Anyone who has been to a bluegrass festival has probably heard this joke. The band asks “Do we have any Texans in the audience?” After a lot of hooting and hollering, the band says, “Welcome to the United States.” Which reminds me of a story.

When I was a young musician I got a call from a guitar player in Texas. He needed a rhythm guitarist and singer for a Texas Swing band he was putting together. He had a six-month tour booked in the Southwest. Six months of steady gigs is hard to pass up for any musician, so when my West Coast tour was done I loaded up the van and drove from Oregon to North Texas.

We quickly threw the band together and started doing gigs in Texas honkey tonks. Picture that scene from the Blues Brothers with the chicken wire in front of the stage to block the beer bottles hurled by the unruly crowd. Like in the movie, we decided that when the drunk with a gun asks you for a request, you say ‘Yes Sir,’ even if you don’t know the song. You may not sound just like Merle Haggard, but if you are good enough, eventually they will start paying attention.

Until the real gigs started, I slept in the van while the rest of the band crashed in the guitar player’s parent’s house, who seemed to subsist on bacon and Dr. Pepper. The closest bar was miles away. It was hot and humid. I learned that in Texas, Rednecks are role models and guys are named Joe Bob. It was big time culture shock for a nice Jewish boy from New Jersey. It got worse when our six-month contract was cancelled after the first month. I couldn’t wait for my chance to escape back to the cool blue North.

I think about that when I hear about the “culture wars” going on in America. Tempers flare over budgets. Southerners seem to glorify the Civil War. Arguments rage over immigration, abortion, education and unions. Our failure to understand another group’s culture makes it impossible to see the good in them. It’s hard to hear what someone is saying above all the shouting. We become exclusive instead of inclusive. It makes us narrow minded and dumb.

The truth is that when I look back on my time in Texas I remember that the band was actually good. I met some great musicians and some good people. They liked our music. I saw a world I never knew existed and explored thousands of miles of the American Southwest.   

As Denver PR pros, our job is help our clients understand that it is important to respect the people they want to communicate with. If you don’t try and understand another’s culture, how can you know if what you are saying to them is relevant? How can you grow your business if you are running in place? How can you lead when you don’t understand the people you ask to follow you? 

In life or in business, if we are too rigid to understand another point of view we can’t learn or evolve. We can just stay stuck, surrounded by people who are just like us.

You don’t have to sound exactly like Merle Haggard to be a good country singer. You just have to feel what Merle feels. If only culture shock led to a deeper understanding of other cultures instead of an urge to run away. Maybe we just need to temper our experience with some perspective.    

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