American SOCIAL Norms

by Matt Mattson

I’m heading to Iowa tomorrow to deliver a keynote address about Social Excellence to a local young professionals networking group in the Quad Cities.  I thought this would be a great opportunity to share a story with our blog readers that we also included in our book, Social Excellence: We Dare You .


16338_197990077885_500387885_3101763_4061684_n Changwe Kumalinga is a college student at Creighton University in Nebraska, originally from Zambia. A conversation with Changwe reminded us that American society has a lot to learn from the rest of the world when it comes to being social, building social connections, and understanding how valuable being social is to community and society.

Recently, Changwe saw us present an educational workshop on Social Excellence for young professionals in Omaha, Nebraska. Changwe was attending as a future young professional and immediately sought us out after the program to talk about his experience.

He introduced himself and quickly proceeded to admit that he was confused throughout the first half of the program. Why were we talking about Social Excellence?  He explained that he couldn’t understand why a room full of hundreds of professionals were so intensely listening to and taking notes about something that seemed so obvious to him. It seemed so natural to him to engage in deep, meaningful, powerful conversations with others—to listen intently to stories being told and to naturally want to connect with the people around him. Then it dawned on him.

The reason these concepts seemed so natural to him, but were somehow brand new to all of these American professionals, was because of the communal, tribal nature of his ancestry. He explained that being “social” was how he lived in Zambia. The community thrived not through connections of 140 characters or less, but through real, human-to-human interaction—a true village.

Changwe went on to explain another realization he’d had halfway through the program—he’d only been in the U.S. studying for a short time, but he felt like he was starting to adopt an American social persona. He was starting to isolate himself, wear his iPod around campus, only talk to his inner-circle of friends, communicate more online than through real-life interactions—he was becoming, in a word, antisocial.

In Changwe’s words, “In my conversation with the presenters from Phired Up Productions, I found myself unknowingly drifting away from my communal principles. Somehow, I forgot the power of a handshake and neglected the significance of an intentional conversation. Even with the networking emphasis at the Omaha Young Professionals Conference, I wasn’t focused on the people I was networking with beyond trading job titles and the usual surface small talk. I wasn’t focused until I participated in the Phired Up workshop and realized most of us at the conference had no real intentions to remember people’s names and know any of their interests beyond careers.

“I mentioned to the Phired Up team that I was extremely grateful for such a timely reminder to exude Social Excellence and be the best version of me with a communal spirit. I cannot imagine any place in the world where such a lesson or reminder would not be valuable.”

Changwe shared all of this not in a disparaging way toward American culture, but with a genuine realization of the cultural differences he was experiencing. He proclaimed that Social Excellence was a vital lesson to remind him of what made him who he is—the true connections to real people in his life.

Changwe has done a fantastic job of staying connected to us since that program and we expect that relationship to deepen. We know he is bringing a philosophy and lifestyle of Social Excellence that is deeply rooted in the communal culture of his tribe in Zambia to his everyday life at Creighton.