Category Archives: Social Relationships

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?

NYC EthneCity – New People’s

I just returned from conducting training at the EthneCity Conference in NYC. My part was on Urban Mapping and Exegeting a City. A major aspect of the training was sending participants out to encounter people different from themselves. NYC has major pockets for such encounters. The best way to exegete a city is to get out among people groups, the foreign population, and the new immigrants to the USA.

Speaking Your Mind . . . Or . . . ???

Rather recently someone said to me, “Why don’t you just speak your mind!”  I paused and then thought, “This would never happen in many cultures.”

It is not uncommon for people in the USA to be upfront and speak their mind.  Americans often 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.”   Consequently, Americans are often assertive, open and direct about their thoughts and feelings.   In fact, however, in other cultures, such behavior is often seen as being rude or expressing anger inappropriately.

Why is it that Americans often neglect and even ignore value systems when they travel abroad?  Some speak their mind, even to the point of embarrassing a new cultural friend.  Instead, Americans should learn that not all cultures have this same value: a value of being “upfront”.   In some cultures, the “normal” way to disagree or to say no is to say nothing.  Cross-culturally, it is sometimes better to keep one’s mouth shut than open.  Our tongue can easily cause more harm than good.  The Bible confirms this saying,

And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?  Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. (James 3:6-12, NRSV).

So, the next time you travel abroad, don’t let the things you hear, the sights you see, or the smells you smell influence you to speak your mind.  Instead, hold your tongue and don’t speak your mind.  You will then find yourself in a better place to not only understand the situation but also learn from the people.