On the surface, one might think Roberto Alvim was simply a partisan political appointee put in a cushy position overseeing culture for the country’s Ministry of Tourism.
Mr. Alvim, however, was no culture novice. He is a well-known and accomplished theatre director who even served as Head Director of Ceacen, Center of Performing Arts, in the National Foundation of the Arts.
In a recent speech to promote the arts in Brazil, he echoed the words of the infamous Joseph Goebbels.
Here is a comparison between his words and those of Goebbels.
The German art of the next decade will be heroic, it will be steely-romantic, it will be factual and completely free of sentimentality, it will be national will great pathos and binding, or it will be nothing.
— Joseph Goebbels
The Brazilian art of the next decade will be heroic and will be national, will be endowed with great capacity for emotional involvement… deeply linked to the urgent aspirations of our people, or else it will be nothing.
— Roberto Alvim
Pretty similar. Of course, Mr. Alvim called it “rhetorical coincidence” and said too much was being made of it and that he was not channeling the words of the Nazi Propaganda minister.
And, of course, it didn’t help that he used a soundtrack that was taken from German composer Wagner’s Lohengrin in his six-minute video .
This was the result.
This is the point.
If the culture minister of a G20 Country can get fired for committing a culturally unacceptable mistake, what does that say for the rest of us? Frankly, we’re all at risk. It only takes one cultural misstep in today’s culturally charged world to create career chaos. Below are three lessons we should all seriously consider so we don’t suffer the same fate.
- Intent doesn’t matter.
None of us have any way of knowing whether Mr. Alvim was channeling Goebbels or not. He says he wasn’t. The fact is it doesn’t matter because, in today’s culturally complex world, social media dictates that things happen far too quickly to save ourselves. We must all understand that “I didn’t mean it” or “That’s not what I intended,” and much less, “I’m sorry and will try to do better next time” don’t matter. Social pressure is too intense, and culture activists are too influential and desirous of making examples of people who commit what they deem to be cultural mistakes.
- What’s inside of you will come out.
Leaders must understand this basic fact. From the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Sooner or later, whatever is inside of us will come out. It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when. And when it does, if our viewpoint is not correctly expressed or rejected by culture warriors, it has the power to destroy you and your career. This is why I encourage all leaders to do the deeply personal work of developing a healthy cultural mindset and skill set. It’s just not an optional exercise in today’s world.
- Position doesn’t provide protection.If this can happen to the Culture Minister of an important country who has a strong background in the arts and culture, it can happen to any of us, and I include myself here. I am cautious with my words and writings publicly because culture is my field. I can’t afford to mess this up, and nor can you. I recently spoke with a woman who is a Diversity and Inclusion leader in a large American company who used a picture in a presentation and afterward went through a great deal of grief because that picture offended someone in the audience. She had no idea that the image was offensive. But that didn’t matter.
How many people can you think of who have lost their jobs or public image due to doing or saying something that was deemed culturally unacceptable? I can think of many, many examples. Famous names like Paula Dean, Michael Richards (Kramer), Mel Gibson, Donald Sterling (NBA Owner), Papa John Schnatter, Tom Brokaw, and the list goes on and on. And those are the ones we hear about because they are famous. Every day people are reprimanded or fired in organizations for saying and doing culturally unacceptable things.
And, sadly, you, or I, could be next if we do not do the necessary work to develop a healthy cultural mindset and skill set that will insulate ourselves against these types of mistakes. This work is both cognitive and emotive. It is not just a mental exercise, it is also a heart exercise. It takes an open mind and heart, as well as a great training process to reset our cultural mindsets and skill sets. For a deeper awareness and understanding of this process, I would invite you to read my book, The 6 Stages of Cultural Mastery. In addition to expanding your influence with people of diverse cultures, it may just save your career!