maturity that I realized that it was a combination of youthful conceit, arrogance and an overweening sense of superiority that prevented me from learning those lessons earlier in life.

The first lesson was humility: accepting that I, and my culture are no better than or superior to any other.

The second lesson, closely related to the first, was respect: to have due regard, without undue judgment, for ‘the other’ and their culture.

The third lesson was to be myself, to be true to myself and my values – and, emphatically, to avoid the pretence that I truly understand ‘the other’, or worse, to try to be 'the other'.

We may learn to appreciate and even understand some of the social artefects and behaviours of ‘the other’: bowing when greeting a Japanese; holding your glass lower than everyone else’s when toasting a group of Chinese; not greeting a Moslem woman with a handshake, and so on.

We may learn to speak their language with near-native fluency.

But to assume that we truly understand ‘the other’ and, especially, they way they think is, in my view, the ultimate conceit.

And this holds, of course, in the reverse.

Dear Phil,

This is an extremely interesting discussion and it reflects and aligns with David Snowden's philosophy and the Cynefin framework. Cynefin is of Celtic origin and actually means place of multiple belongings.

All too often we search for an illusive cause-effect relationship, which results in an oversimplification of a particular problem and we apply Occam's razor to defend our reductionist approach.

However, there is often extremely fine line between operating in a simple domain and it becoming chaotic. I am sure we have all experienced this in PNG and the chaos occurs because we fail to account for entrenched cultural issues, Moreover, recovery from a chaotic situation is extremely difficult and expensive.

The following link provides an introduction to David Snowden's Cynefin Framework. It is worth viewing and may account for many of the frustrations we encounter when dealing with other cultures:

You have picked up an important concept. Since 2013 I have been embedded in the Facebook Forums in the Sepik. There are many of them now.

When I first arrived they were mainly telling each other off, in pidgin, and with plenty of swearing. Now there is a growing trend to write in English and to be constructive in their comments. They have learnt how to analyse things and think about all the development topics that come up.

New ones are flourishing, set up by people like Dr Tony Deklin, where people who are highly trained in various fields will post excellent articles and have a good learned discussion.

I'm sure this is the lesson that PNG writers have learnt from PNG Attitude. I notice my Sepiks sometimes quoting articles from PNG Attitude.

After my 13 years in PNG I think I have the ability to think like they do on many topics but it is different from the way most Australians may think. I do not claim to be an expert but I keep trying to understand how they come up with their views on life.

Sometimes I can see where I feel they are wrong in their logic and offer my views. Most times they will listen to me and argue things out in a logical way.

I really enjoy Facebook where you can be debating with people on a Facebook page while at the same time you can be having a private chat with someone else about the same topic on the Chat line. And it is almost instantaneous! Quicker than email! Unbelievable!

Well, I'm not saying I'm an expert yet but I probably have a "split personality" these days... half Sepik and half Aussie! Ha! Lukim yu!

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