We are all icebergs. There are aspects of us that are visible and identifiable, and aspects of us that are not. Did you know that 89 per cent of an iceberg is below water level? We only see 11 per cent.
Why should we think of ourselves and others as icebergs?
Let’s take a look at the tip. It’s easy for others to see our gender (maybe), our race (maybe), the colour of our eyes/hair/skin, the place where we live. The language we speak may reflect the culture we come from, perhaps where we were born. Also visible are the food we eat, the holidays we celebrate, the work we do to earn a living. People may see the things we enjoy doing at play, if they take place in public.
The things we don’t see, however, affect the way we perceive each other, whether the way we get along together, or not. The iceberg underneath the water line can contain cultural and spiritual beliefs, memories, family roles, child rearing practices, core values, expectations, personal space, notions of modesty, approaches to health and medicine, concepts of justice, work ethic, perceptions of humour, lived experiences, education, expertise, biases, beliefs, assumptions, world views, and needs. We can’t see those.
How often do we engage with someone or write them off as not worthy of our attention, interest or concern based on the visible 11 per cent of who they are? How much are we missing in life through lack of curiosity and interest in what lies beneath the surface of the people around us?
Lillooet Restorative Justice recently held a facilitator training during which we included a section on cross-cultural communication. We talked about the challenge of “cultural/personal icebergs” that we encounter when working with other people in mixed groups.
We also explored the concept of emotional “triggers.” Emotional triggers are people, words, opinions, or situations that provoke an intense and excessive emotional reaction within us.
Virtually anything can trigger us depending on our beliefs, values, and earlier life experiences, most of which lie beneath the waterline of our icebergs. Anything can be an emotional trigger.
In our training, we asked participants to fill out their own personal icebergs. What are the things that people see in the 11 per cent of them that is above the waterline? What are the things below the waterline that affect how people see and relate to them? How many of their personal triggers relate to their own hidden iceberg or that of others?
More importantly, how can we be aware that every person is his or her own iceberg, bringing a huge amount of invisible content into every encounter? How can we remain open and curious about where others are coming from, so that we can learn from them, understand them better and appreciate where they are coming from?
I wonder what would happen if everyone who reads this column would draw their own personal iceberg and think about those of others.