Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 17.31.17

The island of  Ireland, number 19 (out of 100), country number 16 (out of 25), month number 18 (out of 100.)

“Companies in Ireland will only pay for a speaker if he or she is flown in from overseas.”

This I was told by numerous people when I was invited to Dublin to speak at the Professional Speakers Association of Ireland.

The reason for foreigners being paid was, apparently, not that they were “better”, but because they were “foreigners”.

Or perhaps more precisely because they are perceived to be better because they are foreigners.

I find that this behaviour is common in many parts of the world, it was true in China when I was living there, it is true in Singapore (where I am living now), and it is true in my native Sweden, for example

(The notable exception would be the USA where clients are somehow inclined to pay more for their own speakers than for foreigners flying in.)

Many speakers I meet seem annoyed and/or frustrated about this fact.

Personally, I like it.

The idea that thoughts and ideas from foreign lands are worth paying more for is a welcome break from the notion that local ideas are somehow better.

Ireland is one of those islands in the world where the opinion about “our ideas are best” has created a lot of suffering. The fight between Protestants and Catholics has created a country split in two. At least the violence that used to rock the island has subsided.

With the new Brexit vote a new potential conflict might occur, that between “EU is good to be part of” and “EU is bad to be part of” where they have to figure out how to resolve the issue of a EU border going straight through this green and friendly island.

The Idea of “we are right, they are wrong” fascinates me.

I recently did an interview with a professional speaker and teacher based in Hong Kong who told me that he had asked his students: “Was Hong Kong better run during the British or during the Chinese?”

The class was split 50/50.

He then asked: “How many of you have a different opinion about this issue than your parents have?”

Not a single student raised a hand…

The bias about “right”, of “good ideas” is pushed upon us from our society, our families, or culture etc and this “invisible influence” is so strong and so subtle that most of us do not understand that it is pushing us to what we should think.

One of the most eye-opening events I have experienced was a seemingly simple observation that happened to be when I lived in Beijing China.

I moved to China as a single 37 year old man, without knowing anyone in China. I arrived in a country where I did not speak the language, did not know the culture, and did not have any friends (local or Swedish).

Before I managed to build up a social life I lived a quite isolated life which meant many meals by myself in restaurants where I was the only non-chinese speaking person.

And I noticed something interesting: Often when I ordered a dish they would serve me the food and then give me a fork, a knife, a spoon and a couple of chop sticks.

All the locals just got chop sticks.

For the first time in my life I would eat a meal and not have a cultural bias on how this meal “should” be eaten.

This small, brain twister of an experience got me to realise how many things in life we do thinking that we are making an individual and conscious decision – when in fact we are just being lured into that feeling by surrounding cultural pressure.

Most of the time we are just a sheep in the herd.

People used to ask me if it was not difficult to live in China when I was cut off from my culture in such a abrupt and strong way.

I way the opposite: It was never easier to know who I (!) was, then when I just had arrived in Beijing. My Swedish “bubble” was gone and I had not yet been absorbed by the Chinese “bubble”.

I was making decisions based on what I wanted. Not what was deemed right by the surrounding culture.

And that is why I, since then, have been spending so much time actively traveling the world and get to see as many different ways of looking at the world, of many different ways of thinking what is “right”.

Today I did it in Dublin, Ireland, because the local Irish speakers wanted to have the perspective of a global speaker from a Swedish man living in Singapore. (But no, I did not get paid more because I was a foreigner at this specific event. I actually did not get paid at all. When you speak at speaker events you do it for free to give back to the speaking community.)

Speaking for speakers in Ireland got me thinking about our tendency to sometimes think that foreign ideas are worse, and sometimes think that foreign ideas are superior. I wish we would just look at ideas as ideas and judge them on their creative merit, not their geographic origin.

Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life. The island of Ireland was island number 19, country number 16 and month number 18. (Countries visited so far: China, Sweden, Maldives, Austria, Nigeria, Vietnam, Egypt, Indonesia, USA, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, India, Mauritius, United Kingdom and Ireland.)