A fictional voyage to Mars offers valuable lessons about resolving conflicts across differences.
I recently watched Away, a beautiful miniseries about a near future journey to Mars. It was a suspenseful adventure drama, and, an inspiring model of effective Intercultural collaboration and successful conflict management.
Survival depends on understanding and working together
In this Mars scenario, 5 astronauts: two women, one from U.S. and one from China, and 3 men, from Russia, Ghana/Great Britain, and India respectively, must live and work together in a small spaceship for three years. They are all brilliant and highly accomplished astronauts. They clash over culture, politics, and how to handle emergencies, but come to appreciate each other deeply. They successfully face many dangerous problems that none of them can resolve alone. They would not have survived without working together and contributing their particular skills and experience, both professional and life wisdom.
So what are the key takeaways around conflict and communication?
- We need each other. No one can survive or flourish alone.
- Because of this interdependence, we have to listen and learn to appreciate each others’ strengths, even when we don’t agree.
- Lying and withholding creates mistrust while compassion, honesty, and vulnerability create bonds of trust.
- We are more alike than different. Our human needs, our grief and sorrows, our joy, our curiosity and drive transcend particular cultures, prejudices, nationalism.
Spoiler Alert Don’t read this final paragraph if you don’t want to know the final scene of the miniseries!
The astronauts do finally make it to Mars. The various governments have agreed the Chinese woman will land first and be photographed alone. But she recognizes, as the Russian astronaut tells her, “There are no borders. There is no Motherland.” So, she makes a different choice.The iconic photo broadcast all over the world is not of one Chinese astronaut with a reflective screen on the front of the helmet, so you can’t even see if it is a man or a woman, but all five of them together, faces visible, smiling exuberantly at their extraordinary shared accomplishment on behalf of the whole world.