There’s currently a huge opportunity for Wales to increase its international profile, ready for the taking. All we need to do is turn the druidic vision of 18th century Welsh polymath and poetic genius Iolo Morganwg into reality. ‘Cultural intelligence’ – the ability to communicate and work effectively across cultures – is a booming field nowadays.
Cultural intelligence is critical in a global economy, because of course people aren’t actually the same wherever you find them. They think in different ways, perceive the world differently, and value very different things. As it happens, the core skills of cultural intelligence are just the ones Morganwg looked for in his druids and bards.
Frameworks of cultural intelligence
An important centre of research in the field of cultural intelligence is Singapore’s Nanyang Business School, with its Cultural Quotient (CQ) framework. Singapore is a natural place for this, given its multicultural population, its location in incredibly diverse South East Asia, and its role as a hub for multinational businesses.
Since human behaviour and cognition can’t be reduced to one model, there are others besides CQ. One is Geert Hofstede’s system of Cultural Dimensions, which models societies using the metrics of power distance, short-term vs long-term thinking, masculinity vs femininity, individual vs collective identity, indulgence vs restraint, and tolerance for uncertainty.
Another important framework was developed by Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy. Although originally intended to describe the internal culture of organisations, it’s highly applicable to national cultures. This model evaluates a given group’s shared history, values, beliefs, rituals, and ceremonies; the stories its members tell each other; the heroes it reveres; and the nature of its internal networks. Wales, for example, regards itself as being more collectivist than England. But is that because of industrial-era class solidarity, or an older shared history of clan-based society?
All of these factors combine to form connections between words, phrases, cultural references, and emotional responses in what are called semantic maps. Take the question, “Is there peace?” If you’re monoglot English, I can’t predict what will come into your mind in response. I suspect, though, that speakers of Welsh would immediately interpret it as, “A oes heddwch?” – the question demanded of the audience by the Archdruid during the ceremony of the Chairing of the Bard at the annual National Eisteddfod of Wales.
Maps of meanings
Without prompting, their mind’s eye will see and hear the assembled bards, ovates, and druids in their different-coloured robes, the Grand Sword that is never unsheathed, and the singing of the ‘Druid’s Prayer’. They’ll automatically associate it with cultural heroes such as tragic Hedd Wyn, and with their personal networks connected to Eisteddfod-going.
Of course, each individual’s emotional response will be influenced by their personal experiences of the Eisteddfod, because all semantic maps are ultimately personal. But having this kind of foundational, shared ‘map of meanings’ is essential for maintaining a coherent, functional society.
In Barddas, Morganwg describes the role of a bard: “The three principal endeavours of a Bard: one is to learn and collect sciences; the second is to teach; and the third is to make peace, and to put an end to all injury …”. In his model, a bard is not simply a poet: his or her knowledge of language and science is to be used to bring peace. He builds on Julius Caesar’s account to assert that experienced bards became druids, who formed “ … ‘the Gorsedd of judgment and judicature’, possessing the special right of determining national and social disputes”.
I don’t know how many druids there are in Strasbourg. But the Council of Europe (CoE), which is based there, recently updated its Common European Framework of References for Languages, the CEFR. This is an internationally-adopted model for measuring someone’s ability in a language. Assessment used to be on the command of grammar and vocabulary within the skills of speaking, listening, reading, and writing. With the growth of globalisation and multiculturalism, the CoE recognised this was no longer sufficient. In 2020 it revised the CEFR to include mediation skills.
Cultural intelligence in and of Wales
This requires speakers at higher levels of ability to demonstrate a grasp of semantic maps influencing the use of language by people from other cultures, using such understanding to translate intended meaning into a form appropriate to their own semantic map, and vice versa. These are core skills for interpreters and translators, and exactly those Morganwg required of bards and druids.
This is also seen in the requirements of the International Mediation Institute, based in The Hague. It recognises that translingual and transcultural mediation skills are necessary for arbitrating and resolving international disputes.
And this is where a huge opportunity awaits Wales.
Welsh-medium schools are by default bilingual and bicultural. If they assess language ability on the updated 2020 CEFR scale (and they should), then every pupil should be trained in cross-language and cross-cultural mediation. The example above, evaluating why speakers of Welsh and English might have different responses to “Is there peace?”, shows how easily cultural intelligence skills can be introduced into classrooms.
What’s more, every pupil should be taught dispute-resolution mediation. A comprehensive method is ready for use: the Peer Mediation Network has trained schoolchildren to resolve disputes for years. This needs to be adopted and integrated into the Welsh education system.
I propose that Wales creates an international centre of excellence for intercultural mediation in the Vale of Glamorgan. Partly to honour Morganwg, who lived there. It’s also close to the School of Culture and Communication at Swansea University, which specialises in interpreting and translation. And to Atlantic College, an international sixth-form college founded to promote international peace and understanding; its insights and contributions would be invaluable.
Wales could lead the way
Two millennia ago, Caesar wrote that the druids of Gaul held an annual festival, at which they would hear and resolve disputes. Let modern Wales hold an annual winter festival of mediation, inviting disputants from around the world to attend and, with the assistance of Welsh experts, find resolution. Wales will bring the nations of the world together in summer song at Llangollen in the north and, in winter, resolve their disputes in the south.
We can establish Wales on the world stage as an international leader in peace and reconciliation. It would be easy to achieve, and we’re a natural place for it. It’s a part of our history and – thanks to Iolo Morganwg – it’s ingrained in our national culture. All we have to do is keep doing what we already are, but with a bit more funding, focus, and motivated planning. Amdani!
Full disclosure: I took my MBA degree at Nanyang Business School, and am a certified mediator with the International Mediation Institute. I attended Atlantic College on a full scholarship from South Glamorgan County Council.