Tricked by Culture . . .

Americans believe that being direct is the most efficient way to communicate. The phrases “tell it like it is” and “speak your mind” — express such a value. Being direct is often valued over “beating around the bush.” As a result, Americans are often assertive, open and direct about their thoughts and feelings. Not all cultures have this same value. In some cultures, the “normal” way to disagree or to say no is to say nothing.

The above descriptive cultural pattern paints a picture of who Americans are, whether right or wrong.  The study of cultural patterning a people has mixed opinion. It has the danger of creating and reinforcing concepts of “stereotypes”, and a false impression that another people and culture is identifiable by rigidly categorized symbols, behavior, thought processes, or value systems that are common to all.

In actuality, though, a huge number of variations often exist within geo-political boundaries. For instance, it would be foolish that people who live in Mississippi are just like people from New York.   Although they have some similarities, they are different.

Nevertheless, as long as caution is exercised, cultural patterning a people is a useful tool for analysis. In addition, it is a tool for learning, which gives insight into the kinds of differences that cross-cultural workers will encounter, and the adjustments they can make to deal with cross-cultural situations.

With the above in mind, cultural pattering a people helps:

  • Encourage identification of cultural themes and patterns.
  • Stimulate critical thinking in analyzing ethnographic data.
  • Motivate recording of similarities and differences among a people and within their specific cultural context.

Have you ever wondered what cultural patterns existed during the New Testament.? One cultural pattern was a collective bond whereby one would sacrifice all for the good of the group.  Acts clearly points out that the community of believers had all things in common.  Paul speak of the church as a body that collectively works toward helping, encouraging, and allowing it to function as a collective whole.

What makes things complicated, though, is the USA culture teaches people to do what is good for the self.  A lifestyle that portraits the total opposite of Biblical teaching, yet one that we often are tricked into believing and living.  As a result, we go to church, sit and allow the musician to entertain us, listen to the sermon, and then all go our separate ways for another six days until the next Sunday service.  In essence, culture tricks us into believing how we live is good and okay.   Romans 12:1-2 tell us to not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind.

Well, I have said enough.  Now, what should we do?

Stick It Out

As I encounter people who engage people groups up close and personal on a daily basis, I am continually reminded of the need of “perseverance”. Their narratives and stories reveal a spirit to stick it out and not give up no matter the results.

Several years ago, a research study looked at people who had suffered serious adversity – cancer patients, prisoners of war, accident victims, and so forth – and survived. They found that people fell generally into three categories: those who were permanently dispirited by the event, those who got their life back to normal, and those who used the experience as a defining event that made them stronger.

This third set of people reminds me of the life of Admiral Jim Stockdale. During the height of the Vietnam War, Stockdale was held prisoner and tortured over twenty times over a period of eight years from 1965-1973. He instituted rules that would help people to deal with torture. The rules state that after a certain number of minutes, you will say certain things that give milestones to survive toward. When asked how he made it through those eight years, Stockdale insists that, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be!”

The third set of people never had a goal merely to survive but to persevere to the end. In the end, use whatever is before you as an opportunity to remake you great. This same principle holds true when it comes to crossing one’s own culture and working among a people with another worldview, another belief system and different cultural values. Just “stick it out”!!!

Encounters and Experiences with Culture and People