Rolling with it: What Kevin Rudd, Matt and Brother Orange can teach us about international relations.

By Grant Hall.  Founder of League Cultural Diplomacy

The video above is about the international bromance story of Matt and Brother Orange. Have you read or heard about it?

It’s a true story, or at least I hope it is, about an American man (Matt) who had his phone stolen in New York.  His phone made its way to China, but Matt kept receiving pictures taken by the phones new owner, who often posed for photos in front of an orange tree.  Matt wrote a piece for Buzzfeed.com about it and within days, his piece had been translated into Chinese and gone viral, with thousands of Chinese people joining the search to find the orange tree man, who they named ‘Brother Orange’.  Because it’s a blast, you should read the full story, but to condense it, Brother Orange was found and Matt went to China to meet him, then they formed a life-long friendship and became famous.

It’s a wonderful, hilarious and heart-warming tale. You can read it here.

There’s much to be learned from the story of Matt and Brother Orange.  For people who work across borders or cultures, Matt’s attitude towards his visit to China and the people he meets provides a few hints as to how to succeed in relationship building in foreign lands, which is a prerequisite for doing business in many countries.  There are also more important lessons that can be learned for building world peace.

When Matt arrived in China, he was surprised with a superstar welcome that met him at the airport.  Hundreds of fans and a huge media contingent were in attendance to witness Matt meeting Brother Orange for the first time.  As the photographs show, Matt looks completely surprised and bewildered.  But then the story gets crazier; in the days following, Matt and Brother Orange travel around, with a huge media throng following and reporting on their every moment.  They have press conferences and photo opportunities to attend, there are famous sports stars to meet and important historic and geographic sites to visit; it’s a whirlwind trip.  Most of the time Matt isn’t really sure of where he is going, what he is doing, who he is meeting, the significance of the places he visits or the gifts and honors that are bestowed upon him; but he rolls with it with a permanent smile on his face.  During this time, Matt and Brother Orange bond through the shared experience of new found celebrity, and become friends.

Most people who work abroad or across cultures will have a favourite “crazy” story they often retell about a time where they found themselves in an unusual or uncomfortable situation brought about by cultural differences.  When I commenced a stint of lecturing at a university in Vietnam, I was asked to sing a song in front of about five-hundred students, impromptu! At first I thought it was a joke, but then the students started stomping their feet and chanting “sing a song, sing a song”; I had no choice, I took the microphone and sang Hello by Lionel Ritchie.  I’ve heard some really good “crazy” stories, but perhaps Matt’s stolen phone story is the best.

What Matt showed during his visit to China was the importance of ‘rolling with it’.  If you want to succeed in working across international borders and cultures, you will find yourself in some bizarre circumstances.  If you want to succeed, you’ll often have to go with the flow.  Matt found himself in a bizarre set of circumstances but rolled with it, and the Chinese people loved him.

I’ve met expats working in Asia who say things like, “I’m not eating that”, or “I’m not doing that” in front of their hosts.  Needless to say, those people didn’t last too long.  If you want to work abroad, go with the flow!  Rolling with it is learning in action and personal development, but that’s a post for another day.

Just yesterday, I watched the TED Talk by Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia titled Are China and US doomed to conflict?  (see video below)Rudd says that ‘history is against us when it comes to the US and China forging a common future together’.  He discusses the Thucydides Trap, the concept that war is inevitable where there is a rising power threatening to take the dominant position from an established great power.  He points to research being undertaken by Graham T. Allison of the Kennedy School in Boston whose research ‘explored 15 cases in history since the fifteen-hundreds to establish what the precedents are’ when considering the likeliness of Thucydides Trap occurring in regards to China and the US.  Allison’s research revealed that in ‘eleven out of the fifteen’ cases examined, the situation ‘ended in catastrophic war’.

Rudd’s talk is worth watching for the enlightening historical perspectives he brings, the humorous stories and perhaps most beneficially, the brief synopsis he provides about some of the main points of contention in US/China relations.

After listing the “deep rooted feelings” and points of contention between the two nations he asks ‘how can we craft a basis for a common future between these two?’ before very briefly laying out his vision for how conflict between China and the US can be prevented.

His vision begins well, suggesting a ‘framework of constructive realism for a common purpose’ that ‘takes a management approach which doesn’t allow any of the differences to break into war or conflict until we’ve acquired the diplomatic skills to solve them’.  As he continues to outline his vision he increasingly sounds like a typical politician, outlining the need for policy frameworks and creating more institutions.  But then his focus pivots; he then talks about some of the people-to-people links that grew between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in the wake of The Apology that he made to Australia’s Indigenous people in 2008.  To my mind, the forging of people-to-people links, as Matt and Brother Orange demonstrated, is one of the keys to unlocking world peace.

I’ve lived in places that have been affected by violent conflict.  I currently live in Vietnam and spent three years living in Northern Ireland.  Throughout my life, work and travels I have had many opportunities to meet people who have lived through, fought or fled from war, and the more I travel and spend time in other countries, the more I learn that pretty much everyone wants the same things in life.  Everyone wants to provide food, shelter and education for their families, and basically be left alone to do their own thing.

The problem with war is that it messes everything up for regular people; a “right” that war has assumed for itself. War is often waged by groups who rarely reflect the will of the people they claim to represent.  In my experience, just like with Matt and Brother Orange, when people of different cultures are left to their own devices, they generally all get along, regardless of any points of contention their respective governments might hold against each other.  Usually this starts with finding some common ground, like the enjoyment of food, the arts or sport.  It’s governments and warmongers who set out to divide people to pursue their own agenda, which is usually to boost their own egos, access to privilege or to finances.

As Kevin Rudd says towards the end of his TED Talk, and as Matt and Brother Orange have shown, ‘sometimes, folks, we just need to take a leap of faith, not quite knowing where we might land’.

Let’s roll with it!

If you liked this post you might also like Why I named my blog ‘where words fail’ or checkout our blogroll.

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photo credit: Chopper via photopin (license)

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