During his lifetime Idries Shah promoted contacts and connections between different traditions around the world, believing this to be an important element in the advancement of human culture.
In this spirit, The Idries Shah Foundation has created ‘Cultural Crossroads’, a website forum where people from many walks of life are invited to talk about their own experiences crossing cultural boundaries, and the lessons that they have learned as a result.
You can find the full series here: https://blog.idriesshahfoundation.org/cultural-crossroads/
About Amina Lahbabi-Peters
With years of experience working in higher education and different industries, Amina Lahbabi-Peters has succeeded in developing long-term brands for her clients and for the institutions she has worked for in Morocco, the United States and other countries.
Amina is a Fulbright Scholar. She earned an M.A in advertising at Michigan State University and an M.A. in Translation at King Fahd School of Translation in Tangier.
With 8 years working at a Liberal Arts university in Morocco and equipped with strategy and creativity, Amina successfully introduced marketing and branding to the vision of university communications, developed and implemented the first integrated marketing plan for the institution, and refreshed and enhanced its brand image across different platforms, regions and languages by implementing innovative actions.
Q. What lessons in life and culture would you say others can learn from Morocco, especially in the way society and family are arranged there?
We, Moroccans, have grown to put more value on the group rather than the individual. It is about ‘us’, the community. In a collectivistic society like Morocco, we are often thinking about how the decisions we make would affect the people around us, starting from our immediate family, to our extended one; to neighbours, friends and outer circles. While this could weigh in heavily in very personal matters (choice of career, life partner, etc.), it does create a sense of – I would say – loyalty to those we care about. Our traditions make it a responsibility, a duty, for the members of a family to respect and care for one another. You rarely see people sending their aging parents to a retirement home, for instance. You just cannot do that. What would people think of you if you did? You would lose face (community, again). Yet, the development of retirement structures about six years ago is still not that ironic. Moroccan society is changing and life is becoming more expensive for many. The need to create retirement homes arose mainly to help the elderly from low-income households, or those with no families. Even though, here too, many ‘orphan’ elderly often find help in their neighbours. I volunteered a lot when I was young, both within NGOs and on my own. I was taught to always give back to the community, to lend a hand whenever needed and to be altruistic. To me in a way, the existence of institutions like these in today’s Morocco only attests to the overall sense of solidarity with the less fortunate. Because it is important to be generous, to help those in need and to do as much good as possible around us. Because our families – no matter how we might view them – have made us who we are. And because one day we may need help, too.
Q. As someone who has come from Morocco, been educated in the US, and now finds herself based in France, can you tell us some of the challenges you have had to overcome living and working in the Occident?
I have always loved exploring new places and getting out of my comfort zone. France has been an enriching experience for me, and for my family. We live in Paris, which is very diverse. I have enjoyed learning about the world in this dense city, through its museums, its art and its people. I have not been met with too many obstacles. But besides the bureaucracy – which is similar to Morocco’s anyway – there have been a few.
One: leading a simplistic lifestyle in a consumerist society is no easy feat. We had to make sure we do not get caught up in the whirlpool of over-consumption, fast-fashion and non-sustainable living by finding alternative sources to run our daily lives.
Two: the pollution! How do we offset the CO2 we exhale?
Three: making good friends in our age group. This took a while given our busy schedules, and everybody else’s. But once we settled in, my husband and I made sure to allocate some time in the week to socialise and to entertain at our place. Neighbourhood parks are great for that if one has kids!
Q. Morocco is a kingdom with roots in Africa, branches raised up towards Europe, and with the Arab world to the east and the Americas to the west. How would you say Morocco has benefitted from being a crucible of culture and peoples since ancient times?
The many civilisations that have influenced Morocco since antiquity, and before, have made it what it is today. We can see the richness and diversity of Morocco in its culture and traditions; we can touch it in its pottery and crafts; we can taste it in its food and smell it in its orange-blossom air; we can hear it in its wide array of tunes and its different languages, and we can feel it when we talk to its people. People of various descents, backgrounds and ideologies coming together and living in harmony and tolerance attests to the true definition of what a Mediterranean country is.
Q. You have worked at UNESCO in Paris, are an international expert in branding and marketing, but you describe yourself as a ‘story-teller’? Can you explain what you mean by this, and why stories and story-telling are important to you, and to Morocco?
Stories make us human. I was born in Tangier, in the 80s. The most vivid memories I have of growing up are those of my mother and great-aunt telling me stories at bedtime. Stories they had made up and elaborated as I drifted away with images of wonderful worlds, candy kingdoms, sensitive beasts and relentless warrior queens. Soon enough, I started adding scenes and characters to the stories myself. When I started my career in advertising, I knew that what I wanted to make of it had more to do with creating positive impact than selling products to those who do not need them. Having been in the non-profit sector almost all my life and being a militant, I grew passionate about international organisations and brands that could affect the lives of individuals and communities for the better. My mission is to tell stories that appeal to the emotions and to the values of human life. Stories that unveil the world to us, with its sadness and successes. Stories that make us change our behaviour to become more empowered, more generous, more true, for a more peaceful and sustainable world. Morocco has a long-standing tradition of story-telling, both private and public. Stories connect us with people and engage us in conversations. I would like to keep that tradition going through my work in Communication for Development, and through my engagement with the local communities of my country.
Q. What can we learn from story-telling traditions and why?
Sharing. Respect. Because when we tell a story, it is not just a jumble of words. It is our emotions talking. We share something that is very intimate and personal – even when we are not the main characters in it. We transmit feelings to our listener. That complicity that a story can create between the story-teller and the listener is unique. The act of sharing that moment inspires both admiration and respect.